2006 MasterMind Awards

The 2006 MasterMind winners:

MasterMind, Visual Arts: KATIE TAFT

MasterMind, Literary Arts: CAFE NUBA

MasterMind, Design/Fashion: DEB HENRIKSEN

MasterMind, Film/Video: JOHNNY MOREHOUSE

MasterMind, Performing Arts: DRAGON DAUD

Visual Arts: Katie Taft
Katie Taft is a self-made woman, which makes her "self-made" salon, at Mario's Double Daughters Salotto, quite apropos. Every Tuesday since last June, Taft has invited someone from the local arts community to chat about how he or she has made it, offering up inspirational stories or tips for succeeding.

"I was working at Double Daughters doing marketing, sort of my day job, and we wanted to do something to bring the art world into the bar and make it a community place for them," she explains. "My original idea was just a stitch-and-bitch, but that was done. The more that we discussed the idea, the more we wanted to have someone come in and talk about what they do. Like, how do you walk into a gallery and feel confident? From this, I've gotten so many ideas for my career and been inspired by others."

Taft wasn't always inspired by Denver. The local girl bailed after graduating from high school in Boulder and headed to Washington State to study political science at Evergreen State College. Political science turned out to be too political, though, and she switched to filmmaking. "It was still politically minded, but more creative," she says. Eventually she left the "hippie, liberal school" for a Catholic girls' school in Portland, Oregon, with a great reputation for film, and she honed her photography skills there. Then she headed for the bright lights of Chicago -- but couldn't get a job.

Finally, the prodigal daughter returned. "I came home to regenerate and was planning on being back for about two weeks. I've been back about three years," Taft says, laughing.

While she's been grounded here, Taft has made a name for herself across the country with her ingenious Imaginary Friends series. She starts by developing a character -- personality traits, colors it would like, thoughts, word associations -- and then sculpts the creature, usually merging animals and people into a hybrid. After that, she photographs her pals out in the world. "When I first started in photography, I was coming from film, so I was costuming people," Taft says. "I didn't realize it was the Œimaginary,' but I knew I wanted to work in the fantastic. In my life, fiction is often more true than nonfiction. So I get my inspiration from stories, everything from Greek myths to Hello Kitty."

That suits her well for her other love: working with kids. Taft teaches after-school arts programs in the schools through DAVA and is on the board of Flash Gallery, part of the nonprofit Working With Artists photo school in Belmar.

Staying that busy, it's no wonder she has imaginary friends. "The thing that's great about being an artist is that it's a whole life," Taft says. "Everything I do. So when I'm working, I still feel good. Even teaching is great. I don't need spare time."

Spoken like a true MasterMind.

Literary Arts: Cafe Nuba
Cafe Nuba: It's hot and it's black. It's also one of the most vibrant literary events in town.

Celebrating its sixth anniversary this month, the once-roving evening of poetry and spoken word has finally settled down at the Walnut Room and is ready for a rebirth, says emcee Ebony "Isis" Booth. "What I hope to transition into is a more polished, professional showcase-type of set instead of it just being an open mike," she explains. "I want Cafe Nuba to be the end-all, be-all for showcasing your poetry in Denver. It kind of is already nationally, but I want it to be that for us personally, locally."

Booth has been hosting the event -- which is always scheduled for the last Friday of each month -- for little more than a year, volunteering her time with the Pan African Arts Society, which supports Cafe Nuba. "It takes a lot of work," says the New Jersey native, who moved here during high school. "It's high energy keeping a room full of people focused on someone reading poetry." But all that work has paid off: Booth has seen the audience grow to upwards of 250 people, with participants jockeying to get on the stage.

The local literary scene has also become more active since Cafe Nuba first started as a micro-cinema and film-centric poetry set. Whereas once there were just a handful of places to perform -- Brother Jeff's Cultural Center & Cafe and the Mercury Cafe among them -- a number of clubs now showcase poetry and spoken-word talent. "There are so many places where you can go to develop your own personal talent and skills," Booth says. "When I started out, there were only a few mikes. Now there are all these new microphones that poets have access to. Denver is really in a position to blow up. And if you have a platform like Cafe Nuba to perfect your skills, you can expand, get booked out of town, tour. It's pretty cool."

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