Denver StreetHeart encourages people to connect with the city through street art

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Adam Lichty wants Denverites to walk more -- and see a lot more. That's the motivation for Denver Streetheart, which collects street art from around the city and shares photos on Instagram with Lichty's 1,500 followers. But he doesn't want the experience to stop there. He wants people to go out and see the art for themselves. "One of the many goals is to get people to see the work, know where the work is at," he explains. "If they're out and about with a little bit of time, or if they're going from point A to B, it's really easy just to hop on the Instagram channel, look at the map and go, 'Okay, what's around me? Can I diverge my path by a block or two and enjoy some street art?'"

See also: Guerilla Garden founder Jolt on the changing history and perception of street art

Lichty is a Colorado native, and has worked in photography, art direction and social-media management. In 2006, he moved to Chicago and then New York in search of a bigger market as a photographer. This is when his love of all things urban began. "My lifestyle changed a lot going from Denver -- very car-oriented, driving everywhere -- to an environment that's very urban, you walk everywhere, bike, take the trains," he says. "When you do that, you start seeing more of the city around you. Every single alley and sidewalk, you just kind of get to know them. You see little things pop up."

He returned to Denver less than a year ago, determined to find the elements of urban life he loved in his hometown. "I saw that it existed here, maybe not quite to the same level but it was still there. I felt like it was kind of hidden, even. So part of the project came about from wanting, even just for myself, to document it and know that it's there, but also then to start to share it with everyone else," Lichty says.

So he created an Instagram account called Denver Streetheart, where he collects and curates pieces he finds walking around the city. He chose Instagram because of its mapping feature, which allows him to share the exact location of the urban art he photographs. "Hopefully it encourages people to walk more," Lichty says. "I hate seeing these people who will go and hop in their car to go to the store or the bar just like eight blocks down the road."

But inspiring people to roam the streets is not Lichty's only goal: He wants to showcase local street artists and bring more attention to their work. "There's a lot of really talented artists in Denver," he notes. "I don't think that they get enough credit."

One way he's working to change that is by engaging with the Instagram community. He finds people who are already posting photos using tags like #Denver or #streetart; when he sees a piece he recognizes, he tags the artist to give them credit for their work.

The conversation on local street art has driven a lot of people to his site. "I can find people in the community who have that interest but don't really know too much about it, and just jump in, tell them who the artist is or tell them 'great find.' If it's a piece I don't really know about, I ask them where they found it," he says.

But the conversation doesn't only take place online. It's important for Lichty to interact not only with the works, but with artists and businesses that commission murals. "I won't be shy about, like, banging on a restaurant window, even if they're closed but I see a couple people in there, and say, 'Oh, you've got a beautiful mural on the side of your building, tell me about it. Who's the artist? What made you guys want to put that mural on your building?'" he continues.

Although commissioned murals are a great way to bring more attention to artists, Lichty appreciates the mix between those pieces and more traditional street art -- which is rarely solicited or even legal. "You see the stickmen all over the street. He's using the same tape they put crosswalks in with. He cuts it out and he goes out there and he probably has to use a blowtorch or something to get it on the street," Lichty points out. "You can just picture the guy going out at night with a blowtorch and his little stickman figure and going out on the crosswalk, making sure there's no traffic and torching them on to the ground."

Local artists are not the only ones decorating the city streets. Lichty has found pieces from international artists like El Mac -- who has a piece above the Living Room -- and Ottograph hidden around town. He first learned about these artists in his travels through Europe, and was surprised to find them at home.

Whether local or international, street art has an important place in society. There's a lot of crossover between fine art and street art, Licht says, but the latter maintains its unique personality. "It depends on the artist, they all have their voice, but it's kind of satirical, it's very socially contemporary, not just visually and tactually contemporary," he explains. "It's free, it's big, it's loud, and there's kind of an aspect of danger to it."

Since it's out there for all to see, Lichty hopes people will take the initiative to experience the art in person. Since he sometimes only photographs a portion of a piece, you have to get out to see the entire work.

Lichty suggests taking mini tours, using the Denver Streetheart account to find work in your area. "I think that Denver's got a lot of really progressive business pockets -- microbreweries, sustainable food, street art, biking -- I think the biggest disconnect for all of that is a physical disconnect," Lichty says. "Everything is spread out, people still drive a lot. I think street art in particular is an element that will contribute to tying this physical disconnect of these parts of Denver's culture together. It will hopefully encourage people to get out and be on the street."

To find great Denver street art or plan your own mini tour, visit Denver Streetheart on Instagram.

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