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Alexander Allen of Brooklyn created this image for the Denver-based Pandemic Self-Portraits series on life during lockdown.
Alexander Allen of Brooklyn created this image for the Denver-based Pandemic Self-Portraits series on life during lockdown.
Alexander Allen, Pandemic Self-Portraits

How to Build Your Own Socially Distanced First Friday

Full-on First Friday remains on hold, since even the galleries that have reopened aren’t ready to handle big crowds — and aren't allowed to under current restrictions, anyway. But you can still enjoy a First Friday art-viewing experience — online at home, in controlled gallery spaces, or even outdoors.

Here's how:

See One Kind Word, a storefront installation by K. Vuletich and Sarah Espinoza.EXPAND
See One Kind Word, a storefront installation by K. Vuletich and Sarah Espinoza.
Brendan Picker

Drive-By First Friday (or any day)

Want to get out of the house but still stay in relative seclusion? Drive to the Storeroom, a storefront gallery at 1700 Vine Street where you can view the displays from outside, even from your car. The side project of Brendan Picker, a public-art program administrator with the City of Denver, the exhibit window fronts a storage area used by the next-door Vine Street Pub, which happens to be owned by Picker's life partner, Kevin Daly.

“I looked at the window and saw a dingy curtain, a grill, some stacked chairs, and I thought, ‘This is under-utilizing this space. We can do much better,’” Picker recalls. For nearly two years, he’s been curating looky-loo exhibitions in the Storeroom’s window, and even during a pandemic, it’s business as usual: Through August, from the street or sidewalk, you can see The Kindness Bodega, an interactive installation by local artists K. Vuletich and Sarah Espinoza.

“Originally, we were going to install interactive pieces with touch and sound sensors that activate sound and light effects,” Vuletich explains. “But due to public-health measures taken around COVID-19, we had to change our plan to a more passive installation. This was a challenge. However, just because something is ‘passive,’ it doesn't mean the public can't interact or engage with it.

“After some discussion, Sarah Espinoza and I decided we wanted to create a virtual neighborhood by inviting people to participate with audio recordings and postcards,” Vuletich adds. “Instead of selling goods, our bodega is cultivating community and kindness.”

While the Storeroom setup already seemed tailor-made for the pandemic, the artists were able to bring new meaning to their concept. Picker hopes to continue tailoring his curation in 2021 to reflect current events, like the revived Black Lives Matter movement, by selecting more marginalized artists to weigh in behind the glass.

Denver artist Jaime Molina’s forty-foot tall Denver Public Art installation, La Veleta, in Barnum Park.EXPAND
Denver artist Jaime Molina’s forty-foot tall Denver Public Art installation, La Veleta, in Barnum Park.
Denver Public Art

If you like the idea of drive-by — as well as bike- and walk-by — art experiences, Picker has other ideas, beginning with the Denver Arts Fund murals along the Cherry Creek Bike Trail between Broadway and Confluence Park. And many Denver parks sport public art these days. For something truly spectacular, head to Barnum Park, 360 Hooker Street, for a view of street artist Jaime Molina’s forty-foot tall "La Veleta" installation, a towering, symbolic sentinel looking over the west-side neighborhood.

Another drive-by, The Yard, at 1010 North Logan Avenue in Colorado Springs, is currently on hold because of the pandemic, but co-curator Jessica Langley says that she and her partner, Ben Kinsley, hope to bring outdoor installations back to their front yard in the future.

And at Georgia Art Space, the Lincoln/La Alma Park garage gallery at 952 Mariposa Street, owner Sommer Browning is considering the idea of “a drive-by, bike-by, roller-skate-by” participatory exhibition later this summer, where people can sign up in the alley to help complete a giant “Sol Lewitt-style drawing” — one at a time, with masks. Keep up with news about summer shows at Georgia Art Space at sommerbrowning.com/georgia.

Muralist Patrick Kane McGregor in front of his COVID-19 mural at the Pony Up.
Muralist Patrick Kane McGregor in front of his COVID-19 mural at the Pony Up.
Courtesy of Patrick Kane McGregor

Mural Tour First Friday

Denver has a reputation for great mural art, and on a drive through the RiNo Art District, you can see an endless variety of wall work. But in pandemic times, it makes sense to look for murals triggered by current events: artwork honoring COVID-19 front-line workers and Black Lives Matter protesters, as well as quick murals beautifying retail shops whose windows had been boarded-up for protection while their doors were closed.

Prolific Denver muralist Austin Zucchini-Fowler has been painting the town during the COVID-19 shutdown, leaving behind a spate of works honoring essential workers, from medical staffers to garbage collectors. Find images and addresses on Instagram at @austinzart or use an interactive map at austinzart.com.

Another local muralist, Patrick Kane McGregor, who is known for his bulldog images, painted his canine muse with a mask at Meadowlark Kitchen, 2705 Larimer Street, and Pony Up, 1808 Blake Street. Meanwhile, Scot LeFavor’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” ode to essential workers adorns Like Minded Productions at 27th and Walnut streets, next to Jher451’s “You Down With PPE?” wall. (You can buy LeFavor’s image as a print from Like Minded for $60.)

An homage to George Floyd by muralists Thomas Evans and Hiero Veiga.
An homage to George Floyd by muralists Thomas Evans and Hiero Veiga.
Casey Carnes

Black Lives Matter murals popped up overnight as demonstrators took to the streets of downtown Denver, beginning with two by artist Thomas Evans (aka Detour) and his Boston-based counterpart Hiero Veiga, who tag-teamed colorful images of George Floyd (Colfax Avenue and High Street) and Breonna Taylor (2855 Walnut Street). Detour went on to paint a third mural at RedLine, 2450 Arapahoe Street, honoring an Aurora schoolteacher as a symbol of our most essential workers.

You'll have to get out of the car to really appreciate the Black Lives Matter street mural spearheaded by artists Adri Norris and Pat Milbery on the 1400 block of Broadway, right below the Colorado Capitol. Not far away, the Sports Castle at 1000 Broadway is now graced with murals of Floyd and Colin Kaepernick by Karlee Mariel and Armina Jusufagic, anchored by a generic Black Lives Matter exhortation.

For storefront murals, head south to the Broadway business district in Baker.

Muralist Detour framed Breonna Taylor with roses in RiNo.
Muralist Detour framed Breonna Taylor with roses in RiNo.
Photo: Casey Carnes

Socially Distanced With a Mask First Friday

If you feel safe walking into an actual brick-and-mortar gallery armed with a mask, 40 West is an ideal starting place, beginning at the Art Hub, 6851 West Colfax Avenue in Lakewood, where cooperative galleries Next, Edge, Core and Kanon have banded together. All have strict social distancing protocols in place — and a lot of great art under one huge roof.

Give co-ops in the Art District on Santa Fe some love, too: D’art Gallery, 900 Santa Fe Drive, is open with rotating monthly solo member shows, and Spark Gallery, which is located in the same building, now has a group showcase of supporting members.

Armchair First Friday

Most metro Denver galleries, from co-ops to commercial spaces, are open to some extent; even if they aren't holding regular hours or setting up appointments, they're putting work online.

For a one-on-one experience with artists from around the globe, link up to Next Gallery member artist Adrienne DeLoe’s Pandemic Self-Portraits project. DeLoe invited artists to submit a work of art in any medium that tells a personal story of life during the pandemic, and the response has been overwhelming. Check the results online on Facebook (facebook.com/groups/pandemicselfportraits) or at @pandemicselfportraits on Instagram.

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