With COVID-19 closures wrecking our city's cultural life, people have been desperately hunting for things to do in and around Denver this year. And the city's arts and entertainment industry has provided, offering everything from fireworks to live-streamed art exhibits to blockbuster LEGO exhibitions and drive-ins. Readers were also taken with sad graffiti, the Buffalo Exchange sexual-assault scandal, missing peacocks and a new string of chalets where you can get it on in privacy in a neighborhood near you.
Here are our ten most-read arts and culture stories for 2020:
This spring, when people were stuck at home during the stay-at-home orders, they were craving both a good time and connection with community. So they gravitated toward our most-read arts story of the year, a things-to-do list recommending a variety of art exhibits, concerts, movie screenings and more, all to be enjoyed from the couch. Pro tip: Many of these offerings are still available for you now that restrictions have tightened again.
Readers flocked to this little story about some graffiti scrawled on a concrete barrier that we described as "an explosion of incoherence, the diarrhea of a troubled mind, an apocalyptic outburst." The tag referenced Sodom and Gomorrah, drug cartels and even the Bolder Boulder road race. "Take a look at art — art in the widest sense of the word: any act of creative expression — and see how it can serve as a mirror," we wrote. "So much of what this city has been decorated with makes us look hip and pretty and chic. But what's scrawled on this barrier isn’t pretty at all. It’s sad and strange and also telling about life in Denver today. And it will probably be buffed away soon, if it isn’t already gone."
After being cooped up during lockdown, people were ready for something to light up the night skies, and fireworks were in high demand, even if many of the most popular displays were banned. "If you’re a fan of fireworks, this year’s Fourth of July could fizzle, fast," we warned. But there were a handful of options: Bandimere Speedway, Brighton, Castle Rock and more.
When the Denver Zoo finally reopened on June 10 under a special variance from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, it had new safety regulations, a new baby rhino, and no more paper maps, drinking fountains or carousel rides. Westword's Jonathan Shikes noticed something else was missing: the beloved peafowl, who had a bad reputation for snipping at kids and getting into fights. They had been relocated to private ranches. Now only one peacock remains, and he is not a free roamer.
Readers went bonkers for bricks when the Denver Zoo and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science announced blockbuster LEGO exhibits. DMNS's The Art of the Brick, an exhibit of Nathan Sawaya's LEGO art, included nods to famous paintings and sculptures as well as inventions of his own. At the Zoo, Sean Kenny used bricks to pay homage to endangered species through Nature Connects, Art With LEGO Bricks. Both shows lived up to the hype.
As people started suffering from screen fatigue, cultural programmers found ways to move forward with live events and created a drive-in renaissance. Movie screenings, concerts and even entire film festivals rebooted the drive-in format.
Tastemaker and Buffalo Exchange co-owner Todd Colletti came under fire from dozens of people on Instagram who accused him of sexual assault, throwing drug-fueled underground parties, and sexually harassing his workers. He was cut out of the local group that owned the franchise; after that, the Colorado Buffalo Exchange shops closed permanently. In the months since, the Denver Police Department launched an investigation into his case and presented evidence to Denver District Attorney Beth McCann's office, which decided not to move forward with charges.
Closures and cancellations of cultural traditions have plagued Denver all year long, from City Park Jazz and the Cherry Creek Arts Festival to most of the 2020 Red Rocks season, Cinco de Mayo and the Saint Patrick's Day parade. Also gone: the 20th Street Cafe and the Market. Westword editor Patricia Calhoun reported on all these closures in May and ended her story with this cautionary warning: "This city was already changing fast before COVID-19 hit, and although it feels like we’ve almost been in a state of suspended animation for the past seven weeks, not everyone has been sleeping. You might emerge into a Denver you barely recognize. Consider this your wake-up call." Now, with many more restaurants, clubs, and businesses closing around us, we're wide awake and sad about it.
On Wednesday, January 29, publisher Flatiron Books announced that the remainder of Jeanine Cummins’s American Dirt book tour was canceled, including a planned stop at the Tattered Cover. The book was blasted for cultural appropriation and relying on stereotypes to tell the story. In addressing the cancellations and controversy, the publisher acknowledged where it dropped the ball: "These inadequacies included everything from misrepresenting Cummins’s personal history (they marketed her as being the wife of an undocumented immigrant while purposefully omitting the fact that he was Irish) to tone-deaf centerpieces on the reception tables at a bookseller’s dinner that included barbed wire." The tour itself was canceled because the publisher believed there were credible threats against Cummins's safety.
While Denver saw its fair share of closures and cancellations, one company, Mile High Club Chalet, set up a citywide network of two-hour-plus rentals so that people could hook up outside their own homes. Replete with mouthwash, sex toys and more, the various locations — all in residential neighborhoods in the metro area — offer places where people can have a discreet romp for a few hours in comfortable privacy, the kind not exactly afforded by rent-by-the-hour motels.
What were your favorite Westword arts stories of 2020? Let us know at email@example.com.
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