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MCA Denver

Many museums exhibit the same work year after year. The first time you visit, the displays are stunning; after that, not so much. At the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, bold exhibits change frequently, showing challenging work of all types. One day you might see tattooed lemons; another, you might be dwarfed by a sculpture made of Slinkys. In addition to the galleries, the museum offers concerts by local and national artists, standup comics serving as docents, and endlessly fascinating lectures, culinary events and more. You can even enter a lottery as part of the museum's Octopus Initiative, an art-lending library, and if you're lucky, take home work by a local artist to keep for a year.

Readers' Choice: Denver Art Museum

Courtesy Clyfford Still Museum Facebook page

A temple to a legendary abstract expressionist filled with grandiose paintings and austere artistic observations, the Clyfford Still Museum is an unlikely place to host a grin-inducing music series. But with its free summer concerts, the institution definitely delivers. Organized by Swallow Hill Music, past performances have included such artists as Red Baraat, Sean Rowe, Dustbowl Revival and Juno What?!. On a summer night, there's no better place to enjoy live bands, dance with children and elders alike, then step inside for a quick trip through galleries, seeing works by a painter whose style nearly matches music in its ability to capture experiences beyond language.

Aaron Thackeray

A trip to most museums lasts no longer than, what, two hours? But a visit to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science can be an all-day affair, thanks to increasingly intriguing programming and its IMAX theater. Since the museum is an educational institution, the films aren't always the standard action/adventures that do so well on the big screen. The Phipps IMAX Theater tends to show documentaries that dive into the inner workings of our planet, focusing on everything from oceans to dogs, and tickets are about half the price of those for an IMAX show elsewhere. Blowing your kid's mind for under $10? Worth every penny.

As galleries and cooperatives found themselves increasingly priced out of Denver in recent years, they started scouting for other options, and often found themselves settling in Lakewood, a town that welcomed them with open arms...and occasionally an open pocketbook. That's the result of the 40 West Arts District, a state-certified creative district along Colfax Avenue that's been working hard to promote the strip as a vibrant cultural and economic destination, full of creative shops, studios and galleries that add up to a helluva party on First Friday. Soon to join the lineup: the Colfax Museum, which had to move from its home on East Colfax when that building was sold and now, nine months later, is almost ready to debut in its new home on West Colfax. Go west, young artist.

Readers' Choice: Art District on Santa Fe

On the first Friday of every month, Denver's Art District on Santa Fe turns into an arty party. Dozens of galleries, shops, studios and co-ops open their doors during the First Friday Art Walks to both art lovers and those who just want to join the crowd. That crowd often numbers in the thousands as people traipse along Santa Fe, stopping to talk, listen to music, grab a snack from a food truck (or pop into one of the strip's restaurants), and sometimes even look at art. The action stretches a dozen blocks south from 13th Avenue; a must-stop is the new home of the Chicano Humanities & Arts Council, at 222 Santa Fe, for a refresher course on Santa Fe's historic role as the focal point for Denver's Latino culture.

Public art in Denver tends to be supersized — so supersized that grandeur no longer seems so grand. Belgian artist Jaune, whose paintings of tiny construction workers appeared on walls up and down Brighton Boulevard during the 2018 Crush Walls festival, offers a refreshing take on public street art: one that is not meant for drivers, but rather people actually walking the streets. When you spot them, the pieces surprise and delight, but they're also reminding you that the growth Denver is experiencing isn't happening by magic. Real workers are building up the city, and in his own tiny way, Jaune is honoring them — with a healthy dose of playfulness.

Readers' Choice: Crush Walls 2018

If you're cruising the back streets of the Elyria neighborhood in north Denver, this artist house is easy to spot. It's a colorfully patterned muralistic masterpiece, augmented by painted stones and flower pots, organically placed in arrangements around the yard, with additional artifacts and found objects to fill in the spaces. In a city of McMansions and fugly slot homes, we always brake for creativity. You should, too.

Courtesy of Robert Delaney

Although many Denver streets boast stunning murals, L.A. artist Shrine's wraparound treatment of Sweatshop's studio compound in the Arts District on Santa Fe is still a standout. It's a bold, orderly composition in red, black and yellow, adorned by dingbat-style symbols, tucked next to Metropolitan State University of Denver's Center for Visual Art. You can spot it from the street as you walk along Santa Fe Drive, but to appreciate the full effect, step into the plaza between the buildings. Then remember to drop in at the CVA, too.

Jeremy Burns is a lenticular image genius, known for his clever "Larimer Boy" and "Larimer Girl," and his latest large-scale offering definitely looks different depending on where you stand. His canvas this time was the Pepsi Bottling Company off Brighton Boulevard, and the huge mural depicts a form mid-step, but the shading and different color blocks of red, yellow, blue and green make that form less obvious to detect. Burns, who has lived in RiNo for the past fifteen years, started the piece during Crush Walls 2018 but didn't finish until later in the fall. It was definitely worth the wait.

Art provided a critical building block for the Dairy Block and its centerpiece, the Maven Hotel, which both display carefully curated collections. To see them, start in the Alley, the block's cushy secret passageway, where you can sip a drink from the bar as you look in awe at the art or even interact with it. Then cruise the Maven lobby, which displays work by fifteen Denver-centric artists, from Chris Bagley's dreamy video installation to Michael Dowling's history-focused ghost images in the elevators. Make a reservation and you'll find even more art — not only on the walls, but also in guest-room details, including mugs by Kaelin Tillery and glassware by Kevin Davis.

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