Celebrate Artopia and Westword's newest MasterMinds

Meet the MasterMinds

Six 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 to not just honor them, but to give them each substantial cash awards to use as they see fit.

The first five 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 close to $100,000 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 a 2007 MasterMind winner.

Each year, the previous winners help choose our next class of MasterMinds. And like our earlier honorees, the 2010 MasterMinds are an extraordinary group. Through their work, they've helped to revive classical music through coffeehouse culture, taught artists how to feed themselves by feeding each other, shown imprisoned kids how to escape through art, and put on shows — lots of shows — involving fashion, the visual arts, movies and more.

The 2010 MasterMind awards will be presented at Artopia on Saturday, February 20, at 8 p.m. at the Living Room. Bios of this year's winners begin below.

Fallene Wells

"Does this mean I have to make more outfits?" Fallene Wells asks, laughing, when she hears she's a 2010 MasterMind. The 28-year-old is the brains behind Forever Darling, an annual fashion show and market that raises money for various charitable causes. "I felt that in order for my garments to be in a fashion show in Denver, I had to have my own fashion show," she explains. "So I started my own."

The inaugural show, in 2007, featured local designers James Silvrants, Catherine Rogers, Crystal Sharp and Joey Delore, as well as Wells's own Let 'Em Have It line of garments. After that, the show "just got bigger and bigger," Wells says.

She first became interested in fashion at the age of eleven, when she visited Long Beach's Brooks College with her sister, who was into interior design. "All of the dress forms had really cool outfits on them," she remembers, "and the sketches and everything — it just somehow sparked something in me, and I felt like that's what I wanted to do." When Wells was fifteen years old, she thought about going to Brooks herself, but her boyfriend at the time "kind of influenced me not to do it," she says, "so I ended up not going. But I felt that I still really had a passion for it, and I feel if you're meant to do something in life, it'll happen to you anyway. It's just kind of weird how it blew up out here."

It's especially weird considering that Wells's second attempt at a formal fashion education backfired, too: The fashion program she wanted to take at the Art Institute of Colorado had been discontinued by the time the seventeen-year-old moved to Denver from Vegas. "I decided that I was going to either enroll at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York or enroll in a cosmetology program out here," she says. "So it was kind of, 'Which path should I take?' And I ended up going to cosmetology school. I've been a hairstylist for six years. I think being a hairdresser and a designer is awesome, because I have an understanding of color and texture, and hair to me is just another fabric. So it makes me a stronger designer."

She designs mostly women's dresses, but hopes to break into separates soon. "I just feel that people should dress how they want to be perceived, and they should express their personality through their clothing," she says. "And when people wear my clothes, they're able to just be more confident and feminine."

What else is up for Wells? She'd like to try out for Project Runway this year, and "I hope in five years that I'm in a few more boutiques," she says. "I want to eventually have enough money where I have my own fashion house here and manufacture my own clothes — and then sell it nationally. I want to be a national brand."

That's a wrap! — Amber Taufen

Telling Stories/ Jennie Dorris

"You have to know the rules to break the rules," says Jennie Dorris.

She learned the rules while doing undergraduate work at Drake University in both writing and music. "I kind of keep a foot in both disciplines," she explains. "Folks are always asking which I'm going to choose, but they complement each other so well. I get the best of both worlds."

Particularly in Denver, where she moved in 2002 to get her master's degree in music. "When you move to Colorado from Des Moines — oh, my God, it's the promised land," she says. "In the wild West, you can try these things."

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