Seven 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 metro 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 six 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 more than $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 2011 MasterMinds are an extraordinary group. Through their work, they've helped to revive endangered dance forms, created a vibrant slam poetry scene, started a music festival devoted to women who might not otherwise get on stage, created incredible artworks out of sweatshirt fabric, turned an ambitious literary magazine into an actual gallery, and put on shows — lots of shows — that have made Denver a far more entertaining place to live.

The 2011 MasterMind awards will be presented at Artopia on Saturday, February 19, at the Living Room. And in a special ceremony this year, the MasterMinds will introduce a half-dozen artists and entrepreneurs who've inspired them: our MasterMinds' MasterMinds. Our previous winners are listed below, as are links to profiles of our 2011 winners.

2011 MasterMinds: Slam Nuba, Denver poets

2011 MasterMind: Sarah Slater, founder of Titwrench

2011 MasterMind: Tricia Hoke, clothing designer

2011 MasterMind: Illiterate/Adam Gildar

2011 MasterMind: Tiffiny Wine, swing dance instructor

2010: Fallene Wells; Jennie Dorris; Jolt; Eric Matelski; Laura Goldhamer

2009: Brian Freeland/LIDA Project; Viviane LeCourtois; Ravi Zupa; The Denver Voice; Vicky Nolan

2008: Creative Music Works/Andrew Starr; RINO/Jill Hadley Hooper and Tracy Weil; Jason Bosch/ArgusFest; Art From Ashes/Cathleen O'Neill; Mona Lucero

2007: Jessica Robblee; Jimmy Sellars; Tony Shawcross/Deproduction, Denver Open Media; Vox Feminista; The Fabric Lab/Josh and Tran Wills

2006: Dragon Daud, aka Dave Denney; Katie Taft; Deb Henriksen; Cafe Nuba/Ashara Ekundayo; Johnny Morehouse

2005: Lauri Lynnxe Murphy; Emerging Filmmakers Project @ Bug Theater; Brandi Shigley; Denver Zine Library; Buntport Theater

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