The installation of the public neon sculpture reading, "We are in this together," has been postponed due to COVID-related logistical difficulties until next spring. (Courtesy photo)

The softly glowing, cotton candy pink letters spelling out the phrase “We are in this together” in oversized cursive neon were to be installed beneath the gondola line between the St. Sophia Station and Mountain Village this fall. However, the Telluride Foundation, which partnered with sculpture artist Tavares Strachan, the Ah Haa School for the Arts and the Town of Mountain Village to bring the piece to life, announced Monday that the installation of the sculpture has been postponed until the spring of 2021.

“With the many partners and businesses involved with getting the artwork up and installed, we are running into the issue of having enough human resources to complete the installation,” explained Judy Kohin, Ah Haa’s Executive Director.

Kohin has spearheaded the programming component of the project.

“There's lots of work that needs to be done on the ground, and everyone is stretched very thin right now, just trying to keep their operations going,” she said. “We just don't have the capacity to complete an installation this fall, and it can't happen after it starts to snow. So we decided to postpone until next year.”

The public art piece, by New York City- and Nassau-based artist Strachan, has been in the works since well before the calamitous events of 2020 rocked the globe. The work serves to illuminate the layers of depth to the phrase “We are in this together.” According to Strachan, holding the phrase up to the light and examining the facets from various angles, including critically, has been part of the vision for the piece since its conception, and watching the year’s events launch the phrase into the glare of the national spotlight has been “eerie.”

“‘We Are In This Together’ is not a blanket statement on where society currently is, but instead serves as a call to action that affirms our interdependence and the need to take collective responsibility for aiding the broader community,” Strachan said. “In order to improve how we interact as people, we must acknowledge that working together and supporting one another matters. Once we acknowledge this, we must then act on it to create change.”

The proposed public art installation provoked a vociferous community conversation earlier this summer, with opponents asserting that not enough prior public outreach, combined with the messaging of the phrase itself, had resulted in an art piece not reflective of local values and realities. Proponents cited the ubiquitous use of the phrase by health officials and public figures as a much-needed call for unity, critical to resolving the public health and social crises. Kohin, among others involved in the project, emphasized that the resulting public dialogue was precisely at the forefront of the artist’s intentions, that the phrase be a provocateur of vigorous conversation and subsequently, community action to address inequities. 

“Even though the installation has been postponed, our local programming advisory committee has met to brainstorm the most effective ways to involve the entire region, invite everyone to explore the art and step into the conversation,” Kohin said in a press release.

The initial desire of the artist to have a “reveal” factor at the post-installation unveiling of the piece resulted in a smaller, quieter community outreach process, ultimately culminating in the summer’s outcry with objections of exclusion and lack of transparency. Forming a programming advisory committee was part of the response to re-initiate public input and discuss the uses and function of contemporary public art.

“We want and need to include the whole community, and we're brainstorming ways to do that through our programming,” said Kohin. “Our hope, and the desire of the artist, is that we will become more aware of the struggles that some of our community members are facing, and this work and the programming around it will make our community stronger.”

Pinhead Institute Executive Director Sarah Holbrooke, who served on the advisory committee, emphasized the importance of the resulting dialogue.

“I do think we have to start talking about that, are we really in this together?” she said. “He’s deliberately left the question mark off so that we could fight amongst ourselves about what it means. This is a community capable of nuance and thought and being provoked and then listening for the common thread. I have hope that the conversation will be helpful and healing rather than divisive and angry.”

For Holbrooke, the outpouring of reactions from the local community has itself been a part of the art.

“It’s important that we are talking about how we are in this together and how we’re not,” she said. “I’m grateful to the artist for that.”

While the installation of the physical aspect of neon sculpture has been postponed until spring, the programming portion of the art piece began last month with a poetry reading via Zoom called “The Big Conversation,” during which, according to the press release, “poets from across America added their voices to how we are — and perhaps sometimes not — in this together.” 

For Strachan, the word ‘together’ is better wielded as an adverb than an adjective, applied as action rather than description. The project’s various initiatives with its partners aim to contribute to an increased reality of togetherness “in education, food security, and the environment.”

“Every artist tells their story in a way that’s consistent with who they are,” he said. “At my core, I want to spark necessary conversations that build bridges between complex worlds, desegregate communities and shine a light on those left behind. Throughout history, the fight for equality, representation and opportunity advances when voices across the spectrum work together. I encourage those with questions and reservations to engage in the conversation and participate in the programs and initiatives that will be unveiled over the coming months.”