Christo’s “Over the River” creates conservation concerns (column) | SummitDaily.com

Christo’s “Over the River” creates conservation concerns (column)

Eartha Steward
Special to the Daily

Dear Eartha,

As an art enthusiast, I was excited to learn about Christo’s piece “Over the River,” but I am concerned about the resistance and lawsuits related to the proposed exhibit. Can you offer some insight regarding the controversy?

— Nicole, Blue River

Colorado is a popular vacation location due to the natural beauty and endless outdoor adventure options. Over the past few years, art has become an increasingly popular attraction.

Christo feels his and his wife’s work shines light on environmental issues, and that they have always been committed to conservation. With every Christo and Jeanne-Claude project, most materials are recycled.

Christo, the creator of the “Over the River” piece, is renowned for fusing art and nature. The scale of his work is often measured in miles, allowing onlookers to experience art outside of the traditional gallery. Many feel his work celebrates the environment and artistic freedom, but there are those who believe Christo’s temporary exhibits leave a permanent, negative impact on natural resources.

Creating “Over the River” has taken 20 years, including time to get the necessary permission and permits. Christo began the project with his late wife and co-creator, Jeanne-Claude. The artist is now 79 years old, and “Over the River” may be one of the final works of his career. Christo will drape silvery fabric over a 6-mile stretch of the Arkansas River. The fabric will absorb light, displaying different colors from sunrise to sunset. He is quoted as saying, “In the morning, it will become rosy, in the middle of the day, platinum, and at sunset, the fabric will become golden.”

The exhibit will be displayed for two weeks and construction will take 27 months, providing local jobs. Christo has never accepted volunteer labor and funds all of his projects by selling his sketches. He believes in paying for quality labor but refuses outside financing sources to ensure his vision rather than bending to an investor’s interests.

Canon City and Salida are located on either side of the Bighorn Sheep Canyon where “Over the River” will be displayed. The towns stand to benefit from an economic boost due to increases in jobs and tourism. Rafting companies also anticipate that the piece will attract more business and allow their guests an intimate view from their boats as they cruise the river. The Bureau of Land Management estimates that project will “generate more than $121 million in total economic output throughout Colorado.”

Opponents to the exhibit feel the construction will create pollution, cause erosion and inconvenience locals. There will be traffic stoppages and lane closures. Some fear health care and emergency services, like the sheriff and EMTs, will be disrupted during the installation and removal processes.

Others have protested “Over the River” because they believe it exploits the environment. The group Rags Over Arkansas River (ROAR) claims that the environmental impact assessment for the proposed project is flawed and that there will be lasting environmental consequences. ROAR has filed a lawsuit in an effort to stop the exhibit.

The Colorado Wildlife Commission, an advisory body to the State Division of Wildlife, has urged federal officials to reject “Over the River.” The bighorn sheep is Colorado’s state animal, and Robert Streeter, vice chairman of the commission, says this species will most likely be impacted.

Daniel J. Larkin, a former president of the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society, has warned that bighorn are stress-sensitive and that the project could have a catastrophic impact on their population. Some also fear the hanging fabric could be detrimental to birds and bats living and feeding along the Arkansas River.

In 1998, Jeanne-Claude addressed environmental concerns regarding their work on the couple’s website, http://www.ChristoJeanneClaude.net. She wrote that they are the “cleanest artists in the world, all is removed.” The exhibits have always been temporary and the sites are restored to their original condition.

Christo feels their work shines light on environmental issues, and that they have always been committed to conservation. With every Christo and Jeanne-Claude project, most materials are recycled. They have been dedicated to avoiding and minimizing impacts related to noise, vegetation, and air and water quality. In addition, scheduling of their exhibits has been altered in consideration of wildlife. Christo has the same expectations regarding the “Over the River” piece. He has even offered to provide “substantial funds” for bighorn sheep habitat enhancement projects.

In January, the a federal court upheld the Bureau of Land Management’s approval of the project, but “Over the River” is still temporarily postponed.

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to eartha@highcountryconservation.org.


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