Best Musical Mix 2014 | Colorado Symphony Orchestra | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

Forget the dusty sonatas, stuffy tuxes and holier-than-thou cultural attitude. In the past year, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra has blown those tired classical-music clichés right out of the water. Instead, the organization has shown itself to be a dynamic and vital cultural force in the local arts scene, with a fresh group of collaborations and a renewed push to reach untapped audiences. That includes a string of impressive partnerships with pop, rock and folk musicians, including local indie-rock heroes like Nathaniel Rateliff, DeVotchKa and Gregory Alan Isakov. The CSO has also worked with different community organizations, ranging from the Jewish Community Center to the Denver Art Museum. The group's success in redefining the civic role of an orchestra is all the more impressive considering its stormy recent history. Three years ago, the CSO was cutting musicians' salaries and wrestling with its board of trustees as it faced a million-dollar budget shortfall. It took the innovation of new CEO Jerry Kern and his wife, Mary Rossick Kern, to turn the orchestra around, and the city is richer for it.

ZIP Gallery members Valerie Savarie and Karrie York lucked into a wonderful space when the Colorado Photographic Art Center vacated its Belmar digs for a more urban location; together they forged something new — an artist-run and -owned gallery and studio space that, while it partly adheres to the co-op model by having member artists, is something else entirely. Valkarie also offers wall space to guest artists — with an emphasis on local ones — while asking only a minimal percentage of their sales in return, so prices can remain reasonable and artwork more salable. For artists clamoring for more community and grassroots collaboration and less divisive wheeling and dealing, Valkarie has solutions. Ditto for collectors, who can only reap the benefits of more affordable work.

There are restaurants that hang art, and then there is La Cour: Run by a family of staunch Francophiles, the new blue-brick cafe brings a little bit of Paris to South Broadway for folks longing for charcuterie and cheeses, a tasty tartine or quiche, affordable French wine and/or pastries from Trompeau Bakery, all served with a view of artwork. But La Cour deliberately bills itself as an "art bar," so in addition to the food and relaxed atmosphere, there's a gallery that offers changing shows ten times a year. C'est si bon!

Museums and art centers are typically in purpose-built structures, often with dramatic architecture to set off their aesthetic cred. On the other hand, galleries are almost always in rehabbed spaces. This is certainly true in Denver, where until recently there were only two galleries in specifically designed buildings: the William Havu Gallery and Plus Gallery. Now there's a third: the soon-to-be-completed new Space Gallery. The structural elements of the building came from a kit, but instead of erecting a barn or hangar with it, Space owners Michael Burnett and Melissa Snow commissioned architect Owen Beard to create neo-modernist interior and exterior skins. Beard's beautiful handling of the details, like the horizontal ribs cladding the second floor, which is also pierced by a seemingly random pattern of windows, makes it look like a miniature contemporary-art museum.

Nine artists, some of them graduating RedLine residents, joined together early in 2013 to realize a dream by building out TANK, a revolutionary new studio space in Overland. The flowing circular blueprint worked so well that they've since added a second buildout of interconnected, doorless studios, including an area reserved for residents selected through Adam Gildar's nonprofit Art-Plant. Imagined in the working spirit of other precedent-setting spaces like RedLine and Ironton (which also got a new building this year), but with an added layer of grit, TANK proves that Denver's art community is ready for its close-up.

The Golden Triangle is looking at a glittering future, with the new Vance Kirkland museum soon to join such monumental achievements as the Clyfford Still Museum, the Denver Art Museum, the Byers-Evans House Museum, the History Colorado Center, the Denver Central Library and the revitalized Civic Center. But many of the welcome developments in this neighborhood are on a smaller scale, with new galleries and arts-oriented businesses making a home here. Golden Triangle Museum District founders Robin Riddel Lima (of the Native American Trading Company) and Christine Serr (of Gallery 1261 and Abend Gallery) have worked hard to get the district off the ground, and the results are solid gold.

Griffith Snyder of Inner Oceans spent a few years as a member of the Americana-inflected pop band Dovekins. The popular band appeared headed for a national audience before dissolving suddenly, leaving Snyder with a lot of time to contemplate his next move. He wrote expressive music that came from his imagination, and formed Inner Oceans in order to share those songs. The band rapidly gained an audience, appealing both to fans of well-crafted pop and those with a taste for the experimental. Snyder didn't actually spend a winter at an abandoned seaside resort, reflecting on his life and writing this music, but it sure sounds like he did. Listening to Inner Oceans, you can practically see the fog rolling in.

Despite the surge in online learning, the Auraria campus has undergone a full-blown bricks-and-mortar boom in recent years. The latest building, which is still under construction, is the University of Colorado Denver Academic Building, by Anderson Mason Dale. Its mass is very complex and its materials rich and varied. And although Auraria's standard red brick is carried out in the tower block, the more dazzling white stone that covers much of the lower floors is more eye-catching. Prominently situated at the northwest edge of the campus, it provides a gateway that links Auraria to the rest of downtown.

Lotus Clubs founder Francois Safieddine, who owns Chloe and Suite Two Hundred, clearly knows a thing or two about dance clubs. He took a slightly different approach with ViewHouse, which opened just before the start of the 2013 baseball season, in the former home of Mori Japanese Restaurant. Safieddine pulled out all the stops to honor the ViewHouse name, transforming the venue into a 20,000-square-foot party palace topped by a deck with a breathtaking view of the mountains and Coors Field.

The ArtStir open-air art market debuted last Memorial Day weekend at the Denver Pavilions, and we can't wait to see what it will stir up this year. Featuring a vendor list made up exclusively of Colorado artists, ArtStir went out of its way to create a mix that doesn't look like that of every other outdoor fest, keeping an open mind and digging deep to find new artists. With the insights and seasoned eye of this year's new event curator, I Heart Denver's Samuel Schimek, ArtStir looks to be avoiding sophomore slump and keeping its fresh, youthful, trendy appeal.

Best Of Denver®

Best Of