Well into another seemingly endless cycle of the mythical Wild West's latest population boom (which is showing no sign of stopping), the Mile High City is yet again the destination. Denver has much to offer the outdoor fanatics landing here in search of warmer climes, the folks who see our housing market as "affordable" in comparison to that of the coasts and, of course, the legal-weed enthusiasts and progenitors of the tech and business explosion who are jam-packing our once undesirable industrial areas with the newest and the tallest. But with all of this human expansion, has Denver become any more metropolitan when it comes to arts and culture?
Enter Tilt West, a discussion forum created to examine and elevate critical discourse in Denver's growing arts scene. Three members of the arts community — Sarah Wambold, director of digital media for the Clyfford Still Museum; Whitney Carter, director of programming for ArtCubed L.A., and painter and professor Sarah McKenzie — joined forces to form the group, which models itself after LaTableRonde, a New York City-based gathering tackling contemporary social and cultural issues through open conversations.
Carter says Tilt West came to be after she was futilely searching for places to learn more about the art community here in Denver. "When I moved from Los Angeles, as I getting to know the creative community here, I tried to figure out where people met to have conversations, besides the obvious place like openings. It became pretty clear that there was a lack of real, critical dialogue and discourse in Denver around the arts — but everyone agreed that there was a need for it."
The Tilt West founders and their board have chosen broad topics for these monthly exchanges. February will examines "technology & the body"; previous editions have centered on themes such as "region and identity" and "rejection and denial." Moderators are chosen to lead each session; writer and performer Bobby LeFebre led December's discussion, and animator Kelly Sears will lead this month's commentary.
Tilt West sees discourse as the first step to healthy growth in an arts community.
For each roundtable, thirty people are invited to participate, nineteen of those chosen by the prompter and the other ten chosen by Tilt West. The idea is to have these artist-prompters pull voices from their own networks into the fold and combine them with other community perspectives — teachers, writers, gallery owners and architects have been past participants — to create a conversation with diverse voices. Each edition begins with the prompter introducing and briefly framing the topic, then the floor is open. Other than the prompter, no one in the group is introduced by name or title, so all voices can come together on the same plane.
"It's coming out of our desire to foster a more critical dialogue within the creative community, and to bring people together and have a space where we can have open conversations without a hierarchy," says Carter. "It's not a panel discussion; it's really about bringing a diverse group of people together to talk freely."
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"It's such a small scene here. Everyone seems to know each other," says Carter. "I think people are often afraid to step on toes, but I'm a big believer that growth comes from tackling the harder things and pushing each other. As a gallerist, I know it doesn't feel great to have a bad review come out, but at the same time, I think it is important. Different viewpoints push each other in that way."
Each Tilt West discussion is recorded and then made available online for the public. The group will also be publishing follow-up pieces written by past conversation participants, and Tilt West hopes to eventually have a full-on publication available to keep these critical conversations about art going after the forums.
If you are interested in participating in a future Tilt West forum, visit the group's website.