ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
part 3 of 4
Best Musical Minimalists
Arkestra Pirata's members are performance artists, combining poetry, dance, singing and acting with acoustic and electronic instrumentation. The group, which draws heavily from the pool of local post-avant-garde experimenters, puts its own spin on everything from John Cage, Sun Ra and Stockhausen to jazz standards and romantic classical composers. You'll find pianists, French horn players, percussionists, clarinetists, flutists, steel-guitar players and a host of other soundmakers in this formation--and it's probably the only creative grouping in town that doesn't involve Fred Hess or Ron Miles.
Best Unclassifiable Recording
The Pleasure Dance
Aubrey Carton is an entrepreneur who markets recordings designed to aid in the rehabilitation of special-needs youngsters. She's also a musical artist of rare skill, as her CD The Pleasure Dance demonstrates. The disc features some of the area's best jazz artists, including saxophonist Mark Miller and pianist Art Lande, creating brilliant soundscapes over which Carton gently delivers lyrics that are poetic without sounding pretentious. It's a disc to be treasured, not pigeonholed.
Best Van Cliburn Medalist From Colorado
There's a true star in our midst--he's former child prodigy Christopher Taylor, born and raised in Boulder, where he started giving recitals at age ten and graduated from high school in 1988. Last year in Fort Worth, Texas, Taylor nabbed the first medal won by an American since 1981 in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. He's also taken first prize in the William Kapell International Piano Competition, held at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and in his younger days took top honors at the Boulder Bach Festival's Young Artists Competition. Despite his many accomplishments, Taylor hasn't turned his back on the hometown scene; last August, more than 1,200 people packed the Chautauqua Auditorium to hear his benefit concert for the Boulder Bach Festival.
Best Slummin' Cellist
Since ditching a California aerospace-engineering job and moving to Colorado more than a year ago, bow-slinger Jonas Tauber has become the Boulder Philharmonic's chief cello honcho while still finding time to moonlight with local pop and acoustic acts including Chris and Maggie and Laughing Hands. More recently, Tauber's taken to playing everything from Bach to bebop at Boulder-area java joints in an effort to bring the music of the masters to the masses.
Best Addition to the Colorado Symphony Orchestra
The first woman to conduct a major American symphony orchestra, Marin Alsop is unerringly contemporary and energetic. And unlike some previous maestros, she actually lives here. Alsop is the director of Concordia, an orchestra she founded that plays a repertoire heavy on twentieth-century music, and also is a member of String Fever, where she fiddles with jazz as a musician (her second season with the CSO will include a performance by same). Alsop may not be here forever--reports are she's considered a hot property by other major symphonies. But she's already left her mark on the CSO.
Best Live Music Venue That's Really a Gallery
Pirate: A Contemporary Art Oasis
3659 Navajo St.
Who needs chairs or a full-service bar when you have art? The Pirate doesn't procure musical acts often, so it's a rare treat to catch local acts playing against the avant-garde black-and-whiteness of this gallery. It's an intimate space, so the bands play on the same level as the audience and mere inches away. And between sets everyone can check out stark photographs of strangely pierced teens or colorful-yet-inexplicable paintings. Bring your own beverage and enjoy a true multimedia experience.
Best Commercial Gallery
1251 S. Pearl St.
Robert Mangold and his wife, Peggy, the unofficial Mom and Dad of the Denver art scene, have turned the Artyard studio/gallery/sculpture garden into a homey showplace, complete with furniture (Carolyn Braaksma's concrete "arm-chairs") and flowers (Robert's own spinning-metal sculptures that look like shiny chrysanthemums). Combined with the wide-open space of the art "yard," the couple's modest indoor gallery remains the most distinctive and tasteful exhibition area in town.
Best Noncommercial Gallery
Metropolitan State College Center for the Visual Arts
1701 Wazee St.
Metropolitan State College's out-of-the-ordinary Wazee Street gallery concentrates on expanding the horizons of Denver art by supporting experimental artists and bringing in unusual speakers and cutting-edge art from around the world. The work here is for sale, but as a government-supported academic institution, the gallery doesn't have to worry much about competitive commercial concerns--just good art.
Best Cooperative Gallery
CORE New Art Space
1412 Wazee St.
Cooperative galleries are the friendliest way to get your art seen--so congenial that new ones are opening all the time. But CORE's LoDo space is the loveliest of them all--a clean, spacious room on the far end of Gallery Row. CORE's activism and arts advocacy is unsurpassed and its members enjoy the experience and support of other co-op artists. Like many LoDo galleries, CORE will move in the next year or so because of stadium development; here's hoping its next home is as gracious as this one.
Best Coffeehouse Art
3484 W. 32nd Ave.
Since coffeehouses always have been a hotbed of black berets, hanging your art on the wall at one is a great way to get it seen. Local art has been hung in local eateries since the mid-Seventies, but Common Grounds takes the obligation especially seriously, employing its own art curator and setting aside a special room for the purpose. Showing this way has some advantages (people actually go there, unlike some tomblike gallery spaces) and disadvantages (who splashed the soup on my monoprint?), but on the whole, there's no friendlier environment for the budding Toulouse-Lautrec.
Best Local Art Gallery Exhibit
Ginny Williams Family Foundation
299 Fillmore St.
The decision to use work by an internationally renowned artist to inaugurate the long-awaited reopening of the Ginny Williams Gallery (as a nonprofit foundation in the style of Germany's Kunsthalle) was natural and brilliant. And the art, a haunting and powerful selection of Bourgeois's sculpture, from recent works to pieces dating from the Fifties, was unforgettable, a delicious highlight in a year that needed some serious perking up. Bourgeois's importance and influence have skyrocketed in the last decade, and this show displayed the mischievous genius at her best.
Readers' choice: Pirate Gallery
Best Local Museum
Museo de las Americas
861 Santa Fe Dr.
The Museo, which made its debut with a fascinating exhibit of photographs of Frida Kahlo and her circle, is situated in a newly awakening neighborhood (the handsome Denver Civic Theatre renovation is just a block away). It promises to become an important resource for the whole region and a showplace for the rich heritage of Latin American traditions.
Readers' choice: Denver Museum of Natural History
Best Local Museum Exhibit
"Colorado Sculpture: The Object" Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities
6901 Wadsworth Blvd., Arvada
Filling almost two floors of the extravagant, almost-new Arvada Center, "The Object" was the ultimate Always Buy Colorado toy store. The original art from Front Range sculptors, all high quality, showed astounding strength and promise. Among the notables: Brian Dreith's brooding eighty-foot-long "artificial arms" made from roughly jointed logs and Linda Herritt's curtain-based meditations on feminism and artifice. Whoever thinks Colorado sculpture begins and ends with George Lundeen's baseball players never saw this fabulous--and Lundeen-less--show.
Readers' choice: Star Trek: Federation Science, at the Denver Museum of Natural History
Best New Arts Venue
3654 Navajo St.
Once a neighborhood movie theater, this renovated space reopened recently as The Bug, a concert venue for the alternative scene. Performance art and theater, music, poetry and multimedia projects call it home, and the fact that The Bug shares the same block with gonzo galleries Pirate and Edge makes an already lively weekend spot even more entertaining. Kudos to all the artists involved in the renovation, an asset to a less-than-prosperous neighborhood that needs more of this kind of caring commitment.
Best Factory Tour
4600 Sleepytime Dr., Boulder
The highlight of the free 45-minute tour at Celestial Seasonings is the "mint room," where the company stores its ultrapotent peppermint leaves. The room's overpowering odors are such a popular attraction that plans now call for a stereo to blast Joey Dee's "Peppermint Twist" every time somebody opens the door. Visitors also get to see the formal herb garden--featuring real-life samples of such mysterious ingredients as hibiscus flowers and rose hips--as well as the art department, where all those heartwarming package covers are cooked up, and the factory where the milling, mixing and packaging takes place. Top it off with as many free cups of tea as you want, and grab a bite at a cafe modeled after the turn-of-the-century scene on the company's Harvest Spice box.
Best Pop Art
Heritage Square, Golden
Coke is it for Bob Schneider. The former marine biologist first became soft on the drink back in the Fifties, when he worked as a vendor at the 1952 Illinois State Fair, and then in the Sixties, when he was looking for rec-room decor. But he didn't really develop a case for Coke until he needed relief from the high-stress job of investigating polluters for the feds. "Collecting Coca-Cola memorabilia was such a diversion from my work," he says. And since he retired seven years ago, it is his work. President of the Coca-Cola Collectors Club of Colorado and Wyoming, he curates the Coca-Cola Museum in Golden in his spare time. "It brings back periods of time in your life," he says. "It brings back good memories."
Best Monument to Living History
Littleton Historical Museum and Living History Farm
6028 S. Gallup St., Littleton
While so many suburbs make a hash of what little history they have, the past is alive and well in Littleton. That's where Bob McQuarie, former director of education at the Colorado History Museum, has not only been cultivating the Littleton Historial Museum and Living History Farm for the past 25 years but reaching out to protect other historic structures in the town, including its two train depots. Recent additions to the museum include a blacksmith shop, the Isaac McBroom Cabin and a family burial plot to make young visitors think about their ancestors. "We don't lie to these kids," he says. "We let their imagination think up who might be in that fresh-turned earth."
Best Old Toys
Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys
1880 Gaylord St.
Before there were Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels cars, before you needed twelve batteries to make any toy work, before teddies were all designer teddies--there were more unique and ingenious toys that managed to please their tiny owners in spite of their simplicity. Housed in the historic Pierce-McAllister Cottage, a charming old home with a country feel uncharacteristic to most Denver architecture, this fine little museum is a valentine to those more innocent amusements that will appeal to children and inner children alike.
Best New Public Art
Denver International Airport
As the nation's first megatest of the Percent for Art concept, DIA art is the pumpkin seed that grew into Cinderella's coach. For DIA, that 1 percent of the total expenditure turned into a whopping $7.5 million--and though the quality of the art will no doubt be argued over endlessly (some of it's quite extraordinary, some of it isn't), the mere fact that Denver spent so much on this quixotic project will make the city the hub of public-art discussions for years to come.
Readers' choice: DIA
Best Art Walk
LoDo First Fridays
Lower downtown has been an arts hotbed for several years now, nurturing a healthy gallery row that's sprung up on Wazee Street and thereabouts. Now that the area is becoming a hotbed of everything else, the galleries have stepped-up their efforts to gain exposure and encourage people to seek culture in urban places. On the first Friday evening of every month, the public is invited to a gallery hop laden with shmoozy openings and lots of great art--a concept patterned after similar events in Seattle and Boston. People are coming downtown at night to do just that, too. Is this a real city or what?
Best Outdoor Art Experience
Reflections in City Spaces
Blake's Small Car Salvage, Erie
You have to admire the troupe of artists, musicians and dancers who collaborated on a performance in an Erie (and eerie) junkyard last fall. Found objects and instruments, random movement and an unstructured denouement involving a backhoe (!) all figured in the work, performed at night and attended by a host of brave souls who climbed aboard a double-decker bus that transported them to the scene. And it was a scene, in that urban-jungle, guerrilla-art kind of way.
Best Outdoor Mural
Denver Civic Theatre
721 Santa Fe Dr.
Mural art by its nature encompasses the whole community. And no mural evidences this better than the one painted on the long side of the Denver Civic Theatre at 7th and Santa Fe. Designed by local artist Andy Mendoza and dedicated during this year's Cinco de Mayo celebration, the outdoor work created to honor the late Enrique Montoya (a major star on the Latino arts horizon) was completed with help from students at West High School and Greenlee Elementary School as well as volunteers from the barrio, who all pitched in to bring color and pride to their neighborhood.
Best Indoor Mural
2101 Larimer St.
Mexi-Dan's owner Dan de La Torre used more than a little artistic license when he commissioned a wall mural for his neighborhood take-out joint. In the finished product, painted by a Brazilian exchange student named Ricardo, de La Torre's cozy Mexican restaurant is shown just down the street from the main entrance to Coors Field--and so what if the ballpark's main entrance will actually be a block down on 22nd Street? The brilliantly colored scene is in the best folk-art tradition, depicting the red-brick ballyard, a Colorado Rockies blimp and even a plane towing a giant Mexi-Dan's banner against a Kodacolor sky. If Ricardo ever comes back to the U.S., Dan wants him to put an eighteenth-century Mexican village on the other wall; for now, patrons can enjoy the score permanently emblazoned on the Coors Field facade: Rockies, 9, Cubs, 0.
Best Dog Art
Ralston Purina Dog Chow Logo
What pooch hasn't paused, as his owners whiz past on the way to Stapleton or points east, to contemplate the big brown canine in the sky? The lovable pup ramming his head into a bag of Purina Dog Chow looks so real he may even summon a bark of appreciation--and the ever-present aroma of freshly cooked dog food that wafts across the freeway at this spot can only enhance the aesthetic experience. The sign, inscribed atop the Ralston Purina Consumer Products Plant by Denver painter Mark Oatis, looks pretty good to people, too.
Best Yard Art
Passionatta Inner City Garden Project
2132 Lawrence St.
The lot at 2132 Lawrence used to languish in slow decay, back when a condemned structure disintegrating there was used as a crack house. Susan Wick of City Spirit Cafe took pity on the poor needle-strewn parcel of land, negotiated with the state for a $1-a-year rental contract, and endeavored to turn it into a pocket Eden. Using compost made from vegetable material left over in the City Spirit kitchen and guidance from the Denver Urban Gardeners, a garden of flowers and soil-revitalizing cover crops is rising out of the ruins. What to do with the empty hut? The house and surroundings are being turned into an ongoing sculpture by Wick (who believes you "need a little passion to get things done"), her aide-de-camp Tracy Weil and just about anyone else who wants to pitch in.
Best Grocery Store Art
Capitol Hill Alfalfa's
900 E. 11th Ave.
John Higby's colorful signs are everywhere, inside and out, at the Capitol Hill Alfalfa's. They're not only prolific but cartoonishly beautiful, spray-painted or chalk-drawn with technique borrowed from graffiti artists. His dancing cheeses, tomatoes, Evian bottles and wigged-out pancakes and polar bears (on the ice chest--where else?) help make the chore of grocery shopping delightfully less mundane.
Best Outdoor Arts Festival
Conifer Country Affair
Just west of Conifer on Hwy. 285
It's getting hard to tell whether arts festivals in the city are good or not--they're too crowded. That's one reason why the Conifer Country Affair is so appealing--you can still go and actually see it. This one is perhaps more old-timey than its urban siblings, focusing on fine antiques and folk crafts, all displayed in colorful tents set up in a mountain meadow. Standouts include Tennessean Joe Mason's carved signs (including some used in the film Fried Green Tomatoes), handmade figures by Phoebe Greathouse and water-colored Scherenschnitte (a German paper-cut technique) by Jeri Ryel. Bluegrass provides the score, while lacemakers make lace, spinners spin, broom makers make brooms and everyone eats.
Best Indoor Arts Festival
The Art Affairs
770 Pennsylvania St.
The location sets the mood for this craft fair that appears once or twice a year within the confines of the magnificent Grant-Humphreys Mansion. The result is something grand and elegant but not too pricey. Half the fun comes of wandering from room to room like a socialite partygoer of old; there are musicians roving around at the openings and surprises in every cranny--including rich tapestry handbags and vests, magnificent dolls, flat geometric glass jewelry dressed up with antique metal findings, hand-stitched artwear, graceful blown-glass goblets and much more.
Best Arts Organization
The Alternative Arts Alliance
No ragged band of gypsies, the Alternative Arts Alliance is a duly organized effort to promote the activities of local artists and cooperative galleries. And promote is what it does--in very positive ways. Members participate in an open studio tour where the public meets artists in their working environments and in programs that bring art to public schools; the Alliance's annual open show features works by more than 200 locals (some of which go on tour to other cities), while the SPACE tour celebrates the new year with simultaneous January openings at member galleries. The AAA's latest effort: an artsy block party at 36th and Navajo, home of the Pirate and Edge galleries and The Bug performance venue.
Best Fine Art Printmaking Facility
CSK Gallery/Open Press
1637 Wazee St.
Mark Lunning, longtime advocate of public facilities for making fine-art prints, spent years dragging his aging equipment around town just so poor artists could pull prints without the hassle and expense of going to commercial printers. Now, thanks to a business loan and sweat equity, Lunning's Open Press, co-owned by Kent Shira, has at last found a permanent home. The spic-and-span, Shira-owned prints gallery upstairs, well-stocked with old masters, is a posh intro to the spacious and well-equipped printing workshop in the basement, which is filled with state-of-the-art equipment and staffed with understanding experts whose love of art and down-to-earth desire to make good prints give this LoDo art palace real sparkle.
Best Fine Art Education
Art Students League of Denver
200 Grant St.
Based on the Thirties-era ideal that working people, not just the rich, need a place to study art, the Art Students League descends from similar institutions in New York and Chicago. The ASL's new digs in the old Sherman School building have allowed the league to open printmaking and other studio facilities to the public, to offer a full schedule of drawing, painting and sculpture classes taught by talented local professionals, and to welcome everyone from teenagers shut out of art classes (Denver Public Schools discontinued them two years ago) to seniors hoping to learn how to paint "happy little trees" in the style of TV's Bob Ross. Best bet: the marble-carving class held on-site in Marble, Colorado.
Best Commercial Art Education
Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design
6875 E. Evans Ave.
Less crowded and more serious than the local Colorado Institute of Art franchise, where a boisterous atmosphere prevails, the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design offers a thorough education in the commercial arts and graphic design, along with a welcome respect for the traditions of fine art. Professors here know the local market better than most, having weathered its ups and downs themselves, and the school's Phillip J. Steele Gallery offers some of the best in experimental art and architecture exhibitions.
Best Budding Artist
Denver School of the Arts
A hand-burnished raku pot made by eighth-grader Michelle Martinez took one of only 160 gold Scholastic Art Awards doled out nationally this year. To complicate matters, the junior ceramicist says she'll use her prize money to make a down payment on a violin--the instrument she plays proficiently in the Denver School of the Arts orchestra when her hands aren't covered with mud. The promising Martinez is taking her career plans slowly, though; she doesn't plan to choose between clay and concertos for at least another year.
Best Art Romp for Kids
Saturdays for Families
Denver Art Museum
100 W. 14th Ave. Pkwy.
Wise parents know that nothing absorbs children's attention more completely than letting them play with something that's usually a no-no. Saturdays for Families are the ultimate expression of this idea: The hushed and guarded floors of the museum with their hands-off baubles become a run-in-the-halls, crayon-scribbling playground, where children from toddlers to teenagers solve art-history puzzles, make their own art and get casual with culture. Free to everyone on Saturdays, the museum offers workshops, child-friendly volunteers, and no mess to clean up afterward.
Best Driving Culture Tours
The Milagro Tours
Sponsored by KUVO, the public radio station with a special interest in Hispanic culture, these tours take a hands-on approach to travel. Participants drive their own cars in a caravan through the San Luis Valley into northern New Mexico and on down to Santa Fe, stopping along the way to learn a thing or two about the Hispanic influence on the history of the region. They're led for a $40 fee by a scholarly expert, who also throws in a bit of lore about native plants used in folk medicine. A car cassette deck is a must--part of the experience is on an audiotape that participants listen to while they drive. There are two weekend trips yearly; a new excursion to the Southern Ute reservation in Ignacio was added this year.
Best Walking Culture Tours
Downtown Denver History Walks
Metropolitan State College
Now you can burn off that pastrami sandwich while improving your mind. Metro on the Mall, a continuing education branch of Metropolitan State College, offers a series of walking tours each spring, taking class members to historical sites and archives. If that piques your fancy, try the architecture walks offered in the fall.
end of part 3
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