Arts and Culture

A Dozen Diá de los Muertos Celebrations in Denver in 2018

Be a Catrina at the Denver Botanic Gardens Día de los Muertos Celebration.
Be a Catrina at the Denver Botanic Gardens Día de los Muertos Celebration. Denver Botanic Gardens
Although El Diá de los Muertos is essentially a Mexican remembrance for the dead, there’s a joy to its solemnity, as families leave favorite foods and offerings for their ancestors on marigold-encrusted graves and altars dressed up with photos of those who’ve crossed over. The imagery of skulls and skeletons that we connect with the All Souls Day-derived celebration isn’t meant to be scary, like Halloween ghouls; it’s all about visiting for one day with departed family members, symbolized by their old bones and grinning faces.

We’re lucky that Denver has a big community with Mexicano roots, making it a prime destination for muertos observances and displays of old traditions. Here are a few ways to welcome your own ancestors in 2018:

click to enlarge A Frida nicho by Jose Mares at Kahlo's on Morrison Road. - WESTWOORD CREATIVE DISTRICT/BUCU WEST
A Frida nicho by Jose Mares at Kahlo's on Morrison Road.
Westwoord Creative District/BuCu West
Westwood Family Nicho Exhibit
BuCu West Development Association, 4200 Morrison Road
Tuesday, October 30, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

The first of two Día de los Muertos events in the Westwood Creative District, the ongoing Nicho Project is becoming a tradition in the neighborhood, bringing community members together to build nichos (altars to family members who have passed on), enjoy pan de muerto and hot chocolate, and decorate skull cookies. All ages are welcome to participate and leave an offering to or memory of a loved one at the altar.

Denver's Oldest Día de los Muertos
La Raza Park, West 38th Avenue and Navajo Street
Thursday, November 1, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Some will argue about which Día de los Muertos celebration in Denver is the oldest, but this one, spearheaded by Nita Gonzalez (the activist daughter of Corky Gonzalez, a Denver Chicano legend) and Servicios de La Raza takes over from Pirate’s decades of celebrations on Navajo Street, which moved to Lakewood along with the gallery. But it’s really the thought that counts, and Gonzalez and friends will carry on with respect for the Mexican holiday’s deepest intentions, with a candlelight procession beginning at 5:30 p.m. at La Raza Park and ending at North High School for dinner and festivities. Bring a candle and a photo of a lost loved one.
click to enlarge Find Baile Folklórico Bugambilias dancers and other delights  in Breckenridge this weekend. - BRECKCREATE
Find Baile Folklórico Bugambilias dancers and other delights in Breckenridge this weekend.
BreckCreate
Fifth Annual Día de los Muertos Festival
Breckenridge Arts District campus, downtown Breckenridge
Thursday, November 1, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Friday, November 2, 3 to 8 p.m.
Saturday, November 3, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Breckenridge Creative Arts tacked on the fall Día de los Muertos Festival to its summer art-festival schedule four years ago to add one last pre-ski-season stretch before the snow falls in earnest. Like the summer celebrations, this one is loaded down with free activities, from hands-on workshops with a Day of the Dead theme to Ofrenda, an art exhibition by Las Vegas artist Justin Favela, who is known for his piñata-inspired paper installations and sculptures (Ofrenda opens November 2 and runs through January 6 at [email protected], 136 South Main Street in Breckenridge). The three-day party ends on Sunday with a whole day of fun, beginning at 9 a.m. with dress-up assistance for La Corrida de los Muertos, a group run through town in Día de los Muertos finery. Race registration closes at midnight on October 31, so act fast. Find more info online.

click to enlarge Day of the Dead art hangs for the holiday at Art Gym. - ART GYM
Day of the Dead art hangs for the holiday at Art Gym.
Art Gym
Día de los Muertos exhibition
Art Gym Denver, 1460 Leyden Street
November 1 through November 23
Opening Reception: Thursday, November 1, 5 to 8 p.m.

Art Gym resident artist Tony Ortega curated this Día de los Muertos art exhibition by inviting a few of his friends—from old-guard painters and santeros to younger muralists from the Chicano and Mexicano communities. This one’s straight from the heart, and the opening also involves chocolate and appetizers by local Latina chef Damaris Ronkanen, who also owns Denver-based Cultura Craft Chocolate. Ronkanen also prepared an optional dinner at the Art Gym, should you choose to indulge.

click to enlarge Have a merry Dia de los Muertos, Pirate-style. - PIRATE: CONTEMPORARY ART
Have a merry Dia de los Muertos, Pirate-style.
Pirate: Contemporary Art
Colfax Art Crawl & Día de los Muertos
40 West Arts District and Pirate: Contemporary Art
Friday, November 2, 5 to 9 p.m.

How are you spending your Day of the Dead this year? In Lakewood’s 40 West arts district, artists and galleries are throwing First Friday celebrations on November 2 that highlight the holiday’s custom of welcoming one’s ancestors. Led by Pirate (located at 7130 West 16th Avenue in Lakewood, where the gallery’s Day of the Dead show of community altars — a thirty-year tradition at its old spot on Navajo Street — is on display through November 11), 40 West’s Colfax Art Crawl & Día de los Muertos Celebration will go district-wide with more themed exhibits, Aztec dancers, piñatas and face painting.

click to enlarge An ofrenda by Las Adelitas Living the Arts at CHAC gallery. - CHAC
An ofrenda by Las Adelitas Living the Arts at CHAC gallery.
CHAC
Inaugural Día de los Muertos Celebration and Parade
Art District on Santa Fe
Friday, November 2, 4 to 9:30 p.m.

The Chicano Humanities and Arts Council was the center of Día de los Muertos festivities in Denver's Art District on Santa Fe for years, but after a move down the street to 222 Santa Fe Drive, CHAC threw a party for the early October opening of its annual muertos show, leaving the rest of the central art district to take the reins on the official holiday. Thus was born a new district-wide celebration and procession on Santa Fe, with help from the Museo de las Americas, the Mexican Consulate and others. The Museo, 861 Santa Fe Drive, is ground zero for activities including a community ofrenda, fee-based craft workshops, face painting and, at 7 p.m., a procession leaving from Galapago Street and West Ninth Avenue, followed by a Catrina costume contest back at the Museo. Other galleries up and down the drag will join in with festivities of their own. Down at CHAC, things will be quieter, but you can catch the stalwart gallery’s new group show Persistence, get your face painted and join community members as they remember their dead with community altars.
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Susan Froyd started writing for Westword as the "Thrills" editor in 1992 and never quite left the fold. These days she still freelances for the paper in addition to walking her dogs, enjoying cheap ethnic food and reading voraciously. Sometimes she writes poetry.
Contact: Susan Froyd