Best Arts District 2018 | Art District on Santa Fe | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

Gentrification has taken its toll on many of the city's art districts, but against all odds, Denver's Art District on Santa Fe has persisted. Though the official boundaries are somewhat more expansive, on the blocks going north (along with traffic) between West 4th and West 10th avenues you'll find Space Gallery, Rule Gallery, Mai Wyn Fine Art, Artists on Santa Fe, Michael Warren Contemporary, CHAC, Museo de las Americas, Artwork Network, Spark Gallery, Core Gallery, SYNC Gallery and the MSUD Center for Visual Art, among many other art-related spots. But nothing demonstrates Santa Fe's primacy better than the success of its monthly First Friday Art Walks, which attract so many art (and fun) lovers that the district even sponsors a shuttle to deal with the crowds.

Readers' Choice: Art District on Santa Fe

Marco Briones

As many Denver neighborhoods find their identities swallowed whole by development, the west side's Lincoln Park has stood strong, thanks in part to cultural hubs like Museo de las Americas. Subverting stereotypes of Latin American art, museum shows blend fine art with street art, showing the work of both new and established artists, who take on such topics as religion and iconography, weaving and textile traditions, immigration issues and the power of resistance. Tapping into the surrounding community is part of what makes this institution so strong: Museo's programming and artists reflect Denver's own cultural identity, but from a global perspective. And its First Friday bashes and other special events should persuade anyone that a museum visit doesn't have to be a stuffy experience.

Independent curator Cortney Lane Stell launched Black Cube in October 2015, as artist Desirée Holman's sci-fi-themed multimedia performance unfolded under the stars at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, lit up by video-mapped imagery across the landmark's stone walls. You might say Black Cube started with a bang, but that kind of drama is all in a day's work for Stell, whose dedication to trying new things with trusted artists both local and international continues to pay off. In just the past year, she helped local artists Joel Swanson and Laura Shill mount a show at the 59th Venice Biennale, pulled off a major site-specific installation on the Denver Wastewater campus with the artist collective Institute for New Feeling, and instigated two pop-up iterations of the Drive-In series, in which artists use vehicles to express personal stories and themes — and more. This year, get ready for Stuart Semple's "Happy City: Art for the People," a six-week collaboration with the Denver Theatre District.

Courtesy RedLine Contemporary Art Center

When you're headed to an opening at RedLine, it's hard not to recall what this part of town was like ten years ago, when parking was plentiful. While that situation has changed dramatically, RedLine has stayed true to its mission of providing an arts incubator for Denver. And on opening nights, a refrigerator. There's often a generous spread to match the free booze, which gets conversation flowing just as freely. This is a see-and-be-seen scene, but don't get so caught up in socializing that you forget to look at the art. Not only is the work in the show opening that night worth your attention, but many of the studios in back will be open, too, where artists will be happy to part with recent pieces to anyone carrying cash or a checkbook.

Readers' Choice: Denver Art Museum

MCA Denver

Don't wait for an opening-night to party at MCA Denver. There's always something going on at the museum, from a spring series that features comedic storytelling captured on a live podcast to yoga in the galleries to a new lending library of art by local artists to discussions on matters great and small to, yes, exhibit openings. And if by chance you happen by the MCA on a day when the only official activities are viewing already-open (but invariably interesting) shows, you can always pop up to the rooftop cafe and make your own party. Mark your calendar for the MCA's upcoming fundraising bashes, which have become legendary around town.

Courtesy Understudy Facebook page

Understudy, a project operated and funded by the Denver Theatre District, debuted last October as 700 square feet of unfettered creative experimentation, offering free, short, changing residencies in a dedicated nook of the Colorado Convention Center. Since then, we've seen musical collaborations, art installations, art discussions, new models in art marketing, hands-on activities and, ending March 30, "The Little Chapel of Our Holy Motherboard," an interactive device stoked with digital animations poking fun at the deification of 21st-century technologies. It's the kind of place where you can slip in and out during lunch hour — or spend hours chatting with Denver creatives.

Over the past few years, artist Jonathan Saiz has been experimenting with different and self-generated ways of approaching the business of art while bypassing gallery representation. The latest is 7000 Reasons, a collaboration with friend and fellow painter Wes Magyar that pitches colorful seven-by-seven-inch portraits with a happy theme over a period of seven months. Each painting goes for $143, a fair price for works by the two established artists, and they're taking orders through July. While their goal is to sell 7,000 artworks in that time and to collect them in a book, that's not really the point, they say. After all, here's 7000 Reasons' motto: "We know life isn't all rainbows and unicorns, but 7000 Reasons will be!" Catch a rainbow for yourself.

Steven Frost

Boulder artist and University of Colorado Boulder instructor Steven Frost is a disciple of Carol Frances Lung, aka Frau Fiber, whose Sewing Rebellion movement invites people to commemorate sweat-shop laborers and their essential work through sewing projects. Frost, an official "Faux Frau," carries on Lung's mission locally by mentoring free monthly DIY sewing workshops at the Boulder Public Library's BLDG 61 Makerspace, where he encourages participants to upcycle used materials in creating everything from bike caps to Halloween costumes. Visit the Facebook page for a schedule and register in advance, as classes fill up fast.

Clyfford Still Museum archivist Jessie de la Cruz and photographer Sigri Strand put their heads together to create Arthyve, a nonprofit with the goal of helping Colorado artists document their work for posterity in digital and/or physical memory banks. To accomplish this, they've hosted workshops and symposia to get artists started on their own boxes, with plans to expand in the future. It's their way of acknowledging how our state's arts community makes Colorado a better place to live, now and in the future.

Denver real estate is at a premium, and the squeeze is putting artists in an especially difficult position, as studio space is limited and affordability is even more rare. Welcome to Camp Kalamath. The warehouse — owned by visual artist Tom Bond — is tucked away in an industrial area of Englewood, and the low-slung mid-century modern building doesn't look like much from the outside. But inside Camp Kalamath, the possibilities are endless, with room after room and garage after garage packed with muralists, woodworkers, welders, sign fabricators, industrial designers and even a car-restoration expert. Some of Denver's most-seen public artists have found a home here, with the likes of Jaime Molina, Anthony Garcia Sr. and Victor Escobedo sharing studio walls as well as inspiration. Happy campers, indeed.

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