After pop-culture dreamer Charlie La Greca parted ways with Denver Comic Con, which he co-founded, he turned his sights on something more community-oriented and artist-friendly — a more manageable, true-hearted comic con that allowed fans to get face-to-face with comic creators. The Denver Independent Comic & Art Expo might not break attendance records or send cosplayers in droves out into the streets of downtown Denver, but its first installment last spring at the Sherman Street Event Center was a small miracle. This year's followup will take over the McNichols Building, with special guests the Hernandez Brothers of Love and Rockets fame, Kitchen Sink Press founder and underground comic artist Denis Kitchen, Denver expat Noah Van Sciver and dozens of other independent comic artists from near and far, as well as a fresh trove of comix, small-press publications and zines.

Being a comic artist can be a lonely life, but in Denver, those artists like to stick together. The Blacktail Collective gathers occasionally for multimedia public readings and road trips, spreading the joy of independent comics originating in the active Rocky Mountain region. Members include Westword cartoonist Karl Christian Krumpholz, Alan Brooks, Alex Graham, Jake Fairly, Ted Intorcio, Dan Landes, Kevin Caron and spokesman Lonnie MF Allen, who says Blacktail is taking a quick break while the collective prepares for the 2017 Denver Independent Comic & Art Expo. Find the group's schedule on its Facebook page.

Denver's art scene has come a long way in a handful of decades, with a rooted group of homegrown talent now being joined by out-of-state creative types. Tilt West wants not just to document that growth, but to discuss it — taking a critical look at the arts and their role in this city. Headed by a small group of artists and art-world operators, Tilt West encourages elevated discourse through curated conversations among artists, teachers, gallerists, architects and writers. The unmoderated, unadvertised setting creates a level playing field where all voices can discuss topics like "Regional History & Potential" and "Technology & the Body." The salons are recorded, and the audio is archived online for public access; Tilt West is also working on a publishing platform, in hopes of taking the conversation about art in Colorado to a wider audience in the near future.

Arts Street works with Colorado kids, offering real-world experiences to help students move toward careers in the creative industries. The nonprofit program works primarily with inner-city youth and young people who struggle in traditional schools; it has a wide understanding of what art can be and do, and offers lessons in visual arts, music, theater, dance, video and web skills. By teaching these skills, the organization hopes to empower kids to take a creative approach to growth.

Thinking about how to raise money for creative projects kinda takes the fun out of funding. Not so with Art Tank, the Denver Foundation's Arts Affinity Group's Shark Tank-like competition through which local arts organizations compete for dough. After a lengthy application process, finalists attempt to wow a panel of arts funders and an audience of arts enthusiasts. The group with the best presentation (Arts Street in 2017) wins tens of thousands of dollars, and everybody takes away a little inspiration. This year's competition was filmed by the Colorado Film School and broadcast on public television, but watching the process in person is the real thrill.

Angela Astle's Athena Project doesn't take its mission lightly. Every spring, the woman-centric arts roundup hosts a month-long series celebrating metro-area women who participate in all of the arts. There's always a sharp focus on theater, as evidenced by the inclusion of an annual centerpiece play and a string of plays in progress, but Athena also makes room for music, art, dance, fashion and serendipity, and strives to be a safe haven for women artists working in every discipline. In the best of all worlds, there wouldn't be a need for an event like the Athena Project Festival, but for now, we're glad it's there.

Best New Street Art
Courtesy of Gemma Danielle

Denver's been blessed with great street art over the past few years, thanks in part to Denver Arts & Venue's Urban Arts Fund, led by Mary Valdez, which pairs paid artists with walls all over the city: under Globeville viaducts, on the sides of RiNo buildings and, last year, along the Cherry Creek Trail. This urban gallery is too impressive to whip past on a bicycle, though. You need to be able to walk between pieces and stop to study such marvels as the ode to Denver created by Nigel Penhale, and "City of the Sun," a deep-blue and gold mural by Colorado mandala artist Gemma Danielle that caught the eye of Americans for Arts.

Readers' Choice: 2700 Larimer Street, by Joshua Mays

Best New Urban-Art Project
Lindsey Bartlett

There's been a lot of ugly talk about the plan to replace the crumbling I-70 viaduct. But it inspired something beautiful this past year: 'Duct Work, a project that put 38 street artists to work creating murals under the viaduct at 46th Avenue and York Street. The viaduct is slated for demolition by 2018, but in the meantime, it's a great urban canvas. "We want to make sure we get the whole viaduct painted eventually, so we're going to have lots of chances for more artists," says organizer Kendall Peterson of CIG, who worked with the Colorado Department of Transportation, Urban Arts Fund and North Denver Cornerstone Collaborative to create this massive urban-art project, curated by renowned local artist Yiannis Bellis. Contributors to the mural include Thomas Evans, Ricks, East, Jolt, Tuke One, Robin Munro, Jesse Frazier, Patrick Kane McGregor, Koko Bayer, Chris Haven, Thomas Scharfenberg, Sandra Fettingis, Paige Madison and many more; enjoy their work while you can.

Best New Public Art
RTD Denver

The train to DIA — the University of Colorado A Line — has had its share of troubles, including intermittent stalls and malfunctioning crossing barricades. The least troubling aspect of the RTD project has been the public-art component, with each of the stations along the route augmented by a piece of public art. The best of the batch — in fact, the best new piece of public art commissioned in metro Denver this past year — is Sean O'Meallie's "Balloon Man Running," at the Central Park Station at Stapleton. The Manitou Springs-based artist typically creates whimsical pieces that have a childlike sense of wonder; O'Meallie is a successful toy inventor. With "Balloon Man Running," he tips his hat to both Casper the Friendly Ghost and to the related balloon-animal sculptures of Jeff Koons. And somehow, the piece also manages to convey the idea of hurrying to catch a train. The twelve-foot-tall piece can be seen for blocks, as it stands on a two-story-tall plinth that brings a humorous touch to a boring parking lot.

Readers' Choice: Project Colfax

Art District on Santa Fe

Development has severely cut into Denver's arts districts, but the Art District on Santa Fe keeps chugging along, with thousands of people coming out every First Friday to experience the offerings of dozens of arts-related enterprises that line the sidewalks between West Fourth and West 11th avenues. In this time zone, you'd have to get down to the original Santa Fe — in New Mexico — to find as many art spots in one area. Among the attractions are some of the city's great commercial galleries, including Mai Wyn Fine Art, Space, Rule and Michael Warren; co-ops, notably Spark and Core; and arts groups like CHAC, as well as numerous artist spaces and studios. There are even a couple of small museums: the Museo de las Americas and MSU Denver's Center for Visual Art. But it's not just the fine arts that drive this stretch of Santa Fe; you'll also find the Denver Civic Theatre, home to Su Teatro, and the Colorado Ballet in its ambitious new home. The main thoroughfare for Denver's Latino community for generations, the strip also sports a fine assortment of Mexican restaurants, perfect for recharging between art shows.

Readers' Choice: Art District on Santa Fe

Best Of Denver®

Best Of