Artist, photographer and educator Katie Taft isn’t new to the Denver scene: Back in 2006, she was a member of the second class of Westword MasterMinds, already a creative activist known for her monthly artist-talk series Self Made, which took place in a bar. That morphed into Action Figures, a slightly more formal version in a gallery setting, until Taft took a long hiatus to follow other passions, including teaching art to kids in Denver Public Schools and a PlatteForum residency. Years later, she’s delving back into the idea of getting people talking about art by repackaging the talks into Action Figur3s, a bundle that also includes art adventures, workshops, a children’s summer camp and the collaborational project You Are Denver. But Taft will tell you all about it as she answers the 100CC questionnaire.
Katie Taft: My inspiration comes from everywhere, all around me, all the time. Really, if I could turn it off, I would. Getting to the making part is hard sometimes because I’m too busy thinking, looking, researching and imagining what could be.
Some things that have inspired me lately:
-Denver and the changes that we are going through as we grow.
-How different kinds of maps represent aspects of culture.
-The Icelandic Sagas.
-Psychogeography: the study of the influence of geographical environment on the mind or on behavior.
-The year 1968.
-Meow Wolf. I’m so excited they are coming to Denver!
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
Patti Smith. She has been one of my idols for more than twenty years. She has this pure, almost naive kind of wisdom, this radical, beautiful honesty that I think the world needs a little more of these days. Poly Styrene, frontwoman for the X-Ray Spex, and the original and forever Queen Riot Girl. I’d love to see a duet with Patti and Poly. And my dear old friend Brandon Borchert. I’ve been thinking about him these days; he was a brilliant artist that the Denver scene lost too young, and I’d just love to catch up with him and have one last good chat. Plus, I think he could hold his own with those amazing ladies.
The thing I have always loved most about the Denver creative community is that [everyone] is welcoming and supportive of each other. When I moved back to Colorado in 2003, I was surprised at the fact that I could approach anyone in the scene and have a great conversation. I didn’t feel like there was an inside and an outside; everyone was welcome. Denver is growing right now, and with a larger community, I hope we can keep the inclusivity.
I think that the worst part is that the arts infrastructure still doesn’t feel like enough, in terms of galleries, teaching gigs at universities, grants to artists and more. We need funding and reasonably priced housing, and so many things to make it possible to live as an artist. That might not just be something Denver will do, though….
How about globally?
What I have been looking at and what I love lately in the global art world is creative people who are focusing on doing over making. Jen Delos Reyes, Pablo Helguera, Theaster Gates, J Morgan Puett and many others are doing great work right now, and they are as much organizers and educators as they are creators. I think that the best of the global creative community is empowering people, “artists” or otherwise, to be creative in the way they solve problems and address the issues of our day — of which there are many. The worst thing about the global creative community is that it can still be unwelcoming — at times inaccessible — whether it’s financial, prodding work that's impenetrable, or people putting up barriers to entry that are too high for most artists.
Are trends worth following? What’s one trend you love and one that you hate?
I prefer to think of trends as part of the zeitgeist — a lot of people are thinking about similar things right now, whether they are political or social. They belong to the times we live in, and unfortunately, they are interesting. So do we engage with what is popular? I think we need to, if it’s relevant to the work we are doing. One trend I hope sticks is how creative communities are becoming more inclusive. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but that’s what I want to see happen.
I have felt the most successful when I am engaging others, speaking to them somehow and inviting them to think more deeply. I hope I can do that with my art. I felt that most during my residency at PlatteForum. It’s such a great organization. I think I made some really great work there, too; it was the end of a ten-year series I had been working on. The show was called Friendzilla.
You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?
Gosh, there is so much to do in the world, so many places to go, things to learn. I feel like I am just getting started. I don’t have a list, per se; I’m just coming out of an all-consuming job for the last five and a half years, so I feel like I’ve been hiding away from the larger world, and I need to hit the ground running to make up for lost time.
Travel is something that has become a big part of my life in the last few years, and I intend to do a whole lot more of that. I’ll be heading back to Mexico City with Action Figur3s to host a clay workshop with Marie EvB Gibbons. I hope to get to Europe this spring to see my brother and my nephew, and I have some friends moving to Thailand, so I’ll have to start planning that trip.
For now I am planning on taking advantage of the opportunities that present themselves. I think I’ll be saying yes quite a bit in the next few years.
Well, I did leave Colorado. I grew up in Boulder, and in 1990, I moved to the Pacific Northwest. There, I was on the other side of the native/transplant dichotomy more than I am now. This is one of the things I am currently interested in — the way that Denver is changing. I never imagined that Denver would become the hub it has become. Our infrastructure is suffering with the influx of people, traffic is nuts and rents are outrageous, but there are so many new and exciting things that are happening here now. The creative community has grown exponentially, and I’m a big fan of that, so I’ll stick around.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
My most favorite is the one I spend all of my time with: Anthony Camera, a brilliant photographer you should all be familiar with if you read Westword. The list of other artists whose work I am interested in grows every day. I have been out of the loop for a bit, so re-emerging into this growing community is awesome. Frankie Toan is wild and wonderful, Esther Hz has ideas that blow my mind, and Daisy Patton is brilliant. I love that Denver has a wave of alternative gallery spaces, like Georgia, Yes Ma’am, Minerva Projects. I’m excited about Arthyve; I’m on the board there. And Rule Gallery is killing it. That’s a good start.
I have big plans for 2018. Under the name Action Figur3s, I will be producing a variety of “Artist Designed Adventures” — essentially studio visits with artists who take you on an intellectual and artistic adventure. Each one will be different and based on the artist’s work. I’m super-excited about what the artists are coming up with so far: Think smart, fun and a little bit different than anything you might have thought of doing yourself.
Action Figur3s will be hosting a trip to Mexico City for a ceramics workshop inspired by the city itself in August. Marie EvB Gibbons will be our featured artist down there. I’m also firing up the lecture series again (Self Made ran from 2003-2006), with some new twists. It was such a beautiful way to create community, and I hope it can be that again.
I’m kicking everything off with a mapping project titled You Are Denver, for which I am asking community members to tell me their stories, in words or images, about Denver. I want to get a sense of who Denver is today; I want all of it — the good, the bad, the new, the old, and I will be working really hard to get perspectives from all over the city. It will become a gallery show of some sort, and who knows what else? It’s one part research project, one part community building project and one part creative outlet.
Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
Art-making starts, and sometimes stops, in elementary school. I’m hoping that the dedicated and incredibly hardworking art teachers in Denver Public Schools (and throughout the region) get recognized for the deep thinking and beauty that they inspire every day. Without a decent arts education through high school, we disengage from art, think that we are not qualified to make art or view art or have an opinion on art with no basis. So here’s to the teachers in 2018! I can attest to what a hard job it is, and it is crucial to the health of our city that they continue their good work.
Learn how to participate in the Action Figur3s You Are Denver project online. Submissions will be included in an exhibit this spring at Vertigo Gallery. Keep up with and register for other activities as they become available at the Action Figur3s website.