Our Ten Most Popular Arts Stories of 2019

Almost half of the most popular Denver art stories were about a company based in Santa Fe.
Almost half of the most popular Denver art stories were about a company based in Santa Fe. Kate Russell/Meow Wolf
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.

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.

click to enlarge Alex Honnold at the Hang, a festival at Earth Treks in Englewood on Tuesday, June 18. - CHRIS WALKER
Alex Honnold at the Hang, a festival at Earth Treks in Englewood on Tuesday, June 18.
Chris Walker
"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.

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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris