Summer festivals bring throngs of people out into the sunshine for one-size-fits-all fun, and leave no room for anyone of any age to get bored. That’s why we love them: It’s easy to get lost in a sweaty crowd and eat and drink and dance and look and look and look. The pinnacle of arts festivals in Denver would be the Cherry Creek Arts Festival, with its iconic stature and emphasis on tony perusing, but there are so many other ways to get into your festival groove. Here are ten of the best arts festivals in the area, in chronological order.
WAVE: Light + Water + Sound
BreckCreate’s innovative early-summer multimedia fest WAVE, which debuted last year, sets a new highbrow standard by bringing world-class art installations to the streets of Breckenridge, best known these days as a ski town. But you don’t have to be an art snob to enjoy and interact with these colored lights: There’s eye-popping fun for everyone during WAVE, especially after dark, when video projections, music and dance mingle brightly. If you like what you see, come back in August, when the Breckenridge International Fest of Arts brings another round of multi-disciplinary interactive art to the mountainside.
Denver Chalk Art Festival
After fifteen years, the Denver Chalk Art Festival has earned its place as a local tradition like no other. It’s an opportunity to get outdoors and welcome summer in the heart of the city while watching artists transform the pavement into a temporary art gallery and taking advantage of Larimer Square’s restaurants, boutiques and general urban charm.
Civic Center Park
Denver’s oldest community festival, with a history going back nearly fifty years to its modest advent on the grounds of Morey Middle School in Capitol Hill, the People’s Fair has grown to attract thousands of fans to Civic Center Park over two days every June. This year’s fest, under new management, will continue in the family-friendly vein that Denverites have come to expect over the decades, with a well-curated selection of artisan vendors, live cultural entertainment and music, including national headliners. And don’t forget the kids’ activities and rides galore, as well as lots of foodie fun, a drag show, free morning yoga sessions and even a morning happy hour for all-adult beverages.
Art Students League of Denver
Summer Art Market
200 Grant Street
Many aficionados of the Art Students League’s Summer Art Market don’t want you to know about it — the art is just that good, and the prices are right. The two-day sale on the grounds of the Art Students League of Denver is a community event, gabby and downright friendly while still supporting more than 250 local artists, some of whom teach for the ASLD. While little hands are kept busy with art demos and hands-on activities, adults can shake a groove to live music and down a few brews
. Come see who’s making art in your own back yard.
Keep reading for more summer arts festival.
Salida Art Walk
Downtown Salida Creative District
Nestled along the Arkansas River in the shadow of the Collegiate Peaks and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, picturesque Salida boasts a thriving artist community, served by downtown galleries and the historic Salida SteamPlant Event Center. Each summer, Salida invites the world to come share its community culture at a festival that offers artwork-browsing, street performances and artist demonstrations over four days. This year, foodies can climb on board for a food-sampling art walk, while collectors can bid on Colorado-made art at the SteamPlant during a benefit for the annual event or mingle with locals at Soulcraft Brewery’s Salida Art Walk After Dark.
Aurora Arts Festival
Arts on the Block
Fletcher Plaza, 9898 East Colfax Avenue, Aurora
The Aurora Cultural Arts District shows off the eastern suburb’s diversity each summer with Arts on the Block, inviting neighbors and friends from over the border in Denver to come have a look at — and a taste of — A-Town. Once there, you’ll sample world cuisines, browse vendor booths, and see artwork and performances by Aurora’s resident artists and international cultural communities; entertainment ranges from Chinese lion dances and classical Indian choreography to live music from here and abroad. Aurora is out to prove it’s anything but a depressed suburban wasteland, and with a fest like this one, it won’t take much persuading.
Cherry Blossom Festival
1255 19th Street
The long-lived Cherry Blossom Festival, which got its start 45 years ago as a fundraiser for Sakura Square’s resident Tri-State/Denver Buddhist Temple, has always been a family affair. And even though the surrounding neighborhood is changing, at this year’s festival, you’ll still be able to visit the gym for paper plates of homemade teriyaki chicken, SPAM musubi and manju confections, delivered to your community table by kids and grandmas alike, or sample craft beers, sake and cold somen noodles in designated areas. Out on the street, you can enjoy cultural performances, from taiko drumming to karate demonstrations, or peruse the Japan-themed vendor booths. Head into the temple and downstairs for bonsai displays and karaoke showdowns. Kampai!
Colorado Black Arts Festival
Now fully mature after more than thirty years, the Colorado Black Arts Festival takes over the meadows of City Park each July with a pan-African and African-American spread of dancing, drumming, music, storytelling, kids’ activities and art. The food is both global and exotic (from Jamaican patties to African stews), as well as down-home and delicious (soul food and ’cue), and the vendor booths hawk everything from African artifacts to handmade children’s frocks. CBAF traditionally includes the Boogaloo Celebration Parade, which makes its way to the park from 22nd Avenue and Downing Street, and ends on Sunday afternoon with live R&B, blues and jazz on the Kumba Stage.
Colorado Dragon Boat Festival
Sloan’s Lake Park
Colorado’s got a little bit of everything, and thanks to the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival, it even has dragon-boat races, an ancient Asian tradition that pits teams of rowers, drummers and flag-wielders against one another in a race across the water. The number of boats participating has grown exponentially since the festival’s inaugural run in 2001, but there’s a lot more to do and see while they’re skimming the lake: First and foremost, no one wants to miss the Taste of Asia food court, where you can sample from a pan-Asian spread of cuisines; another favorite stop is the marketplace, where buyers crowd booths selling Asian trinkets, clothing and artwork. And just steps away, a world of entertainment takes the stage throughout the fest. Of special interest: Before the boats take off on Saturday morning, the races are blessed by a Buddhist priest in an eye-dotting ceremony, followed by a display of dragon dancing and martial arts.
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Affordable Arts Festival
Arapahoe Community College
5900 South Santa Fe Drive, Littleton
Art can cost a bundle, but if you’re on a budget, you can still find something that fits the contents of your wallet at the Affordable Arts Festival, which prides itself on keeping a strict $100 limit on every piece of artwork for sale. The festival is a bit of a supermarket sweep, and the promoter recommends getting there early for the best deals. Still, the whole thing works out as well for the artists as it does for the buyers: Sellers, who range from local artists to regulars on the national arts-fest circuit, typically are able to clean out their stacks and make room for new work, while engaging new audiences who show up ready to buy.