The last thing you expect to see this time of year is a gigantic arts festival. We've had it drilled into our pointy little heads that such events belong in the summer, when they can be outdoor affairs with blaring music and good stuff to eat and drink and a ton of artists (and even more artisans) who either fought tooth and nail for a juried spot in the show or simply could afford to risk the pricey booth fee. So the all-new Colorado Art Expo, which debuts today and tomorrow at the Colorado Convention Center, has just got to be a good thing.
To begin with, the expo's roots are in the right place: This is the brainchild of Brian Nelson, who also produces the Celebrate Colorado Artists festival at the Denver Pavilions every spring. Nelson is a die-hard supporter of the local arts community who honed his promotional skills over six years with the CCA and, before that, working with the daddy of 'em all, the Cherry Creek Arts Festival. He's also seen arts funding take a nosedive over the past few years and has still managed to stay afloat.
By now you'd think Nelson would have already delved into every arts-fest angle in the universe, but not so. "I'm a solution-oriented person," he says. "If we're losing grant money, then we need to figure out a different way to do business."
In keeping with that spirit, his newest venture is grassroots with a serious gloss, offering hundreds of artists, arts organizations, museums and private galleries an opportunity to boost their public visibility under one roof. At the same time, he's giving visitors a chance to do some highbrow gift shopping while being exposed to a huge gamut of artwork created by Coloradans -- for just a $5 door fee (a portion of which goes directly to Arts for Colorado and a host of other regional arts organizations). The price of admission allows Nelson to rely less heavily on corporate sponsorships while making participation more affordable: Even most starving artists can afford the $100 booth fee.
The admission fee also pays your way into an ongoing Art Café cultural symposium, a part of the expo that is really taking off -- unexpectedly, according to Nelson. Hosted by arts advocate Mark Riva, the series of hour-long panel discussions focusing on different aspects of art in Colorado will encourage community participation, essentially creating a mini arts convention. In addition, artist demonstrations and offbeat entertainment will be interspersed among the sessions. "We'll already have a good, captive audience," Nelson notes, "but we're trying to provide a kind of entertainment different from what you'd typically find at an arts festival, along with stimulating, interesting conversation and good topics." The most ardent Art Café talkers will be able to continue their conversation after the fest adjourns on Saturday, at a special 7:30 p.m. soirée at Walker Fine Art, 300 West 11th Avenue in the Prado building (admission is $5).
This holiday season, a gallery-goer couldn't ask for anything more. Like an entire year's worth of First Fridays packed into one big weekend, the Colorado Art Expo gives viewers and artists alike an egalitarian chance to see and be seen. "The expo has an opportunity to expand in really big way," Nelson says, looking to the future. And he intends to keep that promise.