Even with the tantalizing potential for conflict Wednesday night, no bricks were thrown, fists shaken or voices even raised.

Instead, the crowd of about 300 at the Fine Arts Center mostly lobbed thank-yous and encouraging comments to Christo, a world-renowned artist who for 18 years has fought to see a $50 million environment artwork called “Over the River” realized. The project proposes to drape silver fabric over eight sections of a 42-mile stretch of the Arkansas River.

Not everyone supports it, including members of Rags Over the Arkansas River and some residents near the proposed site, which is east of Cañon City and west of Salida. The biggest worries are unmanageable traffic on two-lane U.S. 50 and a negative impact on the wildlife, especially Big Horn sheep.

In the only critical comment of the evening, C.A. Freeman said, “It would be nifty to float down the river like that, but I’m profoundly concerned by the fact of wild birds won’t be able to drink and wildlife that will be scared off.”

The lecture, which was ostensibly a tour through his 45-year career with late wife Jeanne-Claude, closely followed the Bureau of Land Management’s release of a $2 million Environmental Impact Study. And until Aug. 30, the public can weigh in on whether “Over the River” should be approved. Comments will be factored into the final version of the 2,029-page study and released in late March 2011.

“The biggest problem,” Christo said, “is getting permission from the owners. In this case, it’s the American taxpayer.”

In a speech that Christo has no doubt done a million times, he walked his audience through his talking points.

• Christo pays for everything through the sales of preparatory work and older pieces. That’s why he insists on such things as AT&T putting a disclaimer at the end of a commercial with unmistakable references to his and Jeanne-Claude’s work: He doesn’t want anyone thinking that he’s accepting any patronage.

• It must be viewed from above, meaning the highway, and underneath, from boats and rafts. Nearly 300,000 rafters flock to the area every summer, said project spokesman Steve Coffin. The project, he added, is estimated to generated $121 million in revenue for the state and hundreds of jobs.

• Christo’s work, which includes wrapping a 400-year-old bridge in Paris and surrounding 11 islands near Miami in fabric, isn’t about some heady message, but about beauty, plain and simple.

• “One panel is not the project,” he said. “Two panels is not the project. Five point nine miles (of fabric), that’s the project.” Still, he said he will consider BLM proposals to address concerns.

“Why here?” asked a woman in the audience. “Why that specific location?”

A thin man with wild, white hair and a penchant for talking too fast, Christo started by describing the 15,000 miles scouting trip through five Rocky Mountain states. He and his wife were looking for rivers with steep, treeless walls and a railroad track near one shore. With those caveats, their search was narrowed to six rivers and then, to one.

“Suddenly, it was very much like a symphony,” he said when they settled on the Arkansas.

Also considered, good views, easy access for viewers and construction crews and the presence of humans nearby. Without a house here and a telephone pole there, there’s no sense of scale to the piece. And that outsized scale is key to the awe-inspiring affect of his works.

“Why is it so short?” said one man. “Why only two weeks?”

“There’s something about the tenderness and cheerfulness about something that doesn’t last,” Christo said, “to give this tenderness to something that you will never see again and that will be gone forever.”

He shrugged then, like that said it all.


• Read the Bureau of Land Management draft environment impact statement by hitting the link at gazette.com.
• To submit written comments use an online form or through e-mail at co-otr-comments@blm.gov, faxed to 1-719-269-8599 or mailed to OTR Comments, 3028 E. Main St., Cañon City, Colo., 81212.


• Through Aug. 30: Weigh in on the project with The Bureau of Land Management.
• February, 2011: Final environmental report released
• April, 2011: Final decision announced