Best Next Festival 2017 | 2017 National Poetry Slam | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

Suzi Q Smith is a slam poet, spoken-word artist, teacher, activist, author and performer, and her fierceness with words is matched only by her drive to bring the world of slam poetry to Denver. The founding slam master of Denver's own Slam Nuba team and executive director of Poetry Slam Inc., she's won national championships herself, and thanks to her efforts, the 2017 National Poetry Slam will be held in various venues throughout Five Points this summer, bringing poets from across the country to the Mile High City. Thanks to the work and wisdom of artists like Smith, Denver has secured its place as a proud and supportive hub for a long-overlooked but deserving arts and culture community.

Lindsey Bartlett

Do you love the smell of aerosol in the morning? Do you realize that street art is so much more than graffiti? Then you'll have a crush on Crush. Now heading into its seventh year, the festival welcomes over eighty local, national and international street artists who paint walls in RiNo spanning the ten blocks from 2500 Larimer Street up to 35th Street and sometimes beyond — all with the property owners' blessing. Crush founder Robin Munro has been working hard to push the RiNo Art District as a leader in the urban arts scene — not just in this state, but in the country — and many street-art legends have made their mark at Crush, including Tats Cru, Woes, David Shillinglaw, Lauren YS, Max Sansing, Dulk 1, Blaine Fontana, Birdcap, Scribe, Jose Mertz, Sense, Rodwasworld, Elle Street Art, Shalak Attack and Bruno. Crush usually crushes it for two weekends in September; watch for an announcement of Crush 2017 dates.

Readers' Choice: Great American Beer Festival

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.

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

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.

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