Art News

DCPA's Scott Shiller on What Newcomers Should Know about the Denver Arts Scene

Denver has more than one winning team: The Denver Broncos may be the national champs, but this city’s artists and arts organizations keep scoring with audiences not just in Colorado, but around the world. And while the football season is over, the 2016 arts season is just beginning, so we’ve checked in with some of the scene’s stars to see what they’ll be watching — and watching for — this year. Up next: Scott Shiller, who joined the Denver Center for the Performing Arts as CEO last year.

Westword: What are three things every newcomer should know about the Denver arts scene?

Scott Shiller: 1. Denver is a true “arts city” with a national reputation for creating some of the best arts experiences in the country. In fact, the National Endowment for the Arts ranked Colorado first in the nation for attendance at museums, concert venues and theaters.

2. Recent big names to come out of the Denver theatre scene: Amy Adams (American Hustle, Batman v Superman, Enchanted), Jessica Biel (Accidental Love, Hitchcock), AnnaSophia Robb (Soul Surfer, Bridge to Terabithia), Sarah Wayne Callies (The Walking Dead, Colony), Beth Malone (Tony nominee for Best Leading Actress in a Musical for Fun Home), Annaleigh Ashford (Tony winner for Best Featured Actress in a Play for You Can’t Take It With You), Andy Kelso (Kinky Boots, Mamma Mia), and Gareth Saxe (The Homecoming, The Lion King).

3. There were thirteen legitimate theaters in Denver before there was either a school or a hospital, and that commitment to the arts has never ended.

What developments on the arts scene are you excited about this year?

1. The DCPA is excited to participate in the city’s newest project, The Next Stage. At the request of Mayor Michael Hancock, Denver’s Arts & Venues and dozens of civic leaders have developed a master plan to reimagine the Arts Complex founded by the DCPA nearly forty years ago. Once a reality, the Arts Complex will be a vibrant, regional center of cultural activity in the heart of downtown, featuring hundreds of performances from cultural institutions large and small. It will attract diverse audiences, celebrate a variety of art forms, contribute to the city’s economic vitality, enhance Denver’s urban fabric, integrate with neighboring amenities, and serve as an innovative model for sustainable cultural and civic investment.

2. The most crucial issue facing the arts community is the reauthorization of the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District this November. For nearly thirty years, metro-area voters have supported the SCFD. This one cent on every $10 brings in more than $50 million to support 275 art and science organizations. Now a nationally renowned model of public arts funding, the SCFD has led Colorado to be first in the nation for attendance at museums, concert venues and theaters. Plus, it results in $1.85 billion in economic activity for the seven-county metro area.

Who/what are the artists/arts organizations to watch this year?

With over 275 art and science organizations throughout the Denver metro area, there is always something to do every night of the week. In the coming year, the DCPA will be launching new programs that celebrate the diversity of Denver’s artists and create opportunities for partnership — pairing incredible emerging artists with the largest nonprofit theater organization in the country!

What’s exciting at your own organization/institution?

1. Our new Broadway lineup was announced February 11, and our next Theatre Company season was announced on March 8. Once again, the 400 artists and professionals at the DCPA have created bold, courageous programing over six signature series that celebrate the best talents in the Denver metro area as well as across the country, proving that community-based and world-class are not mutually exclusive.

2. As one of 26 performing-arts organizations nationally to receive a Wallace Foundation Grant, we will develop a new audience-building program targeted at millennials, who represent 30 percent of Denver’s population but 16 percent of our audience. Working with the New York-based Third Rail Projects (Then She Fell), audiences will move through multiple spaces so that each person’s experience is unique. This ambitious undertaking will premiere in spring 2016 and will be unlike anything Denver audiences have seen.
3. Now in its eleventh year, our Colorado New Play Summit has been recognized as one of the nation’s top two new-play festivals. Held February 13 through February 20, the Summit welcomes theatre professionals both locally and from throughout the U.S. for the readings of four scripts in development, two fully produced world premieres, a variety of workshops led by national experts and the ever-popular Playwrights’ Slam. All of the four new-play readings will be considered for full production in the coming season, which gives audiences a first glimpse into brand-new works for the American theatre.

4. Also in its eleventh year, our Women’s Voices Fund is a first-of-its-kind endowment fund dedicated to fostering the work of women in theatre. Now topping $1 million, proceeds from the fund have enabled us to commission fifteen female playwrights, hire seventeen female directors and contribute to ten world-premiere plays written by women (including recent productions The Nest by Theresa Rebek (Smash, Our House); and Fade, by Tanya Saracho (How to Get Away With Murder). Plus, our popular Women With Hattitude luncheon (May 5) is a benefit to support this important work.

How are you working to grow your audience?

1. Millennial engagement: In order to engage new audiences, better reflect the growing diversity of our community and build opportunities for local emerging artists, we have launched an extensive effort to attract Denver’s fastest-growing segment: millennials. Grounded in extensive research, we present immersive theatre in unexpected places — shattering the fourth wall and inviting guests to curate their own experience and be part of our story. This spring, we have commissioned Brooklyn-based Third Rail Projects to partner with the DCPA’s Off-Center team and one of the city’s top mixologists to create a wholly new, off-site, immersive theatre experience. Stay tuned for the exciting details.

2. Fund for Innovation: In 2015 we launched the Fund for Innovation, a financial “angel fund” for the kind of forward-thinking research, experimentation and learning that the DCPA needs to meet the future. The fund empowers us to break boundaries and take chances on everything from programing to technology and training — all in an effort to redefine theatre in our lifetime and broaden our appeal to an increasingly diverse community. There are a number of projects that are currently being incubated thanks to the Fund for Innovation that will be appearing on our stages soon. These projects, once launched, will keep the city talking for years to come.
Find out more about the Denver Center for the Performing Arts at
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun