The area between Larimer Street and the South Platte River was largely parking lots and dusty old warehouses in 2003, when Denver issued its River North Plan
, covering the stretch of land “northeast of downtown Denver between Park Avenue West and Interstate 70 and its interchange with Brighton Boulevard,” an “area with enormous potential to create a unique community that will take its position among Denver’s great places.”
Two artists who had their studios there took note of the plan, but they didn’t wait for the city to take action. In 2005, Jill Hadley Hooper and Tracy Weil came up with the RiNo nickname
, formed the nonprofit River North Art District
, “and it took off from there,” Weil recalls.
And how. The area has changed almost beyond recognition in the years since, with development on almost every square inch and bigger projects beginning to replace smaller projects that were new just a decade ago. In recognition of the changes, the city's River North Plan was updated in 2016. By then, Hadley Hooper had moved her studio out of the area
(the space is now home to Ironton Distillery
); Weil just sold his spot at 3611 Chestnut Place for $5.8 million.
But one thing remains a constant: the desire to keep celebrating RiNo as a place “where art is made.” And at the RiNo Art District's annual meeting and strategic planning launch party set for 4:30 p.m. Thursday, April 14, the district will announce a new arts festival, Art RiNo, that will debut September 5-11, bringing workshops, art installations and six new murals to six different walls in the district.
Street art helped put RiNo on the map, and also left a dark mark when Crush Walls, the original mural fest founded in 2010, blew up when co-founder Robin Munro was accused of sexual harassment — accusations he denied. The RiNo Art District, which had recently partnered with Crush Walls
, severed all connections with the fest in 2020.
But RiNo kept pushing murals.The district created a monthly mural program and has also partnered with IRL Arts for Luminade, a celebration of new light installations at the ArtPark May 9-11. And that's not all.
“Over the past year, we’ve been focused on providing opportunities for underrepresented artists through our monthly RiNo Mural Program
,” explains Weil, who's the current executive director of the district. “And while we’re thrilled with the results, we heard from both our artist community and our members that there was a strong desire to bring everyone together to highlight the exciting art happening here in Denver.” Art RiNo was the answer to that desire, bringing people together at the intersection of the Five Points, Cole, Elyria Swansea and Globeville neighborhoods.
The Westword Music Showcase will return to RiNo September 9-10.
The new fest won't just highlight visual arts: The weeklong celebration of Denver culture in all of its forms will coincide with the 2022 Westword Music Showcase, which will take place September 9 and 10 in RiNo, where the Showcase moved two years ago from the Golden Triangle. The first night of the Showcase, on Friday, September 9, will see ten venues around RiNo hosting live local acts in a free celebration of the scene; on Saturday, September 10, the action will move to the Mission Ballroom grounds. Watch for details coming April 18 on westwordshowcase.com
But first, there will be even more action in RiNo: Weil is stepping down as executive director, and the hunt is on for his replacement. "Chestnut Place has been my home for 22 years," he says. "My creative work has always been here, but this is also where I developed a passion for agriculture. While I’m moving houses, this area will always be my home. I’m not going anywhere. I have secured a studio in the district, and I’ll be transitioning into that space soon. I’ve worked really hard to make sure that art is a vital part of this community long-term, and I look forward to continuing that work as a steward for the art district for years to come.
"I’m so proud of the work that’s been done over the last few years to support our artist and member community through the challenges of the pandemic and to position the district for continued success," he adds. "Along the way, we’ve also built an incredible leadership team. We recently promoted John Deffenbaugh to senior director of strategy and projects, and Alye Sharp to deputy director. We will fill the executive director role this summer."
Learn more about the annual meeting of the RiNo Art District here
; get the latest on ArtRiNo here