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— A team of San Diego artists are among 11 finalists to win one of four $300,000 public-art contracts in Denver. The site of the projects is the new downtown Denver football stadium slated to open in August 2001.

The San Diego team formed in April after one of the artists, Melissa Smedley, who grew up in Denver, heard of the stadium project. "It sounds pretty corny," Smedley says with a grin, "but my parents told me about it. They still live there."

Smedley was intrigued with the idea of producing a piece of public art in her home town, but she knew she would need help. "My own artwork," she explains, "has been very ephemeral. I've done a lot of things with performance, used a lot of materials that are not permanent, doing artwork that doesn't last. But I've recently become interested in doing lasting public work. And I've had an interest in making some work back in my home town too.

"One of the greatest things about being an artist," she continues, "is knowing other artists. I think that's one of the real benefits of this life. It's not like I've made a lot of money doing this, but I've met a lot of interesting people. So I thought of two local artists who have a lot of experience doing larger-scale works, and I brought us all together."

The two artists Smedley brought together were Mathieu Gregoire and Ante Marinovic. "We're all sculptors," Smedley explains, "but we all have very different experiences in it. Mathieu has done some very large-scale work. He just finished something in Portland along a river, sort of a public-park setting. He's worked with contractors and done a lot with stone. He made a piece with granite that's up at the California Center for the Arts in Escondido. So I knew that he had a lot of relevant experience creating a public work. He also is my neighbor, lives across the street from me in North Park, so we're familiar with each other.

"Ante is a former neighbor at my studio. He is from Yugoslavia. He basically had to get out of his country due to the strife and sadness. He came [to the United States] in 1990. He just recently got his citizenship. He's a sculptor and also does superb drawings. He does mosaics. He does many things to survive with his art, but the work that is for his soul is large-scale sculpture. He's done a lot with all different kinds of stone. He's actually received a certificate in Italy as a master stone carver. So he has a lot of...classical training. That's something that doesn't happen much here in the United States. Most art students here learn a very quick, conceptual take on the arts. But his training was very classical: many different disciplines, many different skills. He recently did something in Mexico City, I think in stainless steel, 12 feet high. I think it sits in one of those traffic rotaries. Mathieu makes things that maybe have more of a narrative to them, more of a series that unfolds as you look at them or travel through them.

"My own work," she continues. "I recently had a show at the Museum of Contemporary Art. I have done a lot with inventing tools. One of them was a solar teapot I made. I took a satellite dish and covered it with reflective material and put a black teapot in there. So the reflective dish collected the sun rays and focused them to the fulcrum, where the teapot sits. It was kind of a found object, which I transformed into a functioning piece of art. People call my work 'contraptions.' I also do a lot of sculptures that I perform with -- things that extend from my body."

Smedley admits the group sounds eclectic. "But as a team," she says, "I think we're really strong. I have the local connection to Denver, and I'm the storyteller. The guys, they're the ones who have the concrete experience with this kind of permanent art. But I'm kind of the coordinator, the catalyst."

She also admits that she wasn't sure the three personalities were going to mesh. "Mathieu and Ante didn't know each other," she says. "I introduced them, and there was a little feeling-out process."

The first step for the team was to come up with an idea for one of the four sites. They picked a circular area located between the stadium and the Platte River, which flows by the new arena about as close as the San Diego River is to Qualcomm Stadium. "Our idea," Smedley says, "was to make the world's largest football because we fell in love with the form of a football. It's a fascinating shape that really determines the character of the game. At first we were thinking of a free-standing football theme. It would be like a 40-foot-long football. You would walk under it, in a crater under the point of the football. It would look sort of like it had landed there. We called it something like 'Football Asteroid Park,' the idea being that this huge football had come down from the heavens and landed there."

The next step was presenting the idea. "What they asked for was a very simple thing," Smedley explains. "They asked for one 81/2 by 11 visual and a little description. Ante insisted that we make a model, which we did. And I think we made it through the first process by having a very professional-looking presentation in that we made a model and then took a snapshot of it. They saw that and they said, 'Okay, these people are for real. This looks good.' So we made it through the first cut. Then we went to Denver for a meeting. And we noticed something about the site we're competing for with two other groups. Around the Platte River there's some very vital urban renewal going on; a children's museum, an aquarium, an amusement park. There's also a footbridge that goes over the river, so there will be a lot of pedestrian traffic through our site.

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