Art Controversy in Denver: You Have to Get Angry With People Sometimes or They’ll Think They Can Run Over You


There is a lively current controversy about the sculpture of a fiery-eyed Blue Mustang, prominently located at the Denver International Airport. Does it welcome or repel visitors? Should it stay or be moved elsewhere (preferably out of public sight)? Is it a masterpiece or a disaster?

This very public debate reminds me of the only time – during her lifetime of involvement in the development of public art in Denver – that Anne Evans got publicly angry, and came out swinging at the opposition to her point of view.


Robert Speer, Courtesy History Colorado

It was 1937, and at issue was the choice of a piece of sculpture to be placed in the Civic Center as a memorial to Mayor Robert Speer. The whole story is a complex one, lasting several years and involving a number of players, which is told in detail in my book about Anne Evans. (Chapter 16, The Dream of a Civic Center) But the point of interest here is that a rather bitter public battle developed between Mayor Ben Stapleton, who favored a design by Denver sculptor Arnold Ronnebeck, and Anne Evans, a prominent member of the Denver Art Commission, who was vehemently opposed to Ronnebeck’s proposal, calling it a “sculptured monstrosity.”

Mayor Stapleton demanded that the Commission approve the Ronnebeck design. The Commission refused. The Mayor knew that the main opposition came from Anne Evans. Perhaps reluctant to act against so well-respected a public figure, he did not directly take action against Anne but removed two of her known supporters from the Commission. Anne was furious. She resigned from the Art Commission and expressed her views loudly and clearly in interviews by the local press.

She considered the Mayor’s removal of her two fellow Commissioners as completely unjustified. In an interview with the Denver Post she said, “If a person who has been honored with appointment to a responsible position, as were these two colleagues of mine on the Commission, is dropped for no reason whatsoever and contrary to law, I propose to ask ‘WHY?’ as loud as I can and keep on asking.”

The Post article, headlined GOVERNOR EVANS WOULD BE PROUD OF DAUGHTER ANNE, shows four photographs of Anne Evans, with a caption under each. One is, “I don’t care what the mayor or the governor says, the art commission must be kept free of political wire-pulling.” Another, on the phone, “You needn’t shout. Whether I am on the commission or off, the civic center is going to be kept free of sculptured atrocities.”

I suppose one could say that Anne Evans won this battle. There is no sculpture on the Civic Center commemorating its major creator. Mayor Stapleton came up with an alternative proposal, persuading the private donors who were funding the Speer Memorial that it would be more appropriate to build a much needed Children’s Wing for Denver General Hospital.

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This project is co-published with the Center for Colorado and the West Auraria Library.
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