Take Ten: Meet the latest class of MasterMinds

Take Ten: Meet the latest class of MasterMinds

In the early 2000s, Denver was all about the creative class. Author/big thinker Richard Florida had labeled the metro area one of the top creative spots in the country, an honor that John Hickenlooper used to promote the city that had just elected him mayor. Fifteen years before, he'd been one of those entrepreneurial adventurers — an unemployed geologist who joined with other visionaries to found the town's first brewpub, the Wynkoop Brewing Co., still going strong 25 years later. And Hickenlooper, too, is still going strong: Today he has a starring role as governor of Colorado.

But we didn't need Florida's seal of approval, or Hickenlooper's unusual career path, to know that Colorado is full of creativity. For generations, the Front Range has drawn artists and other aesthetic explorers, people who want to make their mark on the landscape — people every bit as daring as would-be brewmasters or new politicians, but rarely as high-profile. Or highly compensated.

In honor of the groundbreaking, often underappreciated and almost always underpaid work that so many of these artists were doing, a decade ago Westword created the MasterMind awards, a grant program that every year gives five no-strings-attached awards to arts organizations and individuals in the fields of literary arts, performance, multimedia, visual arts and fashion/design. We inducted our first class in 2005 and will honor our tenth this week.

When we named Buntport to that original class of MasterMinds, it was a fledgling theater troupe of Colorado College grads; today it's one of the biggest draws in the city, a theatrical institution that continues to do cutting-edge work. Other early honorees, including the Denver Zine Library, have had a tougher time over the past ten years; now under the guidance of Kelly Shortandqueer, the library will open another chapter when it moves yet again this year. And individuals like Brandi Shigley (our first fashion honoree) and Lauri Lynnxe Murphy (our first visual-arts winner) not only continue to impress us with the scope of their own art, but with their generous support of other artists despite the challenges of the scene — challenges that finally inspired Murphy to reluctantly move on this year. But her heart, and her art, will always be a part of Denver.

A surprising number of MasterMinds have stayed in this city, where today they are integral members of the increasingly lively arts scene. And they also contribute to the increasingly lively process of choosing the next class of MasterMinds. The nominations list alone is a breathtaking guide to the scope and sweep of activity in this area. While narrowing that group down to the five who will each get a $2,000 grant is one of the hardest things we do all year, making the calls to the new class of MasterMinds to let them know they've won is definitely the easiest. And the most satisfying.

We made those calls earlier this week. And with this announcement of the tenth class of MasterMinds, we have now honored fifty artists and arts organizations since 2005, giving grants totaling well over $150,000.

The state of the arts in this state? Inspirational. For proof, just look at our cover story. Over the past year, arts and culture editor Susan Froyd has been paying homage to some of her favorite Colorado creatives — 100, all told — on our Show and Tell blog. From those profiles, we chose eight to feature in "State of the Arts," people ranging from longtime fixtures on the scene (cover boy Andrew Novick, for example) to up-and-comers. And, in fact, two of the latter just happen to be members of the 2014 class of MasterMinds. New Orleans native Eric Dallimore is not just a multi-faceted artist; he's also co-owner and curator of Leon Gallery, one of Denver's havens for emerging and undiscovered artists. For his work both at Leon and on his own, Dallimore is our 2014 MasterMind in the Visual Arts. Then there's Adam Stone, whose collaborations with Buntport are just the start of his endless creativity, which earned him the 2014 MasterMind/Performance award.

They aren't the only MasterMinds who've appeared in the paper. A year ago, Alan Prendergast's "The Lifers Book Club" took a look at Words Beyond Bars, a program developed by ex-librarian Karen Lausa that took the book-discussion-group concept to high-security inmates at the Limon prison. For her innovative work, Lausa wins the 2014 MasterMind/Literary Arts award.

Although our last two winners haven't done their work behind bars, they're always out in the community. Kim Shively, our 2014 MasterMind for Multimedia, is a filmmaker/editor/producer who's made promo videos for titwrench as well as Warlock Pinchers, Magic Cyclops and Joshua Novak; she co-directed Wesley Willis's Joyrides, a documentary about the famed underground musician. Currently, she's finishing a new documentary about Lucha Libre culture in Denver. For her work documenting underground culture as well as creating smart, innovative web TV — don't miss her new show, The Existential Beaver — Shively is a real mastermind.

So, too, is Lisa Elstun, our 2014 MasterMind in Fashion/Design. A sublime couture designer who works privately with individual clients, Elstun goes much further. She's also a teacher, mentor and consultant to others in the design business who's more than ready to help Denver's fashion community move forward, and she helps propel the industry as a behind-the-scenes force with Fashion Group International and the Denver Design Incubator.

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