Take a look through local photographer Kitty Migaki's camera lens, and you'll be seeing ABCs all over the damn city. This second-career artist and children's book author recently traded her corporate day job for an artistic path that involves capturing downtown Denver in a whole new way. And, she's proudly displaying her work at one of the coolest work-readiness spots in town.
You already love Cafe Options for its effective implementation of the "teach a man to fish" philosophy. It's part of Work Options for Woman, an organization that provides practical training and real jobs for people who are trying to overcome poverty, drug abuse, or homelessness by teaching on-the-job skills they can actually use.
"Their agenda is much more powerful than my display," says Migaki, whose alphabet pictures are currently brightening the café's newest addition: a gallery wall for budding local artists.
Last year Katherine Henry, executive director of Work Options for Women, decided to repurpose one wall of the restaurant in order to support women in another way. "We've been doing this for almost a year now, and the gallery rotates out every two months," says Henry.
Local is important to WOW. "Most of our food is made from scratch, we use a local coffee company to provide our coffee, and we just wanted to continue on with that theme by representing local artists in our gallery," Henry explains. While some themes are more socially conscious, overall there's been a nice mix of art that provides a talking point for customers, Henry says. Fifteen percent of all sales go to Work Options for Women; the rest goes to the artist.
Migaki was introduced to Café Options by creativity coach, artist, photographer and mentor Teri O'Neill Keller, who "is the mover and shaker behind a number of people's projects in the community and tries to bring artists together with opportunities," explains Migaki. "In my case, I'm a children's book writer."
Keep reading for more of Kitty Migaki's story and photos.
Her award-winning book Alphabet Denver, released in 2012, introduces children to the ABCs using letters found in downtown Denver architecture. The letter "B", for example, is the lobby of the Cash Register Building; "L" is the back of the Tabor Center.
The book also features ten original poems written by Migaki, and a GPS longitude and latitude component allowing readers go on their own alphabet scavenger hunt. For her show at Café Options -- the artist's first show, actually -- Migaki took a few of the ABCs from her book and enlarged them in order to create a diagram resembling a rollercoaster. "I put up a selection of work designed to capture people's attention and create visual interest," Migaki says.
"I loved figuring out how to put information from my book on the wall in a way that would be interesting for people to look at while ordering," she continues. Many of the photographs Migaki selected are within walking distance -- viewing distance, even -- of the café.
Migaki's alphabet project began three years ago when the artist, then a sales director and marketing guru, took a photography class with Keller. After a conversation near the end of class, Migaki drove home and started seeing ABCs in buildings around town. She immediately began snapping shots. "I showed Terry, and she got excited about some of the images I had captured," Migaki recalls. "She is the one who encouraged me to pursue a book after I finished the class." The book took almost a year to compile because Migaki waited until springtime to collect certain images -- ones that required green grass, for example. "I could have photo-shopped stuff, but I'm not a fan of altered reality," she says. Colorado, Migaki's home for twenty years, is the tenth state she has lived in. The artist's father was in higher education: "Every time he got a step up, we moved to a new college," she recalls. At one point, he was at Regis University. Eventually, Migaki's job at AT&T brought her back to Denver.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Follow Jamie Siebrase on Twitter.