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Over the Weekend: A whirlwind First Friday tour to kick off Denver Arts Week

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No one in their right mind would normally try to hit four art walks all in one night, but last Friday wasn't any old First Friday, it was Denver Arts Week's Know Your Arts First Friday and, courtesy of Visit Denver flak Rich Grant, I got to do it in style on a chartered bus, which left from the Golden Triangle's Walker Fine Art gallery early in the evening for a whirlwind tour of some of the city's First Friday hot spots. After the Triangle, our first layover was the Art District on Santa Fe, where things were just starting to rev up as the sun went down. Anyone who's done this event knows it rocks; Santa Fe Drive is overrun with people of all ages and styles, from skateboard dudes and street musicians to socializing artists and discerning and moneyed collectors. A lot of what you see during First Friday on Santa Fe is left up to serendipity: You just have to be in the right place at the right time, and things happen. We first happened upon a mural-painting showdown between three teams of Arts-Street at-risk youth in front of the Center for Visual Art/MSCD. You could place a vote for your favorite by dropping some coins in the corresponding jar but, honestly, I couldn't decide. They were all tip top. You know what that means: Everybody wins. Inside, the splendiferous show Soaring Voices, featuring works by Japanese women ceramicists, took our breath away, from Takako Araki's stunning clay bible pages to Kyoko Tokumaru's delicate flora. It's worth stepping in on if you're in the neighborhood. See it through November 16. Then, we were off to CORE and Spark to snake through open studios and gallery shows, but not before a drop-in a Niza Knoll, where the current show Gone to the Dogs 2 is anything but a dog. It's not high art, but it's fun art and we have no problem with that. See it through Saturday. On down the road, we arrived at the Chicano Humanities and Arts Council, where a pair of superbly dressed Aztec dancers were readying to perform a ceremony closing down the gallery's annual show of shrines for El Dia de los Muertos. CHAC Norte was still decked out in full El Dia regalia and the performance was lovely, with magnificent feathered headdresses, ringing bells and shakers, a smoky offering and a hell of an ocarina solo. In CHAC proper, we especially appreciated a fine series from Tony Ortega, whose recent works make statements by posing throngs of brown people marching on front of American landmarks, some of them altered to reflect Latino culture. On down the street we went, past Santa Fe's own unique brand of street life: Food trucks, buskers and fly-by-night indie vendors of art, jewelry and t-shirts. And on our way back to meet the bus, in the same lot where Arts-Street kids competed before dark, their place had been taken by Museum of Outdoor Arts wizard Lonnie Hanzon's traveling advertisement for the museum's Hudson Holiday lighting spectacular, which opens November 19 at Hudson Gardens: Holly Berry, the most decked-out holiday art car you've ever seen. Lucky moment for us, considering that Holly Berry was planning to make even more stops that night than we were.

After all that, it was good to sit on the bus as it whisked us off across town to Tennyson Street, where First Friday is just as happening as Santa Fe's, but in a different, folksy sort of way. We were dropped off at Shack Man Glass, a veritable beehive of First Friday action, where local poster artist Lindsey Kuhn had a show reception and book signing and, in the back, glass-working demos were in full gear. I could barely tear my traveling companion away from that work table...don't know if she was just mesmerized by the slow transformations of melting sticks of glass into beads and others forms, or if it was the flaming torches that held her rapt. Does it matter?

Shack Man does offer classes in glass-working, should the urge ever come over you. Tennyson Street was alive with people who spilled out of Brasserie Felix and other eateries along the way, and there was also a lot of live music, from drum circles to down-homey children's music. The mid-century emporium Mid, Mod and More was hopping, too, with retro tunes on the working tv/hi-fi combo and a wacky collection of high- and low-brow furniture and art. And down at the other end of the drag, at 44th Avenue, EvB Studios hosted a table-full of clay-sculpting kids and adults who were making "Baby Face Fridas" under the tutelage of clay artist Marie Gibbons. Every First Friday, Gibbons hosts these mini-shops, where participants can make a themed artwork for ten bucks and come back to pick it up after she's fired them. And across the street, Sellars Project Space hosted a nice-looking a show by painter Laurel McMechan. Heading back to the bus, we encountered tin woodsmen hanging from a stop sign in front of Green Door Furniture, a disco DJ at a marijuana dispensary and the Denver Cupcake Truck. Mmmm. Next stop, a smidgen of RiNo at Ironton Gallery and Weilworks. Ironton was hosting an opening for Sharon Feder, whose well-executed paintings straddle the realms of realism and abstraction. The firepit in Ironton's courtyard was blazing, and artists were visiting in their studios; even in the dark, the enclave's esoteric garden was well worth a stroll.

Across the street at Weilworks, resident owner/artist Tracy Weil welcomed visitors to his new show Re-Modernism, and the ambiance was quiet, genial and easy-going. Just what you'd expect from someone who lives and works in his gallery space. We made the pilgrimage up into the famed Weilworks tower, where we admired drawings by Susan Wick on the way up and the skyline and other city lights at the top.

Finally, tired, but inspired, we reboarded our bus and went home to dream of of Denver, a wonderful city with art and culture to spare.

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