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RiNo, love it or leave it: As an arts district, it's ground zero for the best and worst aspects of Denver's notorious growing pains. The district is still trying to find the balance between remaining a haven for artists and cautiously welcoming the benefits of gentrification — from choice eateries to new adventures in space-sharing. But at the same time that many artists and galleries are being pushed out of their studios and venues by grow houses and breweries, others are holding on — or moving to nearby Globeville, which might just be the next frontier. And with last year's voter approval of the RiNo Business Improvement District, some thought and care is being put into preserving affordable artist spaces and adding infrastructure to make the warehouse district more people-friendly to residents and visitors alike. RiNo walks a crooked line as it looks for answers, but it's up to the people to make it work.

Readers' choice: Art District on Santa Fe

You'd think that Youth on Record chief Jami Duffy wouldn't have much free time away from her main focus of empowering youth through arts and education. But surprisingly, when she is able to carve out some time for herself, she's interested in doing something more productive than lying on a beach. Enter the Sculpture Brunch, a community-minded way to hang out with friends as a means to an end — in this case, a group-produced sculpture built from recycled junk and thrift-store finds, created in a spirit of cooperation and shared ideas over food and drinks. Visit the Sculpture Brunch Facebook page to keep up with coming events.

The Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design's Visiting Artist, Scholar and Designer Program is an interdisciplinary lecture series exploring topics like the humor in art and the role of race, gender and identity in the art world. Open to students and non-students alike, the series is overseen by notable visual artist Gretchen Marie Schaefer, who brings a diverse array of established and up-and-coming creators to Denver. Under Schaefer's leadership, the program has heard feminist icon Judy Chicago discuss her decades-long career working in many artistic mediums, explored sexual politics within the music industry with Mykki Blanco, and stepped into illustrator Lynda Barry's magical world. The program continues to push the intellectual and inventive envelope by celebrating and exploring the work and words of artists from across the cultural spectrum.

Courtesy Denver Art Museum
The least-understood thing about artists just might be the how and why of their work, the part that happens alone in the studio long before the finished product is ever viewed in a gallery. But the glass-window artist residencies featured in the DAM's Artists at Work program give us all a chance to peek into the process of art-making through live weekend demonstrations, as well as extended interactive public projects. Art is alive and well at the DAM — and not just on the walls.

DIY isn't necessarily age-sensitive, nor is it solely a bohemian approach. The idea of making things happen with your own power crosses all boundaries, and Counterpath, a Westword MasterMind and past Best of Denver awardee, has weathered gentrification and the test of time to keep rolling, both as a literary small press and as an anything-goes event space hosting free community art exhibits, poetry readings, avant-garde performances and other events powered by an older, wiser, working academic faction. This year, Counterpath is finding new life at a new location, on the eastern edge of Denver; look online for information about upcoming readings and projects, including a community garden in collaboration with Feed Denver.

Art couple Scott and Myah Bailey think lowbrow art's got cred, and to prove it, they've covered the walls of Sally Centigrade, their underground Larimer Square palace of pop culture, with highly collectible pieces, including original work and prints, from big genre names both local and national. If your taste in art edges over to the weird side, check 'em out.

Following the ever-changing tide of street art in Denver is a truly obsessive passion, and Project Colfax is that obsession personified. More than thirty artists were invited by Kentro Properties to paint the interior and exterior of the old Denver Car Wash, on what the artists say they were thrilled to find: virgin walls. Colorful art climbs the roofless structure and includes work by Yianni Bellis, Taste Burns, Ravi Zupa, Mike Giant, Jher, Pisto, Gamma Gallery, Mike Graves, Dread, Sandra Fettingis, Koko Bayer, Axiom, Chris Haven, Le Creep, Axel Geittmann, Girlie, Mario Zoots, Paige Madden and many more. See this piece of urban art while you can; its fate is still unknown.

The art collection at DIA is simultaneously famous and infamous, as exemplified by the best-known piece there, Luis Jiménez's "Mustang," which is both. Now the airport has added one of the region's most epic works of public art ever, Patrick Marold's "Shadow Array," an enormous environmental installation with a footprint the size of a building. The magnitude was necessary for the piece to even get noticed where it is, just south of the new Westin Denver International Airport and on either side of the adjacent RTD rail line flanking the station's long platform. The RTD tracks run in a valley, and Marold's creation lines its slopes with angled linear forms made out of joined logs from beetle-killed trees. The log elements have been arranged like a set of ribs, a pair of mirror-image radiating curves. "Shadow Array" takes advantage of its site, perfectly fitting the topography of the symmetrical slopes. The ribs create shadows when lit by the sun and via a lighting system at night, and those seemingly insubstantial reflections become as emphatic as the logs themselves. It's smart, sensitive and gorgeous.

Readers' choice: Project Colfax

The most unforgettable show from last summer was John Buck at LoDo's Robischon Gallery, the city's flagship contemporary outlet. The enormous multi-space venue was completely given over to Buck's monumental woodblock prints, carved wood bas-reliefs and freestanding sculptures, the kind of stuff that has made the Montana artist famous. But these expected components were just the beginning for this particular Buck exhibit, because overshadowing everything else were five gigantic automatons, setting up one showstopping moment after another in the exhibit. These automatons, made of wood and other materials, were digitally controlled and powered by motors so that they moved in complicated ways when viewers pushed a foot pedal. All of these kinetic installations addressed political topics, including colonialism and gun violence. Conceived by gallery co-directors Jim Robischon and Jennifer Doran, John Buck was meant to be their response to the Biennial of the Americas, which was presented at the same time and which, by the way, it completely blew away.

Readers' choice: Molly Bounds, Room With a View

Putting together a group show is a challenge, because the organizer needs to assemble participants whose works are compatible yet distinct. For the recently closed Unexpected Narratives at Walker Fine Art, Bobbi Walker selected four artists who met that assignment. There were two well-known abstract artists, Bill Vielehr and Ben Strawn, and two respected conceptualists, Bryan Leister and Roland Bernier, all of them represented by strong signature works. The Vielehrs were cast-metal bas-reliefs with scabrous surfaces like paintings, and they linked up with the Strawns, whose lyrical and richly colored abstractions balanced shapes and lines. Leister's pieces — such as his lenticular photos, which changed appearance when seen from different vantages — played with viewers' perceptions. Meanwhile, the Berniers were static, involving words spelled out in 3-D wooden letters in wall panels and sculptures. The four artists' works were installed in separate spaces, so that each display was essentially a solo — ultimately the secret to the show's success as a coherent quartet.

Readers' choice: Monkey Business

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