#61: David Moke
With roots in the local DIY movement, independent arts advocate David Moke has an imaginative knack for helping to infuse Denver’s mainstream cultural world with a shot of unfettered creativity. His latest project, Understudy, a new multi-disciplinary artist incubator in the Denver Theatre District, is just one more example in Moke’s long line of past civic collaborations and, we hope, nowhere near the last. Where will his visionary thinking take him next? Moke shares his local and global triggers and views with the rest of us, via the 100CC questionnaire.
Who (or what) is your muse?
The people of Denver in the creative and cultural communities. Nothing gets me more excited than hearing about someone’s cool idea and being able to help make it reality. Also, the Adult Swim brand.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
David Blaine. My childhood idol. Got to see him live last June and participated in a card trick, which is my definition of a dream come true. I won’t require him to perform tricks at my party, but he seems like a nice guy who’d do it anyway.
Elle Reeve, a journalist for Vice News best known for her stunning Charlottesville report. I follow the news (none of this 24-hour channel garbage, though) and respect Elle more than any other reporter. She’d be a fascinating party guest.
Lil’ B, the Based God. One of my life goals is to host a speaking event with him, preferably in a meadow at the Four Mile House. Shouts out to Clayton Kenny at the MCA and Scott Morrill at Cervantes' for letting me pitch it to Lil’ B last time he was in town. Maybe next time.
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
It certainly depends on what you want to do, but I don’t feel there are major barriers to entry for people who wish to join the creative community. Want to be a known entity in the local music scene? Buy a full PA system and let people know you’ll rent it cheap. Want to be a gallerist? Open a creative space in your garage like Sommer Browning did.
The worst thing is the lack of creative spaces. As someone who credits being a part of the DIY scene a big part of my life, it’s sad to see it change. On one hand, I’m noticing a lot of new spaces or concepts coming online, like we’re planning with Understudy, but I still feel most outlets are aimed at adults. If it wasn’t for safe, creative all-ages spaces in the Denver metro area when I was growing up, I wouldn’t have my job today.
Are trends worth following? What’s one trend you love and one that you hate?
Immersive experiences are certainly trendy right now. Off-Center’s The Wild Party was excellent, while people like Adam Gordon are leading the DIY side in impressive ways. I don’t like when people use the word “immersive” for a theme party at a nightclub, but locally we’re starting to see some amazing experiences, events and entire production companies.
I dislike “street” food that is hard to eat, physically, but shouldn’t be. Food Trucks should serve food you can eat on a sidewalk without a whole rigmarole. The worst is “hipster tacos,” which is what I call an expensive street taco made with weird ingredients and served on a much-too-small tortilla. It’s a trend I don’t think will go away. If I wanted a taco salad, I’d order that.
How about globally?
I like seeing these festivals where art and music are held in the same regard. Think spending equal the amount of money on musical talent and art installations. We did that with Blacktop Festival in 2012, which I produced with my Unit E crew. Now you have Day for Night Festival in Houston leading the way in America, while Sónar in Spain is doing super-cool new-media programming.
What’s your best or favorite accomplishment as a creative?
In 2013, Blacktop Festival won Westword’s “Best New Music Festival” award, and the editor wrote, “The festival gave many people a taste of a world they would not otherwise have seen or gotten to experience. If we're lucky, the event paved the way for future collaborations between the city and street-level artistry.”
Since then, through my team’s work with the Denver Theatre District and support from Denver Arts & Venues, the collaborations have exploded. The DTD spent over $1,000,000 on district art and cultural activation since I joined in 2013, launching or supporting over 160 unique events or programming series. Now we have our own little physical space called Understudy, and the future is very exciting.
Thus, my best accomplishment is helping create a new avenue for supporting our creative community and providing much-needed resources. Much credit to David Ehrlich, our DTD executive director, for giving me the opportunity in the first place and having a strong vision for what our small organization could become.
You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?
Before I die, I need to throw an event with Adult Swim. Maybe Reed Fuchs can help me out. I always wanted to operate a haunted house, build a thematic water slide like you see at Water World and run a record store. I only wanted to do the record store thing for a few days, which I’ll get to do at Understudy December 1 through 3 with my friends in Rubedo.
Oh, and find a girlfriend who’s interested in going to cool art openings and concerts and the like.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
Denver is amazing. I complain as much as the next local person, but I couldn’t imagine moving.
I like how it is relatively easy to bring ideas to life in big ways. For example, I saw The Fence in Santa Fe, NM, and thought the concept was perfect for Denver. It took a year, but it’s been installed at Continuum’s new Market Station development in November and will stay up for months. All it took was calling United Photo Industries to see if they wanted to expand to Denver, seeing if Colorado Photographic Arts Center would be the local partner, then working with Leslie Sale at the LoDo Historic District to connect to the right site partner and find financial support.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
Shout out to Annie Geimer, my business partner at Communitas Consulting. From Weird Touch, the best dance party in town, to her work helping Meow Wolf navigate the Denver arts scene, she’s probably more deserving of a “Colorado Creative” title than I am.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
Understudy will host art installations and various programming throughout 2018. While the hours will continually vary, swing by if you’re ever downtown at 14th and Stout streets.
The Denver Theatre District is also putting a lot of resources into a soon-to-be announced project which will have a positive, lasting impact on our city.
Finally, I’m working with Superfly on their upcoming music and lifestyle festival at Overland Park. I can’t say much, but I am unbelievably excited for people to hear what’s planned. The Superfly team is doing substantial due diligence to make sure it represents Colorado in all the best ways.
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Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
Upcoming events at Understudy, 890 C 14th Street in the Colorado Convention Center, include Dreameaning: A Night of Collaborative Dream Divination, Tuesday, November 21, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., and the Dream Feast, Thursday, November 30, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., both with November resident artist Mathias Svalina. On December 1 to 3, Denver band Rubedo and artist Mike Giant host a pop-up record store with immersive art, in conjunction with the release of Rubedo’s new album, Vaca. Then shop for $20 original miniature artworks by Denver artist Jonathan Saiz from an art-vending kiosk installation, Blue Chipped, from December 4 to 24. All special events are free; RSVP in advance at Eventbrite. Learn more about Understudy online.