Art News

Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art Throwing a 25th Anniversary Party

MCA Denver is turning 25
MCA Denver is turning 25 MCA Denver
In 1996, five Denverites set out on a mission to advance the local arts scene. Philanthropist Sue Cannon, arts advocate Marina Graves, photographer Mark Sink, painter Dale Chisman and sculptor Lawrence Argent led the charge to start a museum of contemporary art for Denver.

While Cannon, Chisman and Argent have since passed away, Sink recalls the group's early board meetings, where they would create notes that read, "We need a logo...no, we need a mission statement." But as it turned out, an official name and logo would be years down the line. Instead, an exhibition came first.

The Collector's Vision opened in 1997, on the mezzanine of 1999 Broadway; the show included works from four private collections that primarily focused on established contemporary artists rather than local or up-and-coming ones. Although the group was still debating an official name, Westword's Michael Paglia wrote that the show, curated by Peggy Mangold, was "a remarkable start for Cannon's group, even if it was a bit of a no brainer to put together. (After all, the collectors already did the hard work of selecting the art)."

Within two years, using the acronym MoCA/D, the group had moved into downtown's Sakura Square, operating out of a former fish market. The first shows there, curated by Sink, were Altered Worlds Slovak Stage Photography and Florals: Unique Visions.


Cydney Payton entered the picture in 2001. The former director of the Boulder Contemporary Art Museum signed on as director of MoCA/D while it was "on the verge of closing down," Paglia wrote. During her nine years there, her efforts helped revitalize the museum, now rebranded simply as MCA Denver.
click to enlarge The museum's first home, in Sakura Square. - MCA DENVER
The museum's first home, in Sakura Square.
MCA Denver
In 2003 two members of the MCA board of trustees, Mark Falcone and Ellen Bruss, donated land to be used for a permanent home for the museum. By 2007, architect Sir David Adjaye OBE had created the stunning structure at 1485 Delgany Street, his first museum commission in the United States.

Adam Lerner took over the director position in 2009, doubling the museum's attendance over the next ten years and overseeing the creation of a dog logo (currently wearing a party hat). After Lerner left (he's now the director of the Palm Springs Art Museum), Nora Burnett Adams took over as MCA director in 2019.

The MCA "continually tests the possibilities of what a 21st-century museum can be," says Courtney Law, director of communications for the museum. As examples of its continued relevancy, she points to a shift in focus toward younger patrons over the past decade, as well as the creation of the Octopus Initiative, which allows lucky members of the public to display pieces of art from the museum's collection in their homes for a month.

"Our next chapter will be about embodying a model that is more decentralized, more expanded in the community," adds Law. "[We're] growing how we build connections across the city, forge partnerships across the city and region, identifying new ways to share our platform, and highlighting the creativity that happens here."

But even with all those plans, the museum is taking a break to host a free 25th Anniversary Birthday Bash on Friday, October 8, a rooftop party with champagne, cake, party hats and DJ Ginger Perry playing tunes; there will be quarters hidden throughout the building, and a special 25 percent discount off MCA memberships. The museum has also put together a Spotify list of 1996's biggest hits.

But it's hard to imagine a bigger hit than MCA Denver itself.

MCA Denver is hosting a free 25th Anniversary Birthday Bash from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, October 8, at 1485 Delgany Street. For more information and to RSVP, visit the MCA Denver website.
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