Denver's art scene has been clutching onto its identity all year long. Festivals have pulled out, new projects have arrived, and the city has wrangled with its self-esteem. Drama surrounding Meow Wolf, the Santa Fe-based arts collective that's turned into a massive corporation, one that will open a Denver facility in 2021, dominated our most-read arts stories of the year. Closer to home, realtors fell flat on their face as anti-gentrification activists rioted on social media over their parody of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. And the perennial question came up again: Why are so many movies set in Colorado not filmed here?
Here are our ten most popular arts stories of 2019:
“Cold Pursuit: Another Colorado Movie Not Filmed in Colorado”
Colorado has a movie problem. We’re a glorious place to set a story, but our state’s film-tax incentives are so lackluster, few production companies want to shoot here when they could work in New Mexico or Atlanta or Vancouver — all places that give financial incentives to keep filmmakers coming back. One of the latest such flicks was Cold Pursuit — a film whose release was doomed from the start. During an interview about his role in the revenge film, Liam Neeson confessed to a reporter that after a friend of his was raped, he concocted a real-life racist plan to seek out a random black person to murder. That didn't go well.
And while there were plenty of reasons to be irked about the film, which tells the story of a Colorado snow-plow driver whose son’s death triggers him to go on a rampage, Coloradans were particularly frustrated that yet another movie set here was not filmed here. This story revisited a list put together by Westword’s Michael Roberts chronicling all the movies — going back to 1937’s Colorado Kid — that were set here but filmed elsewhere.
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“The Latest Denver Artist to File Suit Against Meow Wolf Speaks Out”
Mar Williams and Zoë Williams, two Denver artists employed by Meow Wolf, are suing the company for gender discrimination, harassment and a host of other complaints. While detailing the complaints, Mar Williams had the following to say: "Meow Wolf is a corporation wrapped in a sparkly collectivist, socially conscious, queer, DIY package — it's wokewashing. ... The reality is you've got some politically conservative, pro-corporate, hard-core capitalists running the ship now. And that's built on the back of a culture that was never very woke to begin with."
Meow Wolf responded to Williams's interview in detail, explaining that the business is a certified B Corporation committed to fair employment practices and employing Denver artists. As for Williams's claim that since Meow Wolf announced it would be building a project in Denver, DIY and arts spaces have been forced to close shop, the company wrote, "We’re not members of the community yet as we have not opened, thus this is not our impact — these are already happening and our DIY Fund seeks to help prevent spaces from closing." The company went on to boast about the $100,000 it had given to small-scale arts and music spaces, including $22,000 to the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network and Birdseed Collective.
"Alex Honnold of Free Solo: Colorado Climbing Isn't That Great"
Famed climber Alex Honnold — the star of the Academy Award-winning documentary Free Solo, which chronicled his ascent of the face of El Capitan in Yosemite — stopped by Englewood climbing gym Earth Treks, where he talked with Chris Walker. When the reporter asked him for his thoughts about Colorado climbing routes, Honnold's take was characteristically blunt and delivered a blow to state pride.
“No, no, no — anyone who lives in Colorado who has traveled knows that the climbing in Colorado isn't that great in and of itself,” he said. “It's just that it's super-accessible, it's convenient, and there are a lot of climbers who live here. But I mean, many other parts of the world are a lot better.”
"Meow Wolf Denver Director Files Gender Discrimination Complaint"
In August, artist/activist Zoë Williams, the director of community outreach for Meow Wolf Denver, filed a complaint with the State of New Mexico, accusing the Santa Fe-based company of discriminating against female and non-binary employees. Williams claimed to have been isolated at work after raising complaints internally, left out of communications and asked to “drop the social justice” when talking about race and gender issues at Meow Wolf.
“I have been directed to change the evaluations of male employees to make them more favorable so that they can obtain raises and have been forbidden from disciplining these same employees for not completing their work,” Williams said in the complaint. “Further, I have been explicitly directed to give female employees more work than they can handle so they can be targeted for termination.”
Williams’s case has now escalated into a full-on lawsuit that Meow Wolf dismisses as baseless.
"The Bad Rap: Team Denver Homes' Fresh Prince Video Fallout"
The award-winning realtors at Team Denver Homes caused a riot on social media after ripping off the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme in a music video in which they treated rapidly gentrifying Denver like their playground, riding scooters and doing the worm in front of trendy street art, all while bragging about turning the real-estate market upside down and claiming to be the best team in Den-Vair.
Kentwood Real Estate, the brokerage to which Team Denver Homes belonged, distanced itself from the rapping realtors and ultimately dropped them from its roster.
“Our video was intended to be whimsical and fun incorporating an iconic childhood show — we truly meant no harm to anyone and we sincerely apologize for those who were offended by it,” explained Mor Zucker and Michele Ciardullo, who headed up the project, in a classic non-apology. The video was scrubbed from social media, and Team Denver Homes doubled down on its non-apology, blaming the very people they offended: “We respect that some individuals interpreted the video in a way that was not intended, and we are genuinely sorry for that.”
"Meow Wolf Bites Back After Art Critic Labels It 'Late Stage Capitalism'"
Phoenix-based art critic and Heard Museum curator Erin Joyce took Meow Wolf and its Phoenix-based project to task in the online culture journal Hyperallergic, denouncing the Santa Fe arts corporation for contributing to gentrification and describing its bowling alley installation, The House of Eternal Return, as "vaguely colonial." Heard diagnosed the company's malady as follows: “The problem with Meow Wolf is that it is a supreme act of late stage capitalism disguised through the collective’s mantra of the underdog as art savior.”
Meow Wolf bit back on social media, dismissing the Hyperallergic story as sour grapes because the company had refused to advertise with the publication. Then-CEO Vince Kadlubek wrote, “We have refused to spend marketing dollars with Hyperallergic, and what you are witnessing is what i’d call a 'weaner battle,'" he stated. "But with that said, we actually do take these issues that are raised VERY seriously, and have dedicated quite a bit of resources to addressing them. I encourage everyone to visit our website or our Facebook page to learn more about all the work we are doing with social impact, diversity, and philanthropy."
"Colorado Latino Festival Canceled Amid Threats of ICE Raids"
After Donald Trump put immigrant communities on high alert in June, tweeting, “Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States,” the Colorado Latino Festival — which was slated to take place that week — was canceled, citing both poor weather conditions and poor cultural conditions, including threats of imminent Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids.
When Trump backpedaled from his soapboxing, the Boulder festival was rescheduled and came off without a hitch.
"People's Fair Won't Be Back in 2019"
2019 proved to be a bleak year for Denver festivals. Superfly's Grandoozy announced it would go on hiatus, the Colorado Classic music festival Velorama was slashed from the annual bike race, and the People’s Fair — which dates back 47 years in Capitol Hill — announced it wouldn’t be happening in 2019.
The organization of the festival, which had long been produced by Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods, had been outsourced to Team Player Productions for the last couple of years. This was the new organizer’s statement about the cancellation: “"While a wonderful community event, Denver People’s Fair has had its financial challenges over the past several years, and in an increasingly crowded Denver Festival Market, TPP has ultimately decided to put it on hiatus in 2019, as we work together with CHUN to decide the best direction in the coming years.”
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"Buckle Up: Meow Wolf Launches Kaleidoscape at Elitch Gardens"
In good Meow Wolf news, the Santa Fe-based art corporation opened its first permanent Denver project, Kaleidoscape, at Elitch Gardens in April. With a crew of Denver artists, including Frankie Toan, Laleh Mehran, Kenzie Sitterud, Michael Ortiz, Chris Coleman, Brick Suede and Katie Caron, the collective created a psychedelic installation using the same tracks, carts and walls of the old Ghost Blasters 2 ride.
“Our mission is to support local artists and support emerging artists,” said Meow Wolf co-founder Emily Montoya. “We want to make sure that people know that our mission is to create space for artists. It’s not an easy thing to do, to have those conversations and to navigate the politics around that, but nothing worth doing is easy.”
"Denver-Born Actor Jan-Michael Vincent Dies at 74"
Denver-born TV actor Jan-Michael Vincent, who had his heyday in the ’70s and ’80s, died at age 74. News first broke in the BBC nearly a month after he passed away from a heart attack on February 10.
Vincent was known for his good looks and roles in Dragnet, Lassie, Bonanza, The Winds of War, Big Wednesday, White Line Fever and Airwolf. His career was derailed by drug and alcohol abuse in the ’80s, and his last film, White Boy, came out in 2002, just before he retired. Vincent is survived by his wife, Patricia Anna Christ.