What's your sign? The Denver Performing Arts Complex has some snappy new signage, part of a $1.5 million improvement project now under way. By June the area should have two more electronic marquees (the first three were installed in December), as well as banners on 14th and Arapahoe streets, new parking signs, and three projectors producing graphic images on the back of Boettcher Concert Hall.

Like the hypothetical sculpture garden that will one day grace the complex's park between Champa and Arapahoe streets along Speer Boulevard (you know, the space that used to hold an actual sculpture, Larry Bell's "Solar Fountain," until the giant cup o' soup was unceremoniously bulldozed one day last year), the signage is a city deal--because the city owns the Denver Performing Arts Complex. But it would take one hell of a sign to clear up the confusion over the relationship between the Denver Performing Arts Complex and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, its primary tenant.

So clip and save: The twelve-acre complex includes Boettcher, the Buell Theater, the Auditorium Theater, the Bonfils Theatre, the parking garage and other spaces in the area around Curtis Street between 14th and Speer, such as the Garner Galleria Theatre (which is managed by Denver Center Attractions). Otherwise, the city runs all of the complex buildings except for the Bonfils Theatre, which is managed by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts and is named after the woman who made the DCPA possible. The arts provider (note: The DCPA is an organization, not an edifice) was started by Donald Seawell over two decades ago, using funds from Miss Helen Bonfils, Denver Post heiress. (Seawell was the paper's publisher at the time.) When the Post was sold to the Times Mirror Corporation, much of the money went into the Bonfils Foundation, and the DCPA's fortunes were assured. In fact, the DCPA built the Bonfils Theatre, then gave it to the city (although the DCPA has a 99-year lease on the space, at $1 a year).

Today the DCPA's Denver Center Theatre Company keeps the Bonfils's four stages filled with homegrown productions; the theater company also has a conservatory and an academy. Other arms of the DCPA include Denver Center Attractions, which brings in touring shows, the Wilbur James Gould Voice Research Center and Denver Center Media. The DCPA once had six divisions, which explains that odd logo that resembles a Girl Scout cookie--and is about as hip.

Maybe all those new city signs will inspire the DCPA to update its image for the millennium. Certainly both the DCPA and the city would love to dump "the Plex" nickname saddled on the area years ago by former Channel 9 exec and mayor's commission on the arts head Joe Franzgrote; beloved only by people who must type listings, the moniker sounds like the disease that decimated the world's population in Stephen King's The Stand, sending the remaining bad people to Las Vegas and the remaining good people to Boulder. Although the DCPA would prefer the area be referred to as the "Denver Center," the city's using the abbreviation DPAC on the new signs. Besides, before it takes up the dePlexing debate, the city has a bigger problem: figuring out how to program its images. So far, the electronic billboards have been flashing nonstop drum solos.


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