These Denver Creatives Are Crushing COVID-19 Despair

Amber Blais of Rainbow Militia.
Amber Blais of Rainbow Militia. Martha Wirth
We've been living through a brutal time. But while Denver has been shut down, it's also experienced an uptick in new projects from the city's artists, arts administrators and other creatives. Some have heroically turned their work into direct support for front-line workers, and many have tried to create opportunities for fellow artists through relief funds and opportunities to work. Some simply want to provide entertainment, or maybe even enlightenment.

Here are some of the people who have been keeping us inspired through this pandemic.

Amber Blais
Every time we look up, Amber Blais is busy with a new project. Within days of the shutdowns, she had compiled a database where out-of-work artists could hook up with employers who needed their skills — from accounting and web development to drywalling. Then she and her troupe, Rainbow Militia, organized Rainbow Ruckus, a trio of Zoom circus performances scored by Denver musicians. Dozens of artists were involved in that project. Through it all, she has also hosted the storytelling event One Two Kazoo online with MCA Denver.

Ryan Foo and We Are Denver
When the Black Actors Guild and Ryan Foo announced that they would be creating a local MTV-style online feed called We Are Denver to bust pandemic boredom and engage the cultural community, nobody could have expected the outpouring of video content from Denver creatives. Today the channel is broadcasting nonstop on social media. Artists are receiving small stipends for their work, and viewers can tip individual creatives or the project as a whole.

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Artist Adán de la Garza is the curator of Collective Misnomer.
Adán de la Garza
Adán De La Garza and Collective Misnomer
Musician, artist, filmmaker and curator Adán De La Garza used the first week or so of quarantine to update the archives of his nomadic microcinema, Collective Misnomer, so people could watch online the plethora of experimental films, videos and media projects he has shown over the years. He even booked his annual Locals Only show online and released a new album, The Burden of Realized Potential.

Brice Maiurro, Shelsea Ochoa and Go Outside and Howl at 8pm
Denver residents Brice Maiurro and Shelsea Ochoa had an inspired idea: to encourage the people of the city...and go outside at 8 p.m. every night and howl. In downtown and Capitol Hill, the trend caught on quickly, and it soon spread to other parts of the city, state and country, and even beyond. Even emergency responders joined in, blasting their sirens and flashing their lights.

Louise Martorano and RedLine Contemporary
When it became clear that most artists would be losing work as COVID-19 closures swept the city, RedLine Contemporary's executive director, Louise Martorano, sprang into action, mobilizing arts funders, city and state agencies, and creatives to create emergency grants and the Colorado Artist Relief Fund. She also worked with Laura Shill, Nicole Banowetz and Frankie Toan to create an artist-led mask-sewing project for people working on the front lines of homeless services.

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Hope Tank keeps bringing hope to Denver.
Kyle Harris
Erika Righter and Hope Tank
Erika Righter is the owner of Hope Tank, a gift shop loaded with locally made items whose profits in part fund philanthropic causes. She's been busy running her store's deliveries and mailing online orders, but she's doing more than just keeping things afloat: She's also helped organize artists to paint the boarded-up businesses of Broadway with murals, and served as a voice for fellow micro-business owners struggling to get by.

Cortney Lane Stell and Black Cube Nomadic Museum
Cortney Lane Stell, the head of Black Cube Nomadic Museum, has been one of Denver's fiercest champions of experimental artists for years. When the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation gave her an emergency relief fund, she immediately put the money to work for artists, launching the COVID-19 Artist Relief Video Art Awards. Winners each received a $200 stipend, and their work was displayed on Black Cube's Vimeo page. In the meantime, Black Cube has moved its monthly Talk With Your Mouth Full series online; it merges eating (and now cooking) with critical conversations about arts and culture. Join in at 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 3.

Evan Weissman, Molina Speaks and Warm Cookies of the Revolution
Evan Weissman, a founding member of Buntport Theater and the head of the civic-engagement arts group Warm Cookies of the Revolution, and Denver artist and rapper Molina Speaks wondered what they could do to bring comfort to the city. They quickly came up with the idea of Virtual Gift Baskets, which included works from Colorado Poet Laureate Bobby LeFebre, Suzi Q. Smith, Jolt, Ravi Zupa, Mary Grace Legg, the Reminders, Buntport Theater, Naureen Singh, Juan Fuentes, Armando Geneyro, Sheree "Lovemestiza" Brown, Haley Stewart, Izaiah D. Buseth, Anthony Grimes and Michael Ill Se7en Acuña. The baskets have been received with open arms and gratitude.

Which Denver creatives are inspiring you through the COVID-19 pandemic? Let us know at [email protected]
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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris