The 2006 MasterMind winners:
MasterMind, Visual Arts: KATIE TAFT
MasterMind, Literary Arts: CAFE NUBA
2006 MasterMind Awards
MasterMind, Design/Fashion: DEB HENRIKSEN
MasterMind, Film/Video: JOHNNY MOREHOUSE
MasterMind, Performing Arts: DRAGON DAUD
Visual Arts: Katie Taft
Katie Taft is a self-made woman, which makes her "self-made" salon, at Mario's Double Daughters Salotto, quite apropos. Every Tuesday since last June, Taft has invited someone from the local arts community to chat about how he or she has made it, offering up inspirational stories or tips for succeeding.
"I was working at Double Daughters doing marketing, sort of my day job, and we wanted to do something to bring the art world into the bar and make it a community place for them," she explains. "My original idea was just a stitch-and-bitch, but that was done. The more that we discussed the idea, the more we wanted to have someone come in and talk about what they do. Like, how do you walk into a gallery and feel confident? From this, I've gotten so many ideas for my career and been inspired by others."
Taft wasn't always inspired by Denver. The local girl bailed after graduating from high school in Boulder and headed to Washington State to study political science at Evergreen State College. Political science turned out to be too political, though, and she switched to filmmaking. "It was still politically minded, but more creative," she says. Eventually she left the "hippie, liberal school" for a Catholic girls' school in Portland, Oregon, with a great reputation for film, and she honed her photography skills there. Then she headed for the bright lights of Chicago -- but couldn't get a job.
Finally, the prodigal daughter returned. "I came home to regenerate and was planning on being back for about two weeks. I've been back about three years," Taft says, laughing.
While she's been grounded here, Taft has made a name for herself across the country with her ingenious Imaginary Friends series. She starts by developing a character -- personality traits, colors it would like, thoughts, word associations -- and then sculpts the creature, usually merging animals and people into a hybrid. After that, she photographs her pals out in the world. "When I first started in photography, I was coming from film, so I was costuming people," Taft says. "I didn't realize it was the Œimaginary,' but I knew I wanted to work in the fantastic. In my life, fiction is often more true than nonfiction. So I get my inspiration from stories, everything from Greek myths to Hello Kitty."
That suits her well for her other love: working with kids. Taft teaches after-school arts programs in the schools through DAVA and is on the board of Flash Gallery, part of the nonprofit Working With Artists photo school in Belmar.
Staying that busy, it's no wonder she has imaginary friends. "The thing that's great about being an artist is that it's a whole life," Taft says. "Everything I do. So when I'm working, I still feel good. Even teaching is great. I don't need spare time."
Spoken like a true MasterMind.
Literary Arts: Cafe Nuba
Cafe Nuba: It's hot and it's black. It's also one of the most vibrant literary events in town.
Celebrating its sixth anniversary this month, the once-roving evening of poetry and spoken word has finally settled down at the Walnut Room and is ready for a rebirth, says emcee Ebony "Isis" Booth. "What I hope to transition into is a more polished, professional showcase-type of set instead of it just being an open mike," she explains. "I want Cafe Nuba to be the end-all, be-all for showcasing your poetry in Denver. It kind of is already nationally, but I want it to be that for us personally, locally."
Booth has been hosting the event -- which is always scheduled for the last Friday of each month -- for little more than a year, volunteering her time with the Pan African Arts Society, which supports Cafe Nuba. "It takes a lot of work," says the New Jersey native, who moved here during high school. "It's high energy keeping a room full of people focused on someone reading poetry." But all that work has paid off: Booth has seen the audience grow to upwards of 250 people, with participants jockeying to get on the stage.
The local literary scene has also become more active since Cafe Nuba first started as a micro-cinema and film-centric poetry set. Whereas once there were just a handful of places to perform -- Brother Jeff's Cultural Center & Cafe and the Mercury Cafe among them -- a number of clubs now showcase poetry and spoken-word talent. "There are so many places where you can go to develop your own personal talent and skills," Booth says. "When I started out, there were only a few mikes. Now there are all these new microphones that poets have access to. Denver is really in a position to blow up. And if you have a platform like Cafe Nuba to perfect your skills, you can expand, get booked out of town, tour. It's pretty cool."
And that's why Cafe Nuba is our 2006 MasterMind winner for Literary Arts. This group has shown Denver some luminary talent and even now is expanding its horizons with such events as Podcast competitions and high-stakes poetry slams. There's more competition today, but Cafe Nuba is the original -- and, as with Coke, the original has always been the best. Still, Cafe Nuba has made one major improvement to its original formula: booze. What was once a censor-free, smoke-free and alcohol-free night is now just censor- and smoke-free. "We wanted a grown-up, lounge-type feel," Booth says.
That's a genius move. The move of a true MasterMind.
Design/Fashion: Deb Henriksen
Deb Henriksen does everything from the core. Skate. Board. Design. She's the same kick-ass chick for whom she creates clothing through her company, Equillibrium Clothing.
Henriksen has been a part of Denver's fashion scene since its nascent stages in early 2001. As such, she's been one of the town's biggest boosters and an ardent, even notorious, supporter of others trying to live their dreams. That's because she knows all about it: Before she chased her fashion fantasy and became known for her trademark skull-and-crossbones cat and punked-out equal sign, she had a career in environmental health. But she left that steady work to strike out on her own, taking the big risk.
Since then, many would-be designers in Denver have followed in her footsteps. But Henriksen continues to set the tone, always pushing for excellence. That's why she's our choice for the 2006 MasterMind in Design/Fashion.
While others in the local fashion scene are content with creating screen-printed T-shirts or one or two niche items, Henriksen has stretched much further, designing a complete line of made-to-measure wear full of demure dresses with hard-core edges, flouncy skirts and killer handbags. It's Betsey Johnson if she were a tomboy on a board.
Even without the MasterMind award, Henriksen believes this is her year. She and her fiancé are moving her retail shop and his screen-printing business from the Upper Ballpark neighborhood to Third Avenue and Santa Fe Drive, where they'll have more than double the space. Henriksen also is expanding her material repertoire to include environmentally friendly hemp cottons and bamboo cottons, which have a silky drape and are anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, "because it's fun to play like a boy, not smell like a boy," she says.
She's also realizing that there's room in her dream to honor her scientific side, so she's taken on some part-time environmental-health consulting jobs, which include working on meth-lab cleanups. "I like it because I'm both-brained," Henriksen notes, "and there was a part of me that was sad not being an active part of the environmental sciences."
But most exciting for Henriksen is that her California-based sister, who studied marine biology, is getting ready to launch her own clothing line this summer, and the two will be collaborating. "A sister in surf and a sister in skate," Henriksen says. "It doesn't get more core than that."
Film/Video/Multimedia: Johnny Morehouse
In a digital world, Johnny Morehouse represents the old school: He still shoots on reels, even honoring the medium with his annual "Super-8 Side Show" at the Bug Theater. This summer will mark the sixth anniversary of that project, for which Morehouse invites film aficionados from around the world to screen shorts shot with Super-8, the 1960s-era film. "A photograph is great, the aging of it, the feel of it," Morehouse says. "The same goes for film. It just has an instant nostalgia. We're in such an immediate society right now with reality TV, and the more that goes on of that, the less attractive digital is to me. I love watching old footage and old newsreels."
That's not to say this Colorado native isn't a thoroughly modern man. He works in digital during the day as a freelance producer of corporate videos and commercials and will be using that technology for his own documentary, Colfax vs. Broadway, which is currently in pre-production. Digital will also loom large in the new project he plans to launch in 2006, "Compose and Expose." Morehouse hopes to bring Denver's film and music scenes closer together by having the two collaborate on that program, with filmmakers submitting silents for musicians to score, and music-makers sending in songs so movie buffs can create music videos.
This collaborative spirit and his passion for all things film make Morehouse our 2006 MasterMind winner in Film/Video/Multimedia.
Morehouse wasn't always an advocate for the art -- he started out as a journalism/mass communications student at the University of Denver, but after taking a few film classes, he was hooked. He moved to Portland after graduation, signed up for a few more courses at the Northwest Film Center and realized he'd found his calling. He missed Denver, however, so he came back to town in 1998, committed to helping nurture a homegrown film scene. "Portland was fun, but I wanted to get some stuff started here," says Morehouse, who loves to curl up with a good documentary.
"There wasn't too much going on when I came back, but there were pockets of things happening," he adds. "The scene is so vibrant now compared to back then. It's still rising, but it's in a good position. Plus, I love the non-snobbery of the creative folk of Denver, because I've seen some noses stuck up in the air in different cities."
You reap what you sow.
Performing Arts: Dragon Daud
Dragon Daud knows how to put on a spectacle. Whether through his flame-spitting robots, Burning Man installations or Art@Art art bus, he's a man with a strong sense of the dramatic. He's also been the backbone of Denver's underground arts scene for more than a decade.
"The part of the scene that I'm involved in used to be fragmented and splintered," Daud says. "When I started doing things in 1988, we were centered around Muddy's. I met a lot of people there, and those people have really formed the core of the community that I think of as my scene and the art scene here in Denver. But it's grown by leaps and bounds as we've brought in more cool people, and now we represent a lot of the really great art happening in town. What we do isn't commercial art; it doesn't belong in Cherry Creek. There are fine artists among us, but they are in pursuit of things that are less mainstream. In fact, we were blockaded by the police when we tried to take the bus to the Cherry Creek Arts Festival one year."
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Certainly Daud is no stranger to controversy. Some galleries don't welcome his roving band of First Friday merrymakers, worrying that they are a distraction to the "real" gallery-goers (i.e., money-spenders). In fact, he was once surrounded by cops (again!) and firefighters while dressed in a bunny suit, because he had an open flame on top of the bus, a former Breckenridge ski bus that he bought in 2000. But over the past six years he's transformed the silver beast from a simple mode of transportation to Burning Man into true performance art.
He dreams up a theme for each First Friday (hence his bunny suit for the Easter Bunny vs. Jesus month), and crowds people onto the bus. The passengers (only people he knows; the public can't board at will) all dress according to the concept, which usually involves a lot of feathers, fake fur and sequins. The group then careens around town, checking out art and making some along the way. "I like people to stretch the theme idea out into something else," Daud says. "Sometimes you can't tell what they are, and you ask them and they have a whole story. That's the art: the story they're going to tell someone. I want everyone to find some way within their means to express themselves."
Now, though, his effort is threatened. The Colorado Public Utilities Commission sent Daud a nasty-gram on January 16, ordering him to either cease and desist or obtain a $5 million commercial-vehicle insurance policy. His crime? Charging his friends $5 a head to help pay for the biodiesel that fuels the party. Daud, although broke, is not down and out; he plans to appeal the for-hire classification and keep the performance rolling. "I'd like to see the art bus make it through this conflict and be recognized as a community-building thing and not as something to be squashed," he says. "I had a back injury a little while ago, and I've been laid up. But I'm almost recovered, and I'm really getting excited about finishing this robot I started last year. It's going to the best one yet."
That's the MasterMind spirit.