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The "Tree of Transformation," an interactive art and music installation, will be in Civic Center Park until April 15. Photo courtesy of Evan Semón Photography

“Tree of Transformation” Brings Interactive Art to Civic Center Park

The park's first-ever art installation is a musical tree you can visit—and play!—until April 15.

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People leave Burning Man, the annual nine-day gathering in the Nevada desert, with many things: a reworked perspective on life, new friends, the overwhelming need for a shower.

Nick Geurts left with an idea.

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The structural engineer was inspired to create his own piece of art to showcase. That was in 2004. Ten years later, it finally happened: He received a Burning Man arts grant to craft the “Tree of (Im)Permanence,” a 20-foot-tall tree sculpture with playable, stainless-steel bell chimes. In the process of fabricating the piece, he walked into Ryan Elmendorf’s shop looking for space and help with the electronics (Elmendorf, who’s attended Burning Man numerous times, is an electronics and programming expert). The pair have worked together on projects ever since, including the permanent “Sky Song” installation at Levitt Pavilion in Ruby Hill Park.

The Denver artists’ latest local work, “Tree of Transformation,” was unveiled in Civic Center Park last week. (It was featured at Burning Man in 2015.) It’s similar to the pair’s first installation, except it incorporates a full-size piano (rather than a kid’s toy piano) and the strikers hit steel pans from Trinidad and Tobago instead of chimes. “We really enjoyed the process of developing a large-scale toy instrument,” Elmendorf says. “We wanted to make a couple more in that series.”

“All of our work is interactive,” Geurts adds. “The whole idea is to draw people in, inspire collaboration, and create something unexpected.”

Which is precisely why the Civic Center Conservancy (CCC) reached out to the duo in the first place. The nonprofit is tasked with “restoring, enhancing, and activating” our city’s central park; the organization is behind Civic Center Moves and Civic Center Eats, among other events.

“Tree of Transformation” is the CCC’s first Art in the Park initiative. With so many museums and other cultural venues within walking distance of the green space, the arts were an obvious next step for the group. “Our hope is that through this initiative, we’re going to be able to…continue to use interactive, temporary art in the park as a means to attract, as a means to get people to stay, to create that emotional attachment and create positive memories while they’re at Civic Center Park,” says Eric Lazzari, CCC’s director of programming and events. “We want to have an ongoing presence of art in the park.”

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Beyond their own work, Geurts and Elmendorf also consult on others’ public art projects and help with fabrication through Geurts’ YetiWeurks and Elmendorf’s Re:Engineering.

“Tree of Transformation” will be on display in the middle of the park’s central promenade until April 15. It’s “on” at all hours, so stop by and play a tune.

Daliah Singer, 5280 Contributor

Daliah Singer is an award-winning writer and editor based in Denver. You can find more of her work at daliahsinger.com.

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