Arts festivals are the great cultural equalizers in Colorado: They often feature high-caliber pieces to engage more serious fans while still keeping the atmosphere low-key enough for those who feel intimidated by galleries and more esoteric options. Not an art enthusiast? Most of the festivals also feature great music and food, and often locally crafted merchandise, including furniture and toys. The festival scene in the metro area is delightfully diverse; there really is something for everyone. Here are ten of the best arts festivals in the area, in chronological order (and updated to replace events that are over).
Denver Urban Market
Thursdays and Saturdays through October 20, free
Skyline Park, 16th Street Mall and Arapahoe Street
Locally homemade arts and crafts, clothing, jewelry and antiques are features at the Urban Market, which runs until fall in Skyline Park. The twice-weekly event, which has been a downtown summer fixture since 2005, counts inexpensive food booths from local eateries among its charms, and the odd (but appealing) collection of items for sale gives it a laid-back and local feel. There's live music at noon, too. Fair warning: no market on June 16 or June 18.
Denver Arts Festival
June 18-19, free
Stapleton’s Conservatory Green Plaza at Northfield
The Downtown Denver Arts Festival has turned into the Denver Arts Festival (long ago, it was called the Celebrate Colorado Artists Festival) and moved from downtown to Northfield at Stapleton. But this free, eighteen-year-old fest still promises the same showcase of the work of more than a hundred artists — most of them from Colorado, with a smattering of nationally known names. Mediums represented include painting, sculpture and jewelry as well as works in wood, glass, fiber, metal and leather. The festival also promises ample parking (one of the reasons it moved).
June 18, July 16, August 20, September 17, free.
Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design
1600 Pierce Street, Lakewood
Though you'll find food at the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design's FARMCAD, don't be misled: This is less a farmers' market than an arts-and-crafts market with a focus on education.The four Saturday markets this summer will feature everything from handmade crafts to fine art; there will also be hands-on art activities for kids and, yes, food-truck fare. The market doubles as an introduction to the school, and RMCAD will be offering tours of the institution that got its start a century ago as the Jewish Consumptives' Relief Society.
Cherry Blossom Denver
June 18-19, free
Sakura Square, Lawrence Street between 19th and 20th streets
A little slice of Japan, the 44th annual Cherry Blossom festival June 18 and June 19 features Taiko drumming, martial arts demos, dance troupe performances and music, as well as a wide array of Japanese foods to try. Sample the special Sakura Matsuri beer made by the local Jagged Mountain Brewery, or try a sake or free cup of green tea. Between events, peruse more than forty booths highlighting Japanese arts and crafts. This year’s special feature is The Awakened Spirit, a traveling exhibition of contemporary Japanese calligraphy, and inside the Tri-State/Denver Buddhist Temple, ikebana (flower arrangements) and bonsai will be showcased and for sale.
The French Nest Open-Air Market
Third Saturdays through October, free
Civic Center Park, Old Town West, Laporte Avenue and Howes Street, Fort Collins
On the third Saturday of each month through October (except August), you can head to the pretty French Nest market in the heart of downtown Fort Collins, on the grass one block from the farmers’ market. This eight-year-old arts market does have a distinct French air, with things like dried-flower arrangements, upcycled furniture, vintage and new clothing, and locally made pottery and paintings for sale. Grab a good cup of coffee and a just-baked pastry from one of the food booths and get ready to meander.
Keep reading for more of the best arts festivals this summer.
Exdo Event Denver
1399 35th Street
The Denver Flea has become an institution in Denver, and this summer's installment in RiNo will be bigger and better than ever, with boutiques such as the Denver Fashion Truck selling local designs and vendors offering everything from home goods to accessories, artwork, jewelry, more clothing and edible treats. There will be good things to eat on-site, too. Buy your tickets in advance and you get a free New Belgium beer or Flea margarita.
High Peaks Art Festival
June 25-26, free
Town Square in Nederland
Live music, fine arts and local crafts aren’t unique to arts festivals, but the setting of this one is, with the mountains as a backdrop to the fun in Nederland’s Town Square. The sixteenth annual event promises 43 jury-selected vendors — representing a variety of mediums, including woodworking, stained glass, metal sculptures and photography — and several area eateries will have food booths. Only local musicians are allowed to play this event; expect everything from “great American hippie music” to bossa nova throughout the weekend.
Cherry Creek Arts Fest
July 1-4, free
Cherry Creek North
For Cherry Creek Arts fest fans, the Fourth of July is all about the art. Over the holiday weekend, more than 350,000 people will attend the fest, which pretty much takes over Cherry Creek North with its 260 vendors. Twenty-six of those, working in thirteen media categories, are from Colorado. This year, the 25th, the festival will offer more interactive art activities — including the opportunity to paint part of a community mural — and the usual street-party scene, with live music, a beer garden and culinary demonstrations from some of the eighteen food booths. Avoid the traffic and bike there; bike valets are raising money for the nonprofit Wish for Wheels.
Colorado Black Arts Festival
July 8-10, free
City Park, 1700 York Street
For 29 years, the Colorado Black Arts Festival has been a showcase for African-American art and culture, with artists from around the world and Colorado. The free, three-day event also will have live music — including jazz, blues, soul, gospel, hip-hop, reggae, worldbeat and traditional African — and dance performances, and a food court featuring dishes from the American South, the African continent, the Caribbean, Asia and Europe. Interactive art activities will be available for the kids, and anyone with a desire to get their art on can add to the community mural. Don’t miss the Boogaloo parade on Saturday morning.
Affordable Arts Festival
August 28, free
Arapahoe Community College, 5900 South Santa Fe Drive, Littleton
The aptly named Affordable Arts Festival is all about the bargain: Nothing at this annual event costs more than $100. Hosted by the Arapahoe Community College Foundation — the $5 entry fee goes to the college’s nonprofit foundation — the outdoor fest has a low-key feel, and the offerings, from more than 140 featured artists, have been chosen because the price tag represents a deal on high quality. Note that this festival is only one day, though, so there’s no thinking overnight about what you’d like to purchase.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.