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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Best New Public Art
Denver International Airport
As the nation's first megatest of the Percent for Art concept, DIA art is the pumpkin seed that grew into Cinderella's coach. For DIA, that 1 percent of the total expenditure turned into a whopping $7.5 million--and though the quality of the art will no doubt be argued over endlessly (some of it's quite extraordinary, some of it isn't), the mere fact that Denver spent so much on this quixotic project will make the city the hub of public-art discussions for years to come.

Readers' choice: DIA

Best Art Walk
LoDo First Fridays
Lower downtown has been an arts hotbed for several years now, nurturing a healthy gallery row that's sprung up on Wazee Street and thereabouts. Now that the area is becoming a hotbed of everything else, the galleries have stepped-up their efforts to gain exposure and encourage people to seek culture in urban places. On the first Friday evening of every month, the public is invited to a gallery hop laden with shmoozy openings and lots of great art--a concept patterned after similar events in Seattle and Boston. People are coming downtown at night to do just that, too. Is this a real city or what?

Best Outdoor Art Experience
Reflections in City Spaces
Blake's Small Car Salvage, Erie

You have to admire the troupe of artists, musicians and dancers who collaborated on a performance in an Erie (and eerie) junkyard last fall. Found objects and instruments, random movement and an unstructured denouement involving a backhoe (!) all figured in the work, performed at night and attended by a host of brave souls who climbed aboard a double-decker bus that transported them to the scene. And it was a scene, in that urban-jungle, guerrilla-art kind of way.

Best Outdoor Mural
Denver Civic Theatre
721 Santa Fe Dr.

Mural art by its nature encompasses the whole community. And no mural evidences this better than the one painted on the long side of the Denver Civic Theatre at 7th and Santa Fe. Designed by local artist Andy Mendoza and dedicated during this year's Cinco de Mayo celebration, the outdoor work created to honor the late Enrique Montoya (a major star on the Latino arts horizon) was completed with help from students at West High School and Greenlee Elementary School as well as volunteers from the barrio, who all pitched in to bring color and pride to their neighborhood.

Best Indoor Mural
Mexi-Dan's
2101 Larimer St.

Mexi-Dan's owner Dan de La Torre used more than a little artistic license when he commissioned a wall mural for his neighborhood take-out joint. In the finished product, painted by a Brazilian exchange student named Ricardo, de La Torre's cozy Mexican restaurant is shown just down the street from the main entrance to Coors Field--and so what if the ballpark's main entrance will actually be a block down on 22nd Street? The brilliantly colored scene is in the best folk-art tradition, depicting the red-brick ballyard, a Colorado Rockies blimp and even a plane towing a giant Mexi-Dan's banner against a Kodacolor sky. If Ricardo ever comes back to the U.S., Dan wants him to put an eighteenth-century Mexican village on the other wall; for now, patrons can enjoy the score permanently emblazoned on the Coors Field facade: Rockies, 9, Cubs, 0.

Best Dog Art
Ralston Purina Dog Chow Logo
Eastbound I-70

What pooch hasn't paused, as his owners whiz past on the way to Stapleton or points east, to contemplate the big brown canine in the sky? The lovable pup ramming his head into a bag of Purina Dog Chow looks so real he may even summon a bark of appreciation--and the ever-present aroma of freshly cooked dog food that wafts across the freeway at this spot can only enhance the aesthetic experience. The sign, inscribed atop the Ralston Purina Consumer Products Plant by Denver painter Mark Oatis, looks pretty good to people, too.

Best Yard Art
Passionatta Inner City Garden Project
2132 Lawrence St.

The lot at 2132 Lawrence used to languish in slow decay, back when a condemned structure disintegrating there was used as a crack house. Susan Wick of City Spirit Cafe took pity on the poor needle-strewn parcel of land, negotiated with the state for a $1-a-year rental contract, and endeavored to turn it into a pocket Eden. Using compost made from vegetable material left over in the City Spirit kitchen and guidance from the Denver Urban Gardeners, a garden of flowers and soil-revitalizing cover crops is rising out of the ruins. What to do with the empty hut? The house and surroundings are being turned into an ongoing sculpture by Wick (who believes you "need a little passion to get things done"), her aide-de-camp Tracy Weil and just about anyone else who wants to pitch in.

Best Grocery Store Art
John Higby
Capitol Hill Alfalfa's
900 E. 11th Ave.

John Higby's colorful signs are everywhere, inside and out, at the Capitol Hill Alfalfa's. They're not only prolific but cartoonishly beautiful, spray-painted or chalk-drawn with technique borrowed from graffiti artists. His dancing cheeses, tomatoes, Evian bottles and wigged-out pancakes and polar bears (on the ice chest--where else?) help make the chore of grocery shopping delightfully less mundane.

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