Meet the MasterMind Class of 2009

But Zupa's held fast to that creative muse. "When I say that I seek to inspire a neediness in others, one is not meant to feel a neediness for me, but rather a neediness for oneself and for what one is capable of," he concludes. "I feel a profound resentment when art tries to shut me out or seeks to relegate me to passive observer, non-participant. My hope is that I can generate the same optimism and empowerment that I feel when I look at beautiful art or listen to people thinking through the complexities of life."

That's a true MasterMind speaking.

— Amber Taufen

2008: Jason Bosch

2007: Tony Shawcross, Deproduction/Denver Open Media

2006: Johnny Morehouse

2005: Emerging Filmmakers Project at the Bug Theatre

Performing Arts

BRIAN FREELAND

Brian Freeland's theater career began when he was in the sixth grade and joined Denver's Younger Generation Players — which specialized in musicals — because of a crush on a girl. In 1990, he wound up at a New York conservatory, but he found himself more intrigued with the alternative scene downtown than with Broadway-style razzle-dazzle. He returned to Denver and founded the LIDA Project in 1995; went on to create Countdown to Zero — a group dedicated to mounting ten politically relevant pieces and then self-destructing; and has, through it all, served as sound designer for companies as various as Listen, Shadow and Curious.

LIDA is not an acronym, Freeland explains; the name comes from research he once did into Orwell's 1984. In a chapter on mind control, he found information on CIA experiments. He also discovered that the Soviet Union had built a prototype called the LIDA, which emitted low-frequency radio waves and was intended to reorganize brain-wave patterns. Freeland, wanting his company to alter perception and "transform the way people saw theater," adopted the name — and LIDA has lived up to it. Denver first encountered the work of Pulitzer winner Suzan-Lori Parks on the LIDA stage. Among other plays, the company also mounted a brilliant production of Caryl Churchill's The Skriker; a bone-chilling multi-media take on the Manson killings; an exploration of the Columbine murders; and a site-specific version of Genet's The Balcony. A new piece called Rain/Of Terror, which explores the complexities of revolution, will open on February 27.

Countdown to Zero emerged because Freeland's group wanted to explore overtly political material unencumbered by the minutiae associated with being a nonprofit — a board, audience development, grant-writing. And also because Freeland felt it was impossible to challenge power while taking money from the government. Countdown's first production was My Name Is Rachel Corrie, another regional premiere. Based on the writings of a young peace activist killed by the Israeli army in Gaza, the play was so controversial that a scheduled New York opening was canceled, though it was eventually shown in that city. Countdown's second production was Brecht's The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, which warns of the ways in which an ignorant, greedy and apathetic population can pave the way for fascism.

Freeland is now working on a script for LIDA based on Kafka's writings; for Countdown, he's contemplating a play by a local writer that explores the Bush administration's culpability for war crimes. The tone will be reminiscent of a children's theater production, Freeland says, with Rumsfeld represented by a figure called Uncle Rabbit.

Like everyone else in the arts, Freeland worries about the future. But he believes deeply that culture has a particularly important role during hard times. "The things that survive are books and plays, cultural artifacts, and they're how we frame those times," he says. "I truly believe it is a duty to question and to pass on culture from generation to generation; it's a collective story, and at some point it becomes a deeper philosophy about why we commune and why we gather to see theater."

See one of Freeland's productions, and you'll immediately recognize why he's our 2009 MasterMind in the Performing Arts.

Juliet Wittman

2008: Creative Music Works

2007: Jessica Robblee

2006: Dragon Daud

2005: Buntport Theater

Visual Arts

Viviane Le Courtois

Over the years, our winners in the Visual Arts category have shown that true MasterMinds don't just change the aesthetic landscape through their art, but also through their actions in the community. And no one exemplifies this better than Denver artist Viviane Le Courtois, our 2009 Visual Arts MasterMind.

Not only has Le Courtois created several distinct bodies of conceptual, contemporary art that she's exhibited in Denver and Europe, but she's also taught art to both children and adults. If that weren't enough — and it strikes me that it is — she's also the longtime program director of a non-profit art-education outfit aimed at a core audience of kids from low-income backgrounds.

As she listed the things she does every day, I asked Le Courtois if she thought of herself as a workaholic. She acknowledged that she did, and then went on to say, "I never stop. If I'm not teaching, I'm making my art."

Le Courtois was born and raised in France — a biographical detail that is abundantly clear the second you hear her speak. She earned the equivalent of an MFA at the International School of Art and Research in Nice; after stops in Korea and India, among other spots, she came to Denver in 1997 to do graduate work in art history at the University of Denver, where she got her masters in 2000. That's the same year she began exhibiting her quirky and thought-provoking, process-based installations here in town.

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