Come the second week of September, the unmistakable smell of aerosol paint will fill RiNo, attracting hordes of fans eager to see street art brought to life at this year's Creative Rituals Under Social Harmony festival, which will be the biggest CRUSH yet.
The week-long spray-paint celebration has ballooned in size and influence since its 2010 start as a "scribble jam" at the Exdo Event Center. In that time, it's garnered various accolades, including a 2014 Mayor's Design Award and Westword's Best Annual Festival award in 2016, and inspired street-art festivals as far away as Iowa. But underneath the bright colors and loud acclaim is a simple mission: CRUSH is all about the "local unification of artists" and "creating this safe platform for free expression for all walks of life," says founder Robin Munro.
Munro, a Colorado native, has been adorning Denver walls with art for nearly 25 years. In 2010, as the resident artist at Exdo, he created CRUSH to bring the sometimes-clashing graffiti community together. From there, the project snowballed. Developer Ken Wolf offered the walls of what would become the Denver Central Market as a concrete canvas, and Munro met Jon Lamb, co-founder of print shop and art collective Like Minded Productions, who joined him in organizing CRUSH. In 2015, project director Lindsey R. Hendershot left a job in wealth management to work full-time with Munro and Lamb in planning the festival. Most recently, CRUSH was incorporated under the umbrella of the RiNo Arts District and also became a 501(c)(3).
The organizers have big plans for this year's CRUSH, which will run September 11 through September 17 — in RiNo, of course. The festival's "expanding footprint," as Hendershot calls it, will stretch from 24th and Arapahoe streets to East 40th Avenue and Williams Street, creating a network of murals that extends well past last year's approximate territory of Larimer, Broadway and 25th to 30th streets (here's a map of the current murals). And even previously painted alleyways will be reinvented; 90 percent of last year's art will be painted over with something new. The festival itself will include new components, including a lecture on the history of graffiti and informational content on mural copyrighting.
For now, Hendershot and Munro are keeping the committee-curated artist lineup under wraps, but they say it will once again unite out-of-state and even international artists with local talent. At the first CRUSH, there was only one non-Colorado artist; last year there were 24. That's a number that CRUSH will surpass this year, though organizers are quick to note that CRUSH hosts predominantly Colorado painters, and that the money — this festival is one of the few that provides artists with stipends for their work — ends up split about fifty-fifty between local artists and those whose week at CRUSH is bookended by plane trips.
While CRUSH's exponential growth means the job of organizing it "definitely doesn't shut off," Hendershot and Munro see upsides in the expansion. Munro's painted in RiNo long enough to remember when the parking lot that now hosts towering murals still had a dirt floor. Street art has helped beautify and create community in the once-avoided alleys of the neighborhood, and the festival is "definitely a platform for up-and-coming artists to launch off of," Munro notes. Some have even had jobs and commissions come out of CRUSH.
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At the end of the day, Hendershot says, it's about "the public — all demographics and all ages — getting to be able to enjoy an outdoor gallery together as a community, whether they're visiting from somewhere around the world or they live two blocks away."
And CRUSH isn't stopping here. The organizers hope to expand to other parts of Denver, following the light rail east to Park Hill to start...and from there, with enough momentum, "We plan on going international with it," says Munro.
But for now, lace up your walking shoes in anticipation of the September art party (the video below should whet your appetite). For more information and updates, visit coloradocrush.org.