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Made in Colorado

The Cherry Creek Arts Festival tops almost everyone's list of things to do in Denver over the Fourth of July weekend. The award-winning fest, taking place this weekend on the streets of Cherry Creek North, has been hailed nationwide by artists and buyers alike, and it adds a luster to Denver's growing reputation as a happening place to be. Unless you happen to be a local artist, that is: Precious few of those are found exhibiting work at the prestigious summer showcase.

CCAF publicist Kelly Ferris notes that while fair organizers made an effort last year to present a bigger festival, this year they're shooting for a better festival, meaning more big-name entertainers on the fest's free music stages and more overall variety in activities offered. Highlights include a traveling glass-blowing demonstration, roving performances by visual theater group Bedlam Oz and multi-arts collaborators Squonk Opera, aerial dance by Frequent Flyers and hands-on art play areas for kids and adults. But the recurring criticism remains: Why don't more local and alternative artists get to participate? Though the festival's jury process was altered this year to allow for a more diverse assortment of art, only eight Colorado artists made the final 200-name roster, including newcomers pastelist Tony Ortega, blown-glass artist Linda Backus, painter Michael Gadlin and installation artist Brian Nelson.

Nelson approaches his inclusion in the festival from a particular point of view. For one thing, his works--actually photographs documenting much larger three-dimensional multi-media installations--are not typical of work seen at festivals past, where the thrust was toward more conservative, marketable art. Nelson, who's shown at local alternative galleries for ten years, also has a unique vantage point: He used to work for the festival as a production manager and even participated one year in the jurying process, just to see how it was done.

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"All the complaints are about how there aren't enough alternative or local artists in the festival, but from my experience, it was the best show possible based on what was entered--not a lot of alternative and local artists were actually entering," Nelson says.

Free of his festival ties this year, he decided to submit an exhibition entry. "I decided to stick my neck out there," he says. "I don't know if my work will be very salable. I'm not the typical watercolor artist people would buy, so I'm interested to see how that goes."

He's not the only one. Nelson hopes to set a precedent for the area's alternative arts community, whose denizens he suspects are also curious to see how his art sells. "A lot of alternative and local artists turn their noses up at it," he admits. But he thinks they might follow suit by entering work for future festivals. And he definitely thinks there's a place at the fest for the new and unusual.

"A lot of people are there specifically to buy art," he says. "It's not that they're not able to open their eyes to more interesting alternative styles --it's just that they haven't seen them before." If Nelson's high hopes and enthusiasm are any indication, that scenario could become a thing of the past.

--Froyd

Cherry Creek Arts Festival, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. July 3-4 and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. July 5, Second and Third avenues between Clayton and Steele streets, Cherry Creek North, free, 355-

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