Christo ‘Over the River’ project still alive |

Christo ‘Over the River’ project still alive

John WenzelThe Denver Post

“Over the River,” a provocative public-art project along 40 miles of the Arkansas River between Salida and Caon City, is very much alive, its co-creator made clear Wednesday.The artist Christo, best known for transforming places and things by draping them in colorful fabrics, is visiting Colorado for a round of appearances aimed at garnering support for the project.”We are always confident (in the project),” said Christo, 75. “We would never do this project if I was not.”The project is a complex one, requiring a lengthy environmental study and about half a dozen local, state and federal permits. It calls for suspending 5.9 miles of heavy, translucent fabric panels over the river, held down by anchors. The project is designed to be viewed for two weeks – from above, as motorists drive along U.S. 50, and below, as light filters through the silvery fabric down to river rafters.The idea remains controversial for those who fear a negative environmental impact.”Christo’s basically a con man, and what he’s good at is manipulating the permit process and getting people with money behind him,” said Don Christenen, 68, a Salida resident since 1960 who fears traffic woes as a result of the project. “I suspect (the Bureau of Land Management) will approve the process.”Christo insists none of his projects – such as the 7,500 orange-fabric gates along sidewalks in Central Park in 2005, or wrapping Berlin’s Reichstag in fabric in 1995 – has left a trace.”Nobody reviews a painting before it’s been painted, but our works of art, they are reviewed (for) thousands of pages before they exist physically,” Christo said.The 17-year process of designing “Over the River” is far from over, and Christo has lately been through his share of trials. Jeanne-Claude, his wife and artistic partner of 51 years, died in November at age 74, and his legal team is always aggressively defending his art against commercial infractions – including a current AT&T commercial that appears to use his orange-draped imagery without permission.”It’s not the first time,” Christo said. “We want to have integrity to our work, and it’s not related to any commercial. It’s entirely free; we don’t charge tickets, and nobody can own these works.”Still, the ambitious “Over the River” project carries a high price tag, upward of $51 million and climbing. Christo has already spent $7 million on research – all of it raised from the sale of his original artwork – and toured the state multiple times pitching to communities and officials.Conceived in 1985 and exhaustively researched in the late 1990s, “Over the River” has an earliest possible completion date of 2013, which takes into account the two-year installation (to potentially start next year). Months will be needed to take the installation down.A 750-page draft environmental impact study, slated for release July 15, followed by a public comment period, will determine the project’s next steps.”We don’t know the substance of it, but we do know it will outline a range of alternatives,” said Steve Griffin, managing principal of Denver communications firm GBSM, which is representing “Over the River.”Changes are possible.”There is a degree of flexibility as far as when it is, how long it is,” said project director Jonita Davenport. The economic and traffic impact is impossible to estimate, said John Engelbrecht, executive director of the Salida Chamber of Commerce.”It could be anywhere from zero to potentially hundreds of thousands of people,” he said. “That crystal ball is pretty darn cloudy. But Christo’s track record has just been so stellar over the years, and there’s very little chance of anything short of screaming success. It’s a very professional, very methodical organization that Christo has, and he’s crossing his t’s and dotting his i’s.”John Wenzel: 303-954-1642 or

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