The Denver arts scene was immersed in immersion even before Santa Fe arts juggernaut Meow Wolf announced plans for a Denver outpost in January. While artists immersed in the fight against rising rents have been finding new ways to create, longtime institutions immersed in concerns about the future have been updating their missions. Here are some of the biggest arts stories of 2018.
Meow Wolf Makes a Purrfect Landing
On January 4, Meow Wolf announced plans to open a Denver outpost in 2020. Throughout the year, the former fringe DIY collective granted thousands of dollars to Denver’s scrappiest artists as well as larger projects; broke ground on Meow Wolf Denver; collaborated on a new ride at Elitch Gardens, the Kaleidoscape, that will debut this year; and encountered some good-natured blowback from a couple of Denver creatives who made a bumper sticker that read, “Casa Bonita Is Better Than Meow Wolf.” In the meantime, the group also announced new projects in Las Vegas and Washington, D.C.
The Word of the Year: Immersive
Meow Wolf’s announcement ignited an explosion of PR people branding everything “immersive.” Although the Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ Off-Center has offered immersive theatrical productions for some time, the new music festival Grandoozy gave outdoor retailers space and promised an “immersive experience,” and the University of Colorado Denver held an immersive arts summit. While performance art, installation and experiential art are hardly new, the overuse of this word is — and it doesn’t look like it’s disappearing in 2018.
Shakeup at the DCPA
Last year the Denver Center for the Performing Arts dismissed Kent Thompson, longstanding artistic director of the DCPA Theatre Company. Chris Coleman took the helm in April and brought swift changes to the institution. His first season had no Shakespeare but included a version of Oklahoma! with an all African-American cast, and a production of Vietgone that garnered a mention in the New York Times for its excessive use of trigger warnings. This year also saw the resignation of Associate Artistic Director Nataki Garrett, one of Thompson’s hires who’d been heralded as a champion of equity, diversity and inclusion in the arts. With all this action, we can’t wait to see what happens as the DCPA anticipates its fortieth anniversary.
Elon Musk made headlines when Evergreen potter Tom Edwards accused the tech giant of stealing his image of a farting unicorn passing gas into a tube that powers a small electric car, then using it on a sketchpad built into Tesla’s cars. Musk spent weeks ignoring the claims and then spatting with Edwards’s daughter before eventually settling. In the meantime, Hasbro forced Denver’s G.I. Joe Film Fest to quit using the action figure’s name, so the festival’s director renamed his annual event the Action Figure Film Festival. Fair uses? You decide.
Art Under Attack
Despite the Gio Ponti wing of the Denver Art Museum being closed all year for renovation, the DAM saw some big shows in 2018 — but the museum and its surroundings have also seen art under attack. The same day that ground was broken for the $150 million rehab of the Ponti wing, somebody graffitied the outside of the building. Close to the DAM, “Tree of Transformation,” a public-art installation designed to change the culture of Civic Center Park, was torched by a vandal, and then workers dropped it while taking it for repairs. And in December, a paid visitor to the museum went on a rampage in the middle of the animal-themed exhibit Stampede, smashing ten artworks. He faces felony charges.
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Gentrification continues to ravage Denver’s art scene. The brand-new Colfax Museum was sent packing to Lakewood, where it reopened in a space once used by Pasternak’s Pawnshop. Lowbrow, the kitschy art shop, shut its Broadway location; Goodwin Fine Arts closed in the Golden Triangle. But as some art spaces close, others open. Esteban Peralta, for example, opened Peralta Projects in his garage...after making sure neighbors approved.
The SCFD Turns Thirty
Metro Denver residents approved taxing themselves a penny on every $10 of sales to fund the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District three decades ago. Since then, the fund has helped cultural institutions large and small, from giants like the Denver Art Museum and the Denver Botanic Gardens to tiny community chorales and quartets. Voters have twice renewed the tax, and the SCFD has been lauded coast to coast as a model for arts funding. Happy arty anniversary, Denver.