Best Denver Arts District 2015 | Art District on Santa Fe | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

The Art District on Santa Fe has gone through a number of changes over the years, but it bolted to the front of the pack in 2014, thanks to a trio of major additions. The first was the creation of Michael Warren Contemporary, which opened in the space once occupied by the storied Sandy Carson Gallery. Then Space Gallery moved into its own swanky, custom-made new building. And finally, the brand-new Point Gallery was unveiled in Space's former haunt. Although higher rents and higher taxes threaten all of the city's arts districts, Santa Fe, at least for now, still seems to be a great place to open new galleries.

Readers' choice: Art District on Santa Fe

At more than 22 feet high, Christopher Weed's monumental "Connected" is as tall as, or taller than, nearby buildings, and since it's on a raised circle in the middle of a roundabout, it seems to soar even higher. Made of 11,000 pounds of stainless steel, the piece takes the form of four giant jigsaw puzzle pieces, one red, the others silver. Weed is a Colorado Springs-based artist who likes to use ubiquitous items as sources for his sculptures; in addition to puzzle pieces, he's employed paper clips, spores and chairs. The puzzle pieces here have been fitted together, representing the relationship of the various neighborhoods in the area — something that connects "Connected" to Lakewood.

Readers' choice: "Connected" and "Hear the Train A Humming," by Bobby MaGee Lopez (tie)

Last summer, Denver's Birdseed Collective and the Urban Arts Fund worked with art couple Hari Paniker and Deepti Nair — best known for their haunting, backlit cut-paper dioramas — to add a mural to a growing project on the walls of the I-70 underpass at Lincoln Street and 46th Avenue in Globeville. The forty-foot image on the theme of "community" features Paniker's signature "monsteroid" character cradling a communal weaverbird nest to his chest and is rendered in a beautiful mosaic of jewel tones. It joins additional public murals by Birdseed and Jolt in beautifying the urban landscape under the highway. See more mural work by Hari and Deepti on a wall sponsored by New Belgium Brewing at 21st and Market streets, near Coors Field.

After the death of comedian/actor Robin Williams last year, we were hard-pressed to find new reasons to smile; the Colorado connection from his show Mork & Mindy made us feel like we'd lost a native son (even though the Mork character was from outer space). So imagine our surprise when, one morning last September, the usual drive along East 13th Avenue revealed a giant new mural on the side of the Buffalo Exchange store, featuring Mork and one simple word: "Smile." The store commissioned artists Danny Fernandez and Pat Milbery to pay tribute to a great entertainer, soothing our souls in the process.

In our city of wheels — cars, bikes, scooters, 'blades and skateboards — taking a walk has almost become an oddity. But the Colorado-owned business Walk2Connect works to remedy that situation by inviting people to just slow down. Part of the program is a series of community walks and tours, including City Safari: Guerrilla Art tours through the streets and back alleys of the Golden Triangle and Baker neighborhoods, the Art District on Santa Fe and the RiNo Art District in search of Denver's rich lode of street and graffiti art. Fully researched by walk leader Rachel Hultin (who says preparations require "a hell of a lot of walking and riding my bike"), no tour is ever the same twice — except for the part where the group ends up at a beer stop in a neighborhood pub. Use your feet: See Denver in a new light.

Though Denver's art scene is starting to catch a national buzz, local museums have had relatively little to do with that hometown success. They generally skip material with a made-in-Colorado stamp in favor of scanning the globe, looking for stuff to display from just about anywhere else. But there's a notable exception: The Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art has taken a different tack by focusing on the paintings, sculptures, pottery and prints that were done right here, with the best of the lot being as good as it gets. Named for the great mid-twentieth-century abstract painter Vance Kirkland, the museum is the brainchild of Hugh Grant, who is doing more to advance the cause of Colorado art than anyone else in town.

This past summer, it seemed as though beautiful, cosmopolitan, street-smart murals were blossoming everywhere, as teams of artists began painting walls throughout the city and along the Cherry Creek and Platte River greenways, thanks to funding from the city's Urban Arts Fund graffiti-prevention program( Individual collaborators included everyone from student artists from VSA Arts to international artists such as Brazil's Bruno Novelli and Claudio Ethos, with a wide swath of local writers, fine artists and muralists carrying the most weight, transforming walls in Denver into the kind of graphically sophisticated, community-minded concrete-and-brick canvases we're used to seeing in cities around the world.

At times, the term "newscast" can seem like a misnomer, since so much of what fills too many thirty-minute shows doesn't actually qualify as news. But 7News swims against the tide. The anchor team of Anne Trujillo and Eric Kahnert do their best to keep the focus on events, incidents and happenings of significance, supplemented by an ace investigatory crew featuring John Ferrugia, Theresa Marchetta and Keli Rabon. On a nightly basis, 7News newscasts earn the name.

Readers' choice: 9News

Downtown Aurora Visual Arts has been providing at-risk kids from the neighborhood with mentoring and positive art experiences for more than twenty years. Late last year, DAVA hit the jackpot by being selected to receive the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award — a $10,000 grant awarded annually to just twelve programs across the nation — for its Job Training in the Arts wing, which teaches older kids art-related work skills. DAVA director Susan Jenson and thirteen-year-old student Boris Cochajil traveled to Washington, D.C., in November to receive the award directly from the hands of First Lady Michelle Obama, who also gave Cochajil a neck rub and some advice on how to loosen up.

The hoopla in February over the opening of the touring exhibit 1968 at History Colorado overshadowed El Movimiento: The Chicano Movement in Colorado, a locally produced 1968 side trip that debuted at the same time, but its impact is no less stunning. Put together with help from local movers — from muralist Emanuel Martinez and CHAC co-founder Carlos Santistevan to Chicano power couple Daniel and Maruca Salazar, who've participated in the Chicano-rights movement here from the very start — the exhibit traces an important and underappreciated part of Colorado history. Then, to add a splash of color to history, Maruca Salazar, director of the Museo de las Americas, organized Chicano, an art exhibit designed to wow viewers with wit, installations and imagery — and to convey a real sense of why the movement has never really gone away. Los Supersonicos (the artist tag team of Carlos Frésquez and Francisco Zamora), photographer Delilah Montoya and filmmaker/installation artist Daniel Salazar show the movement through artistic eyes; Salazar's film installation even gives viewers a chance to take a selfie against a moving backdrop of marching protesters. Both exhibits continue through May.

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