Denver Arts Week: Bigger, Badder, Free-er

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This year's Denver Arts Week will be bigger than ever, boasting the largest number of participating theaters, museums, galleries and artists that the city has yet seen for the annual celebration. The festivities begin tonight, and are coinciding for the first time with the Mayor's Awards for Excellence in the Arts, at 7:30 p.m. at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. Go the Denver Arts Week website for a full listing of events and activities.

The expansion is aimed at drawing residents from all over the Rocky Mountain region into the city and including areas outside of Denver, says Kent Rice, the director of the city's Arts & Venues department. This year's incentives include two-for-one ticket deals to the ballet, symphony, opera and theater, as well as a dramatic increase in the number of $52.80 deals, in which local art is available for purchase at the discounted, distinctly Denver rate.

VISIT DENVER President and CEO Richard Scharf, Mayor Hancock, First Lady Mary Louis Lee and DAM Director Christoph Heinrich all spoke of the same two themes in announcing this year's changes today: Locality and family. Scharf referred to this Saturday's Night at the Museums as "the family event of the year," while Lee emphasized the importance of supporting the vitality of local arts, as she too is an active artist within the community, and is this year's Night at the Museum's honorary chair.

"When they needed a chair for Night at the Museums," Mayor Hancock said, introducing her, "They wisely did not choose me."

Tonight's performances and awards ceremonies clearly intend to set the tone for the week -- free and easy. This Friday's First Friday Art Walk will include ten of Denver's art district neighborhoods and over 100 galleries offering refreshments and revelry. Saturday follows with Night at the Museums, in which 20 museums will be free and open to the public from 5p.m. - 10p.m. Over the course of the week, 46 theaters and performing arts centers will be holding productions of plays, comedy, dance and more. To see the slide show of today's preview, click here.One of the most exciting performances will be that of the Colorado Asian Cultural Heritage Center's Lion Dancers, who will be performing at DAM to promote the museum's two new exhibits exploring empirical Chinese art, and that of China's most celebrated artist, Xu Beihong, specifically.

The Lion Dancers gave a preview of what's to come today for the press, with a classic (though miniaturized for the indoors) dragon dance performance, in which one dancer was the head of a dragon and the other the rear. There were two of them, both incredibly beautiful and unique, and they danced to the sounds of the performers' drums behind them.

Along with the Lion Dancers, the second floor of the Hamilton Building will be occupied by the DAM's collection of empirical Chinese clothing and most especially, the collection of Xu Beihong pieces, on loan from their home museum in China.

According to museum spokeswoman Ashley Pritchard, Beihong's influence and appeal in China is easily on a par with Van Gogh's in the West -- he simply changed everything, and influenced everyone. His paintings and sketches are featured on everything from carpets to coffee mugs. He is most notable for being one of the first Chinese artists to leave the empire in 1912 and travel to Europe, bringing back with him the practice of sketching and various other European traits that have flourished within Chinese art ever since.

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