Arts and Culture

Meet the MasterMinds, Artists and Arts Groups Keeping Denver Cool

The Denver Zine Library was founded in 2003 and is still going strong.
The Denver Zine Library was founded in 2003 and is still going strong. From the Hip
In the early 2000s, Denver was all about the creative class. Author/big thinker Richard Florida had labeled the metro area one of the top creative spots in the country, an honor that John Hickenlooper used to promote the city that had just elected him mayor. Fifteen years before, he’d been one of those entrepreneurial adventurers — an unemployed geologist who joined with other visionaries to found the town’s first brewpub, the Wynkoop Brewing Company, still going strong three decades later (it marks its thirtieth anniversary in October 2018). And Hickenlooper, too, is still going strong: Today he has a starring role as governor of Colorado, wrapping up the last year of his second term.

But we didn’t need Florida’s seal of approval, or Hickenlooper’s unusual career path, to know that Colorado is full of creativity. For generations, the Front Range has drawn artists and other aesthetic explorers, people who want to make their mark — people every bit as daring as would-be brewmasters or new politicians, but rarely as high-profile. Or highly compensated.

In honor of the groundbreaking, often underappreciated and almost always underpaid work that so many of these artists were doing, Westword created the MasterMind awards, a grant program that every year gives no-strings-attached cash awards to arts organizations and individuals who are changing the cultural landscape of this city. We inducted our first class in 2005 and are now rolling out our fourteenth class.

When we named Buntport to that original class of MasterMinds, it was a fledgling theater troupe of Colorado College grads; today it’s one of the biggest draws in the city, a theatrical institution with a national reputation that continues to do cutting-edge work. Other early honorees, including the Denver Zine Library, have had a tougher time over the past decade; now, under the continued guidance of Kelly Shortandqueer, it’s newly invigorated in a new home, where it’s opened a fresh chapter. And individuals like Brandi Shigley (our first fashion honoree) continue to impress us not only with the scope of their own work, but with their support of other artists despite the challenges of keeping an artistic enterprise alive. While some award winners have left town, a surprising number of MasterMinds have stayed in this city, where today they are integral members of the increasingly lively arts scene.
Michael Acuna, a 2018 MasterMind.
Anthony Camera
And one MasterMind is about to make a comeback: Rhinoceropolis, the DIY performance space that offered cutting-edge music and arts events for more than a decade before it was shut down by the city in December 2016, should reopen next month; it had received an emergency MasterMind award that December to help the displaced artists.

In conjunction with Artopia, Westword’s annual celebration of the arts that will fill The Church on Friday, February 23, we’re now announcing two more MasterMinds: Michael Acuña, the MC/artist/activist/educator who goes by Ill Se7en (and is the subject of our February 22 cover story), and Seventh Circle, the persistent five-year-old music collective that we profiled last fall. Both Acuña and Seventh Circle have made significant marks on the Mile High City, showing the creative genius that helps keep Denver cool.

With the announcement of the 2018 class of MasterMinds, we have now honored more than sixty artists and arts organizations, giving cash awards totaling well over $150,000. The roster includes some of the most active individuals and entities in Denver today, who continue to make their mark on the cultural landscape. Here's the lineup:
Seventh Circle Music Collective celebrated its fifth anniversary last fall.
Anthony Camera
2018 MasterMinds
Michael Acuña/Ill Se7en
Seventh Circle Music Collective

2017 MasterMinds
Curtis Bean/Art of War
Molina Speaks

2016 MasterMinds
Rhinoceropolis and Glob
Jeromie Lawrence Dorrance/Dateline
Mar Williams/Cabal Enterprises

2015 MasterMinds
Kalyn Heffernan/Wheelchair Sports Camp (Royalty Free Haiti)
Anthony Garcia Sr./Birdseed Collective
LadySpeech Sankofa
DeeDee Vicory/D’Lola Couture

2014 MasterMinds
Adam Stone
Eric Dallimore/Leon Gallery
Karen Lausa/Words Beyond Bars
Kim Shively
Lisa Elstun

2013 MasterMinds
Ietef Vita/DJ Cavem
Counterpath Press and Bookstore/Julie Carr and Tim Roberts
GroundSwell Gallery/Danette Montoya and Rebecca Peebles
Nix Bros./Evan and Adam Nix
Kitty Mae Millinery/Susan Dillon

2012 MasterMinds
Ken Arkind/Minor Disturbance
Andrew Orvedahl
Dianne Denholm
Lance Stack/Flat Response

2011 MasterMinds
Slam Nuba
Sarah Slater
Tricia Hoke
Illiterate/Adam Gildar
Tiffiny Wine

2010 MasterMinds
Fallene Wells
Jennie Dorris
Jolt/Guerilla Garden
Eric Matelski
Laura Goldhamer

2009 MasterMinds
Brian Freeland/LIDA Project
Viviane LeCourtois
Ravi Zupa
The Denver Voice
Vicky Nolan

2008 MasterMinds
Creative Music Works
RiNo/Jill Hadley Hooper and Tracy Weil
Jason Bosch/ArgusFest
Art From Ashes
Mona Lucero

2007 MasterMinds
Jessica Robblee
Jimmy Sellars
Tony Shawcross/Deproduction/Denver Open Media
Vox Feminista
The Fabric Lab/Josh and Tran Wills

2006 MasterMinds
Dragon Daud, aka Dave Denney
Katie Taft
Deb Henriksen
Cafe Nuba/Ashara Ekundayo
Johnny Morehouse

2005 MasterMinds
Lauri Lynnxe Murphy
Emerging Filmmakers Project @ Bug Theater
Brandi Shigley
Denver Zine Library
Buntport Theater

Hey, MasterMinds! We're updating our contact list, and would love to catch up with you and what you're doing. Email us at [email protected]

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun