Su Teatro at the Denver Civic Theatre

These two fabulous murals might never have come to life were it not for artist Carlos Fresquez's Community Paint: The Mural class at Metropolitan State College of Denver, a beautiful nod to Auraria's former life as a vibrant Hispanic community. The class's two-fold project last fall was to create murals for the facades of Su Teatro, in the Denver Civic Theater, as well as Metro's Center for Visual Art gallery, both located along the burgeoning Santa Fe strip. The resulting pieces honored Su Teatro for its forty years of keeping Chicano heritage alive on stage with a traditional depiction of the feathered serpent of myth, Quetzalcoatl, that snakes across the building's east wall; in the coming year, subsequent classes will complete a wrap-around continuation of the mural. And for the CVA, Fresquez worked with director Jennifer Garner to create an abstract, vivid swash of colored shapes that fits with the gallery's modern bent while beautifying the street. What Fresquez and his students have accomplished not only gives a visual nod to the barrio past of Auraria while acknowledging the current life of Denver's Art District on Santa Fe, but also offers a look at the future of the area. Thanks for the history lesson — and the local color!

MCA Denver
JC Buck

In the spring of 2011, Jill Desmond, then a young curatorial assistant at the Denver Art Museum, looked at the contents of the permanent collection in the Modern and Contemporary department and realized there were a lot of high-tech pieces. Enough, it turns out, to pull off the blockbuster Blink! Light, Sound and the Moving Image, a show that rambled over two levels of the Hamilton Building. Desmond included works by the greats who started it all, including Nam June Paik and Dan Flavin, as well as contemporary local practitioners such as Donald Fodness and Gary Emrich. By cramming in so many pieces, she captured the feel of a carnival funhouse filled with emphatic sights and sounds, each meant to attract our attention. Unfortunately, Desmond has been bumped upstairs to the DAM's administration, which means her curator days are over for the time being. Too bad.

Readers' Choice: Yves Saint Laurent at the Denver Art Museum

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Tucked into a corner of the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver's first floor, this gift shop serves two distinct camps: curious tourists and curious residents. There are more than 150 books on artists, art genres and just plain weird stuff; I Feel Relatively Neutral About New York vies for attention next to How to Be a Man. Staffed by four rotating employees, the shop caters to both the silly and the serious, with shelves housing limited-edition art pieces as well as gnome-themed cookie jars, pillows in the shape of logs and light-up key rings that look like mustaches. (MCA shoppers are not satisfied with keeping their facial hair to their faces.) But the best time to shop at the museum is during the Memorial Day sale, when the MCA offers bargain prices on pieces used in displays throughout the year.

Readers' Choice: Denver Art Museum

Now in its third year, Matt Sebastian's Slicing Up Eyeballs has established itself as one of the best sources around, maybe in the world, for news about '80s college, modern and indie rock. The blog's name borrows from the Pixies song "Debaser" (which was inspired by Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel's film Un Chien Andalou), and there's a good chance that if there's any new Pixies news, or anything involving the likes of the Smiths, the Cure, Peter Murphy or New Order, it will be covered — and sometimes even broken — on Slicing Up Eyeballs.

40th Day was one of Denver's most popular alternative-rock acts from the late '80s through the mid-'90s. The band's earliest work was atmospheric post-punk reminiscent of an early haunted U2. But by the time James Nasi joined on bass, 40th Day was changing musical directions. The 1991 album Lovely Like a Snake brought its more ethereal melodies together with a hard-edged, almost industrial sound for what is arguably the group's best record. The outfit went through various singers, including Shawn Strub and Tammy Ealom, and broke up around 1996. But on February 9, 2012, Nasi — now writing music as I'm a Boy — got guitar prodigy Neil Satterfield to join him at Rockbar for a few classic 40th Day numbers to remind those present of the power of that music. A more full-fledged reunion can't be far behind.

The Laundry on Lawrence

Brian Smith and the Space Creators are on a roll. They took a chance in 2010, when they opened the doors at Wazee Union, the first of their growing empire of warehouses transformed into artist communities with affordable studio space. When that gamble turned out to be even more successful than they could have imagined, they moved forward with Walnut Workshop, another project right across the tracks from Wazee Union. And this past year the third cog in their growing empire, the Laundry on Lawrence, didn't just open its doors; it also introduced an expanded concept. In addition to continuing the cheap, dorm-like studio/office model featured in the first two locations, the Laundry also includes a dedicated gallery space; a performance venue called Work | Space that's already home to the LIDA Project and Control Group Productions; and even an inexpensive photography studio, Bleach, which can be rented by the day. Smith and his Space Creators can also be commended for upping their commitment to the RiNo neighborhood by sponsoring a monthly Makers & Doers networking meet-up and participating in the RiNo Yacht Club neighborhood beautification organization. It all adds up to an impressive example of how the business and art worlds can collaborate to make our city a better place. And, hey, guys, there are plenty of other empty warehouses in this town just waiting for a new coat of paint!

It's hard to recall a band in recent memory that made as much of an impression as Spires, a quartet that appeared quietly but instantly engaged us with its auspicious four-song debut, which was far too short for our tastes. Somehow the group's lush, atmospheric dream-pop sound — which has plenty in common with acts like the 77's and Slowdive, as Spires itself acknowledges — manages to be familiar enough that you can identify the well it draws from without it seeming like some blatant, carbon copy. Of all the year's new acts, Spires is the most promising.

Readers' Choice: Codec

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As the head of Lotus Concepts, Francois Safieddine has carved out a niche in the Denver club scene with Suite Two Hundred, 24K and the Oak Tavern. His newest venture, Chloe, is a lot more than just a chic discotheque; it's also a lounge, and a restaurant that serves Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine. Named after a fictitious jet-setting fashionista, the space definitely has a worldly feel, and the disco has a European vibe from floor to ceiling, as well as a 22-foot LED wall. Attracting its share of local celebrities and trendsetters, Chloe might just be the most stylish spot in town.

Readers' Choice: Chloe Discoteque and Mezze Lounge

The Deer Pile

Tucked into the artist studios above City, O'City, the Deer Pile is the latest venture in the Dan Landes empire, which stretches from vegetarian restaurants to a resort in Mexico to an urban farm in Lakewood. The Deer Pile — named after an inexplicable mural of a giant pile of deer — is devoted to showcasing a wide variety of programs, everything from late-night comedy to (quieter) concerts, lectures and the like. The emphasis is often on countercultural topics, and admission is all donation-based. Not only are these programs a bargain, but they're open to all ages — which means the Deer Pile fills a definite void in Denver.

Though these days Boulder is mostly high-tech ventures and other moneyed interests mixed in with the university, remnants of the best part of its hippie past remain in place. Chrysalis Co-op is as its name implies: a communal living space where people not only live together, but grow food and share ideas and creative ventures. The co-op has also reached out to the community well beyond Boulder to host events, including avant-garde musical performances and poetry readings. By sharing food with everyone involved in the performances as well as the building's inhabitants, the good people of Chrysalis provide a unique and intimate experience, the spirit of which infuses every happening hosted. While not as active as a more traditional DIY venue, this place has been an oasis of underground art in Boulder.

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