Meet the MasterMind Class of 2009

Five years ago, Westword added a very special component to Artopia: the MasterMind awards. Recognizing that the local arts scene needed a little fertilizer to really get going, and growing, we created a program that every year honors five cultural visionaries — artists and organizations alike — working to change the cultural landscape of Denver. And we decided not to just honor them, but to give them each substantial cash awards to use as they see fit.

The first four classes of MasterMinds have done amazing things with their awards, frequently using them to help other, struggling artists along and creating major multipliers for the $80,000 that Westword has given away so far. "I'd like to think that the award was leveraged into hundreds of media projects that have been completed here since," says Tony Shawcross, whose Deproduction/Denver Open Media was the 2007 MasterMind winner for multimedia. "The goal and the vision that Westword chose to support through our MasterMind award was opening access to the tools and resources people need to express themselves, without any corporation, committee or individual determining who is and is not worthy of such an opportunity."

Each year, the previous winners help choose our next class of MasterMinds. And like our earlier honorees, the 2009 MasterMinds are an extraordinary group. Through their work, they've given a voice to the homeless; made art from old shoes while showing disadvantaged youth the way to make their own art; created political theater with a definite expiration date; shown us new ways to look at life in a multiple of media; and taught Denver how to dress up for a dime.

The 2009 MasterMind Awards will be presented at Artopia on Saturday, February 21, at 8 p.m. on the main floor of Vinyl.

Literary Arts

THE DENVER VOICE

Extra, extra: Newspapers (at least some newspapers) are not dead! Read all about it!

Just two years ago, the Denver Voice, the newspaper by and for this town's homeless population, was silenced after funding dried up and its leaders moved away. That's when Rick Barnes stepped in. A downtown businessman who'd regularly bought a copy of the paper, heard about the Voice's plight and set out to revive it, creating a new non-profit board and hiring Amelia Patterson, who was getting her master's in journalism at the University of Colorado, to research "street papers" and take on the task of restarting the Denver Voice. "It's such an amazing project," says Patterson, who today serves as the paper's managing editor and executive director.

Over the past eighteen months, she, Barnes, the board and the rest of the staff have broadened the mission and reach of the Voice and, most important, added a street vendor program. "To be a street newspaper, you have to have a vendor program, where homeless people collect for the paper," Patterson says. Every issue includes an explanation of the program: "The Denver Voice is committed to empowering homeless, impoverished and transient individuals by creating job opportunities through our Vendor Program. Vendors are able to purchase the Denver Voice for 25 cents each at our distribution center, which pays for a portion of our production costs. In turn, vendors can sell the paper to the public for a one-dollar donation. The difference in cost (75 cents) is theirs to keep."

The board just finished totaling the results for 2008, the first full year of the vendor program, and found that more than 600 people participated — an estimated 15 percent of this town's homeless population. With 15,000 papers printed every month, that means the most enterprising vendors can collect a significant chunk of change — and start working their way to self-sufficiency. "There's something magical about it," says Patterson. "People really love buying a paper from a person — from a person who is unapproachable in other circumstances — and to know that they're helping them out. People are developing relationships. It's really quite a beautiful thing. And for the vendors, it's really empowering. They feel they have so much ownership over it."

The vendor program isn't the only way the Denver Voice is giving voice to the homeless. It's also made significant improvements to the publication itself, adding a new motto — "for everyone who calls Denver home" — as well as professional artwork and stories that include interviews of local personalities, reviews of art shows and profiles of vendors. "We wanted to get away from an activist point of view and be a lot more journalistic," Patterson explains.

And they've succeeded.

This summer, the Denver Voice will host the North American Street Newspaper Conference, bringing representatives of 26 other street papers across the country to Denver. And in the meantime, the paper will continue to give the homeless a way to be heard — both aesthetically and economically.

Welcome home, Denver Voice. You're our 2009 MasterMind in the Literary Arts.

Patricia Calhoun

2008: Art From Ashes

2007: Vox Feminista

2006: Cafe Nuba, Ashara Ekundayo

2005: Denver Zine Library/Kristy Fenton

Fashion/Design

VICKY NOLAN

The Emily Griffith Opportunity School is a true Denver treasure, a century-old institution devoted to making lifelong learning accessible to everyone. And within EGOS is another true treasure, Vicky Nolan, the lead instructor in the Professional Sewing/Fashion Design program — and the unanimous choice of our four previous winners of the fashion/design MasterMind award to take this year's honor. It wasn't even a clothes call, you might say.

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