Castle Valley artist Michael Ford Dunton stands in front of sculptures he created, entitled "Forces at Play," which will be installed at the Colorado River bike and pedestrian bridge. [Photo by Eric Trenbeath / Moab Sun News]

The Colorado River bike and pedestrian bridge will soon be home to a permanent art installation entitled “Forces at Play,” after receiving unanimous support from the Grand County Council on Tuesday, Oct. 20.

The set of four, 9-foot tall sculptures made of native sandstone suspended in cold-formed, welded steel, are the creation of Castle Valley artist Michael Ford Dunton. Gifted to the county by Dunton, and through private donations, the $44,000 art installation is the first step toward a larger vision of public art in Moab.

“It’s a real honor to see this work so warmly received, and given with such generous aid of community contributors,” Dunton said.

Dunton, and his wife Christy Williams-Dunton, are co-founders of Moab ArTTrails (MARTT), a new arts collective that they said aims to expand Moab’s creative economy and its collection of public art. They see the installation of “Forces at Play,” as the first phase of a larger program that will include an annual outdoor sculpture exhibition with site locations around downtown Moab, and along the county’s bike paths and parkways.

“The Riverway Bridge … stands as an eloquent welcome, a gate between Moab and the rest of the world,” Williams-Dunton said. “It is the perfect place to launch a phased public art program that contributes to the greater trail system, and to the vision of a community connected by its shared pathways to place and culture.”

The Duntons said they became aware of how other communities like Grand Junction, Colorado, established public art projects. They subsequently started brainstorming ways to develop a similar program in Moab.

They plan to host Moab’s first public art show along the Mill Creek Parkway in June 2017. The exhibition will be open to national and international artists, with site selections chosen in and around downtown Moab and along the parkway. Future locations could include a branch all along the parkway system, including Rotary Park, and eventually all the way north to the Moab Brands Trails.

The exhibition will remain on display with locals and visitors alike able to vote on a “people’s choice” selection that would then hopefully be purchased for part of the community’s permanent collection.

“The Art on Trails program is modeled after successful temporary exhibits throughout the country tailored to Moab’s unique character,” Dunton said. “The primary aim is to display and curate artwork of the highest quality, with a strong consideration for safety, durability, and ease of maintenance.”

Grand County Community Development Director Zacharia Levine said that he supported the creation of a community art program in the Moab area, and said that it will be part of “transforming space into place.”

“Here in Utah’s canyon country we have the ingredients to establish a one of a kind program: wild landscapes, world-class recreation infrastructure and rich social-ecological structures,” Levine said. “Moab ArTTrails has the potential to truly enhance our community well being, enhance visitor experience and economic vitality.”

Dunton said that “Forces at Play” has been over a year in the making, but that he began conceptualizing the project back in 2007.

“(Former Moab City Community Development Director) David Olsen approached me about ideas when they started building the bridge,” Dunton said. “I did some designs and nothing really happened, but I kept the idea alive for eight years and when I built the first of these four pieces, I knew the bridge was the right place for them.”

He said the pieces are inspired by forces that you can’t see like gravity and current, and that he translates those forces into his work.

“I see all these lines, what form do they take?” he said. “They’re happening all the time. This is the work behind the scenes that shape our landscape.”

The sculptures will be installed on the supporting pylons of the bridge and lit with solar-powered lighting. Levine said his office worked with Horrocks Engineering to ensure safety and structural integrity.

Though the project is moving forward as planned, Moab ArTTrails is still seeking additional funding. One sculpture has been donated by Dunton, and two have been purchased, but they are still looking for $11,000 to finalize the project.

Nevertheless, an installation ceremony is being planned for November.

Williams-Dunton said that the project was also about legacy.

“What do we want to leave future generations? What is the most lasting way to communicate past our own time?” she said. “The arts and humanities (are) a way of anchoring story to place.”

Set of four sculptures made possible by gifts, private donations