Best Image Makeover for a Building 2015 | McNichols Project | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

As part of her job as cultural-affairs director for Denver Arts & Venues, Tariana Navas-Nieves oversees what visitors see and do at the city's malleable McNichols Building. But while wielding that directorial influence, Navas-Nieves began to feel that the McNichols needed more than just the physical makeover that will begin there when the doors temporarily close this coming August; it also needed an image makeover that would make its ongoing events and exhibitions seem just a bit more interesting. To that end, the building is hosting the McNichols Project, a quarterly event series that turns art viewing into an experience unlike those you'll find at other gallery spaces in town, as new shows come and go in the space. The program's successful first installment took place in February; the second event, scheduled for June 18, will riff on spring gallery shows about rock musicians of the '60s and art about play.

When Pagliacci's closed in 2012 after 66 years of serving Italian food, the fate of the funky old building where it was located was sealed. And while it's sad to see old landmarks disappear, at least some of their replacements are worth looking at — like the distinctive Lumina Apartments, which rose on the Pagliacci's site. Designed by Tres Birds Workshop, the building has a complex form stepping up from the corner, which is marked by a semi-circular wing with a tower tucked behind. Above that, the upper floors are set back in a sequence of three additional terraces. This dramatic massing is the perfect setting for unusual metal panels that have been pierced with geometric patterns. These panels are used for the balcony railings and screens and represent a clever take on traditional ironwork.

Mile High United Way's new headquarters, called the Morgridge Center, was designed by the Davis Partnership so that it would resemble the low profile of the nearby structures. And although it's an entire block long, it mimics the rhythm of buildings lined up close together — the mark of the existing built environment. Overall, it's been conceived as if it were not a single structure, but rather a row of storefronts. Completing the illusion is the fact that each separate mass is adorned with a different material and has a different setback and height from the others. Some have been done in blue mirrored glass, others in buff brick, and still others in enameled metal panels. Because of that, the building's size has been hidden in plain sight. This divide-and-conquer technique works artfully.

Designed by W.J. and Frank Edbrooke in 1882, the old Temple Emanuel building has been reincarnated many times, but it also spent several seasons boarded up and in disrepair. In the last year, however, the building was purchased by Adam Gordon, Rob Dick and Kathy Crawford and turned, floor by floor, into a thriving community of artist studios and even the Denver Zine Library. More recently, the artist/mentor youth program PlatteForum took over part of the space, and Processus, a member-driven workshop with community equipment and workspaces, opened to the public early in 2015.

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.

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