"What does Denver have that no other place has?" I asked Leon, as we left Xi Zhang's exhibit 21st Century DNA at the McNichols Building in Civic Center. Leon, my friend and fellow painter, had just gotten back from Detroit. He told me how hard the city had been hit by the economy, about the closed businesses and empty streets. He had visited Detroit's art museum and had marveled at the collection. Too bad the museum was in the hole, just like the rest of the city. We concluded that this is what happens when a city gives so much preference to one industry. As the auto industry crashed, so did the rest of Detroit. And even if the federal government elected to bail out some corporation(s), it's not necessarily going to bring back all of the small businesses that closed during the crash. This is what led me to the above-mentioned question.
"We have the mountains. They aren't going anywhere," Leon replied. "And weed, of course," I added.
It's true that our unique geography and the recent legalization of marijuana affords Denver the status of a pretty awesome city to visit. We're like the more healthy, "outdoorsy" version of Amsterdam. Weed and mountains. Can I get a "mile high" joke, here? Factor in the micro-breweries and the easy transportation afforded by extending the light rail to Denver International Airport, and I think it's safe to say that Denver is going to emerge from the recession as one of the USA's most important and prosperous cities.
At least, I think it will.
Let's bring this back to art.
Continue reading for more from Charlie Boots. Despite being a Denver artist, there were actually next-to-no Denver artists outside of Metro's painting studio whom I knew about, let alone knew personally, until recently. I'm fortunate enough to have been selected for the Powerhaüs PAIR residency program, an opportunity that has given me a means of entering into the Denver art culture. Of course, I have met and gotten to know Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, Jimmy Sellars and Mona Lucero, my studio mates, and Francis Roces, my fellow PAIR resident, but I had absolutely no clue who these people were before applying for this program.
Again, I am a Denver artist.
I had no idea who David Dadone, the executive director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Boulder, was [Dadone juried the first PAIR fine arts applicants]. Just the other day, he visited my studio space and we spoke about the work I've done since moving into the studio. We also spoke about internship opportunities at the Museum of Contemporary Art -- opportunities I would not have been aware of had I not met David.
In the time I've been in my residency, I have had local painter Mark Penner-Howell visit my studio space, been interviewed by entertainer Onus Spears and partied at Hinterland art space with the owners, Sabin Aell and Randy Rushton.
Yeah, I know I'm name-dropping a bit, but there is a point to this. I was unacquainted with, hell, unaware of these people only a month ago. I am a Denver artist who knew nothing about Denver art.
The Denver art scene is not inaccessible. The people have been nothing but kind to me. Add this to the raw talent in this city, and you got yourself a badass art scene. Why, then, did I know so little about it?
Continue reading for more from Charlie Boots. I'll admit that I'm a bit of a shut-in (we can blame this on my Hollywood-artist-movie level of focus), but if I knew so little about the local art scene, how much can we assume some manager of a Starbucks on 16th Street knows about it? That might be an overly specific example, but the point is that our art scene is a sub-culture. Art doesn't seem to be incorporated with the identity of the city at the same level as it is in, basically, all the great cities of the world.
What do you go to Paris to see? Art. Rome? Art. New York City, Tokyo, Berlin, Barcelona? Fine, not necessarily ONLY art, but it's definitely on the top of the list of attractions. What do you go to Denver to see?
Our mayor and governor have expressed concern over how the legalization of marijuana will effect the image of the state. This concern demonstrates a lack of understanding. Let's be honest. Colorado already had a weed culture; Amendment 64 merely legalized it. But if they are truly concerned, perhaps they will help focus government initiatives on other parts of our culture, instead of having reservations concerning what the people have decided by democratic process. Just as the weed culture was already here, so, too, is a culture of exceptional art. And if we begin increasing our focus on and support of that culture, we can avoid being the "weed and mountains" state.
As marijuana becomes legal across the United States, it will lose its exceptional status in Colorado, and while the mountains are good for attracting tourists to the state, it's not good for getting them out of the mountains and into Denver. It will ultimately be the culture of the city that stimulates the most commerce, and that culture is given a tangible form through the arts.
As always, I admit a level of ignorance in these matters. I'm not going to say I know the "solution." Perhaps we can start fostering support for the arts by allotting mural space around the city to local artists, instead of established, non-local artists such as David Choe and Shepard Fairey. We can create more grants, enabling artists to focus on their work. We can support art programs in schools. Schools, in turn, can take trips to visit galleries and focus more on the local culture.
Artists, of course, owe it to themselves to reach out in their communities. The PAIR program is an obvious example of what "reaching out" entails. Now that I know David, Lauri, Jimmy and Mona, as well as all the other artists I have met, I have more guidance and opportunity. The more programs such as PAIR are cultivated, the more access beginning artists such as myself have to this culture.
So in response to the question I asked Leon, Denver has:
Xi Zhang Mark Penner Howell David Dadone Jimmy Sellars Mona Lucero Lauri Lynnx Murphy Carlos Fresquez Sabin Aell Randy Rushton
The list goes on and on...
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These are resources that no other city has. -- Charlie Boots