“It's Not What You Take, It’s What You Bring Back” – a sculpture by Thomas “Detour” Evans
The public artwork at Denver International Airport (DEN) is vast, diverse, and integrated into the traveler’s experience through murals, sculptures, paintings, exhibits and hidden gems at every turn.
This philosophy will hold true in DEN’s new gate expansion areas, including Denver artist Thomas “Detour” Evans’ sculpture, “It’s Not What You Take, It’s What You Bring Back” debuting in 2025 on Concourse B East. We had a chance to catch up with Detour and get the story behind the extraordinary piece.
Can you tell us how you came up with the idea for your upcoming artwork at DEN?
The idea for “It’s Not What You Take, It’s What You Bring Back” was birthed out of my desire to connect with the community as much as possible. I traveled a lot as a child, so I’ve seen many public art sculptures in airports, but seldom did I connect with them. I wanted this one to be a piece that everyone could connect with by being a part of it.
I peeled back the idea of life being in perpetual motion with luggage and bags carrying the items that we hold there. Regardless of what community you are with, this is something we all have in common… being on a journey and carrying the items that are important to us. That is why I wanted the building blocks of this piece to be upcycled luggage in bags from individuals that have made Colorado great.
The shape is inspired by the idea of life being in perpetual motion as well as the 24-hour nature of airports - specifically DIA. There's always a plane in the sky and people traveling in the world. The colors are inspired by the sunrise and sunset of Colorado because we have so much sun shining on us every year. And when you get closer the uptown motion of the culture in the infinite loop resembles takeoff and landing during those times of day.
It took a while to create a concept because I wanted to make sure that each decision was truly thoughtful and showcased the best of Colorado to those living within our state as well as those visiting.
Can you tell us about the process for gathering luggage that will be part of the art piece?
The decision to create the piece from cycled luggage, bags, and items is the backbone of the concept. Throughout the process of fabricating this piece I will be collecting luggage and bags from individuals that would love to contribute to the work. With the luggage that will be selected there will be a story/insight about Colorado tied to it. I want to make sure that many of the stories and history of Colorado can be told through the items collected.
Not only are we selecting from donations, but we are actively approaching organization, businesses, various community leaders, and more to collect luggage/bags/items to make sure we are able to give a wide spectrum of how unique Colorado is. I graduated from the University of Colorado Denver, so having a piece of luggage from our chancellor would be amazing.
Do you have any favorite stories about luggage you’re including?
My friend JC Futrell who works at the Denver Art Museum donated his grandfather’s airman bag. His grandfather was John Mosley, one of the first black football players at Colorado State University, as well as a Tuskegee Airmen.
What do you want passengers to take away from this piece?
First, I would love for passengers to enjoy the artwork on an aesthetic level while traveling because I know how stressful travel can be. Having artwork that calms you and fills you with joy is something that we need more of…especially because airports are extremely diverse in travelers, I want everyone regardless of a background to connect with the work.
Second, I would love for them to learn more about Colorado through learning more about the work. The concept is designed so that the building blocks of this sculpture will guide them to unique personalities throughout our state. And last, I wish that the community feels as if they have ownership of public art because they were able to not only contribute tangibly to the piece but add to the narrative as well.