Best Outdoor Arts Festival
Conifer Country Affair
Just west of Conifer on Hwy. 285

It's getting hard to tell whether arts festivals in the city are good or not--they're too crowded. That's one reason why the Conifer Country Affair is so appealing--you can still go and actually see it. This one is perhaps more old-timey than its urban siblings, focusing on fine antiques and folk crafts, all displayed in colorful tents set up in a mountain meadow. Standouts include Tennessean Joe Mason's carved signs (including some used in the film Fried Green Tomatoes), handmade figures by Phoebe Greathouse and water-colored Scherenschnitte (a German paper-cut technique) by Jeri Ryel. Bluegrass provides the score, while lacemakers make lace, spinners spin, broom makers make brooms and everyone eats.

Best Indoor Arts Festival
The Art Affairs
Grant-Humphreys Mansion
770 Pennsylvania St.

The location sets the mood for this craft fair that appears once or twice a year within the confines of the magnificent Grant-Humphreys Mansion. The result is something grand and elegant but not too pricey. Half the fun comes of wandering from room to room like a socialite partygoer of old; there are musicians roving around at the openings and surprises in every cranny--including rich tapestry handbags and vests, magnificent dolls, flat geometric glass jewelry dressed up with antique metal findings, hand-stitched artwear, graceful blown-glass goblets and much more.

Best Arts Organization
The Alternative Arts Alliance
No ragged band of gypsies, the Alternative Arts Alliance is a duly organized effort to promote the activities of local artists and cooperative galleries. And promote is what it does--in very positive ways. Members participate in an open studio tour where the public meets artists in their working environments and in programs that bring art to public schools; the Alliance's annual open show features works by more than 200 locals (some of which go on tour to other cities), while the SPACE tour celebrates the new year with simultaneous January openings at member galleries. The AAA's latest effort: an artsy block party at 36th and Navajo, home of the Pirate and Edge galleries and The Bug performance venue.

Best Fine Art Printmaking Facility
CSK Gallery/Open Press
1637 Wazee St.

Mark Lunning, longtime advocate of public facilities for making fine-art prints, spent years dragging his aging equipment around town just so poor artists could pull prints without the hassle and expense of going to commercial printers. Now, thanks to a business loan and sweat equity, Lunning's Open Press, co-owned by Kent Shira, has at last found a permanent home. The spic-and-span, Shira-owned prints gallery upstairs, well-stocked with old masters, is a posh intro to the spacious and well-equipped printing workshop in the basement, which is filled with state-of-the-art equipment and staffed with understanding experts whose love of art and down-to-earth desire to make good prints give this LoDo art palace real sparkle.

Best Fine Art Education
Art Students League of Denver
200 Grant St.

Based on the Thirties-era ideal that working people, not just the rich, need a place to study art, the Art Students League descends from similar institutions in New York and Chicago. The ASL's new digs in the old Sherman School building have allowed the league to open printmaking and other studio facilities to the public, to offer a full schedule of drawing, painting and sculpture classes taught by talented local professionals, and to welcome everyone from teenagers shut out of art classes (Denver Public Schools discontinued them two years ago) to seniors hoping to learn how to paint "happy little trees" in the style of TV's Bob Ross. Best bet: the marble-carving class held on-site in Marble, Colorado.

Best Commercial Art Education
Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design
6875 E. Evans Ave.

Less crowded and more serious than the local Colorado Institute of Art franchise, where a boisterous atmosphere prevails, the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design offers a thorough education in the commercial arts and graphic design, along with a welcome respect for the traditions of fine art. Professors here know the local market better than most, having weathered its ups and downs themselves, and the school's Phillip J. Steele Gallery offers some of the best in experimental art and architecture exhibitions.

Best Budding Artist
Michelle Martinez
Denver School of the Arts

A hand-burnished raku pot made by eighth-grader Michelle Martinez took one of only 160 gold Scholastic Art Awards doled out nationally this year. To complicate matters, the junior ceramicist says she'll use her prize money to make a down payment on a violin--the instrument she plays proficiently in the Denver School of the Arts orchestra when her hands aren't covered with mud. The promising Martinez is taking her career plans slowly, though; she doesn't plan to choose between clay and concertos for at least another year.

Best Art Romp for Kids
Saturdays for Families
Denver Art Museum
100 W. 14th Ave. Pkwy.

Wise parents know that nothing absorbs children's attention more completely than letting them play with something that's usually a no-no. Saturdays for Families are the ultimate expression of this idea: The hushed and guarded floors of the museum with their hands-off baubles become a run-in-the-halls, crayon-scribbling playground, where children from toddlers to teenagers solve art-history puzzles, make their own art and get casual with culture. Free to everyone on Saturdays, the museum offers workshops, child-friendly volunteers, and no mess to clean up afterward.

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