Arts and Culture

Phil Bender among the winners of the Mayor's Award for Excellence

Seems like just yesterday -- February, actually -- when the last round of the Mayor's Award for Excellence in the Arts, with the winners for 2010, was announced. But 2011 will see another group of honorees, because the next awards presentation has been moved up to November 3, the start of Denver Arts Week.

Among the winners? Phil Bender, the self-proclaimed "famous artist" who founded Pirate, one of the town's first arts co-ops, and specializes in artworks that feature multiples -- but is definitely one of a kind himself.

Here's the complete release:

DENVER, CO , October 4, 2011 -- Mayor Michael B. Hancock, Arts & Venues Denver and Denver Commission on Cultural Affairs are pleased to announce the 2011 recipients of the Mayor's Award for Excellence in the Arts. The 2011 honorees are American Indian Art Galleries at the Denver Museum of Art, founder of Pirate Art Galleries, Phil Bender, and Legacy Award winner, Veronica Barela.

An awards reception and presentation with Mayor Hancock, hosted by 9News reporter Kirk Montgomery, will take place on Thursday, Nov. 3 from 7:30-9:30pm at the historic Ellie Caulkins Opera House in the Denver Performing Arts Complex with performances by The Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Colorado Ballet and Opera Colorado. The event is free and the public is welcome.

Since 1986, the Mayor's Awards for Excellence in the Arts annually recognize individuals and organizations that have made significant and lasting contributions to the arts in the City and County of Denver. This year, the event date was moved to November, to kick off the 2011 Denver Arts Week.

"I am thrilled to be able to acknowledge and honor those who contribute to the artistic culture of our great City at my first Mayor's Awards for Excellence in the Arts," said Mayor Hancock. "The arts play a large role in my family and I encourage everyone to keep the arts a high priority in their communities. Denver is full of talented artists and performers filling our world-class theaters, galleries and museums, offering endless opportunities for Denverites to get out there and enjoy the arts."

2011 Awardees

American Indian Art Galleries at Denver Art Museum

The Denver Art Museum began its signature collection of American Indian artwork approximately 25 years ago and now includes over 16,000 works. The museum was one of the first to use aesthetic quality as the criteria to develop such a collection, and the first art museum to collect American Indian art for art's sake. This unique approach is now a model for museums.

In January 2011, after nearly 10 years of research, fundraising, conservation and curatorial planning, the Denver Art Museum took a new lens to the museum's largest collection. Reopening the 23,000 square foot gallery with a new approach, the museum focused on showcasing individual artists, both their creations and inspirations that make up the museum's world class collection. The stunning new gallery space showcases a continuum of creativity - from prehistoric creations to current pieces - as well as a hands-on bead studio, digital education experiences and live art-making for visitors.

For more information:

Phil Bender

Phil Bender is the founder of Pirate Art Galleries. Pirate, termed "a contemporary art oasis," was founded in 1980 and has a 31-year history of showing emerging Colorado, regional, national and international artists. Through his leadership at Pirate Gallery, Bender helped to create an audacious and eclectic co-operative gallery alternative that has launched and built the careers of many local and regional artists. Westword says "the most important development (in Denver's art scene) was the rise of the alternative spaces, which grew into hothouses where some of the best contemporary artists in the city have been nurtured," citing Pirate as the most important and influential.

Bender is an accomplished artist in his own right, with exhibitions shown in the Denver Art Museum, Lab at Belmar, Robischon Gallery, Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, Metro State College, The Dairy Center for the Arts and Weilworks. For more information:

Legacy Award Winner

Veronica Barela

The Legacy Award recognizes an individual whose impact on the arts and community is expansive, touching many organizations and individuals over an extensive career.

Veronica Barela laid the foundation that has helped to make the Santa Fe area the vibrant place it is today. Her memory of the street that featured the Cameron Theatre and the Santa Fe Theatre and a vibrant business district, spurred her work. From the beginning, Barela has advocated for the arts as an economic engine that could draw people once again to Santa Fe Drive.

In the early 1990s, Barela started the PODER (power) Project with funding from the Anne E. Casey Foundation, engaging a governing council that included representation from business, neighborhood and arts communities. The project included grants to support arts organizations designated Cornerstones of Culture, and also the Pan y Rosas (Bread and Roses) project that advocated for the inclusion of the arts in the lives of all communities. After years of development, Santa Fe Drive is a model for arts-based economic revitalization and community engagement.

Barela continues to promote the arts as center to her economic development projects. Her work for more than 30 years combines her commitment to building the community, strengthening economic development and highlighting the arts.

The Nov. 3 event is free and open to the public. Seating is limited and on a first-come, first-served basis. Members of the media interested in attending can RSVP to [email protected]

Special Thanks to Our 2011 Sponsors

16 Mix Kevin Taylor Restaurant Group Milkhaus Sheraton Denver Downtown Visit Denver

Read about past award-winners here.

Follow us on Twitter!

Like us on Facebook!

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun