Ann Sabbah and Nancy Larned took a chance last year by going ahead with the first Denver Fringe Festival, believing that local theater-goers were ready for the concept's infinite possibilities and challenging interactivity. They were pleased enough with the results to bring it back this June for a second round, with a mix of virtual and live walkabout programming in RiNo. Denver's not a cowtown anymore! The 2021 schedule and ticket sales will drop in May, with popular Denver groups like Rainbow Militia, Frequent Flyers and Theatre Artibus already on the docket.

denverfringe.org
Best New Mural Festival
Alyssa Fisher

Robert Gray (aka Rob the Art Museum) and Annie Phillips of IRL Art (a Denver group providing artists with opportunities and exposure) had to hustle when they teamed up to create the Black Love Mural Festival amid protests over the George Floyd murder by police in Minneapolis, but last summer's event featuring an all-Black muralist group in Civic Center Park turned out beautifully, prettying up Denver's most central park and sending a strong social justice message to the public. The free fest returns this year, again in Floyd's memory, when an expanded number of artists start working on May 30.

blacklovemuralfestival.com
Best New Street Art
Kyle Harris

True, 2020 won't be remembered as a year with a lot of hope. But if you've been in Denver for over twelve months, you saw plenty of artist Koko Bayer's hope hearts wheat-pasted all around town. The paper hearts, printed in concentric lines with the word "hope" or "esperanza" in the center, started popping up on businesses, at street art festivals, and even on some apartment buildings in April 2020, and they haven't stopped going up since. The entire effort, dubbed Project Spread Hope, was funded through Bayer's generosity and occasional donations; it's been a constant source of positivity in a year that has been anything but. And even as some of the earlier hope hearts fade, new pieces are surfacing all the time.

kokobayer.com
Best Alley for Seeing Art
Kyle Harris

For the past two years, ColorCon has brought some of Denver's finest street artists to paint in the alleys of the Golden Triangle neighborhood. The 2020 edition of the festival, which took place in August, included the work of Moe Gram, Olive Moya, A.L. Grime, We Were Wild, Anna Charney and others, who turned a once dull alley behind the 1100 block of Broadway into a spectacular temple of Denver street art. While the Golden Triangle isn't the first neighborhood that comes to mind when thinking about Denver muralism, this festival has spread the color beyond RiNo and created a must-see spot for new work.

Alley behind 1112 Broadway
coloradocolorcon.com
Understudy
Courtesy Understudy Facebook page

If you're yearning for a hit of experimental art, take a trip to the Colorado Convention Center, where Understudy, the Denver Theatre District's 700-square-foot arts incubator, has set up shop under a stairwell. There you'll find regularly rotating exhibitions showcasing collaborations between people working in various nooks and crannies of the city's cultural scene, from musicians and photographers to performance artists, collectives and educators. Because the work is not commercial, it's often more interesting than the typical offerings at galleries, and the space's exhibits are entirely free.

Best New Gallery
Aya Trevino Photography

Since August, a charming historic building across the street from City Park has been home to ARTAOS. Launched by street artist Jason Rodriguez, aka Forge, and New Mexico gallerist Gregory Farah, the space has exhibited an exhilarating mix of new street art from around town and beyond. Rodriguez brings his passion for social justice and a commitment to pop-art stylizations to the gallery, persuading collectors to embrace underground culture; he's even riding the NFT wave, joining creatives pushing the boundaries of what types of art can be commodified and how.

Best Immersive Museum
Courtesy of the Museum for Black Girls

Black girls become Black women, an idea not lost on Denverite Charlie Billingsley, who embraces the "Black Girl Magic" ideal and believes that the confidence and resilience it manifests has roots in girlhoods spent surrounded by a strong community. That's what convinced her to call upon other Black women artists and creatives to help build the Museum for Black Girls, a joyful reflection on supportive culture and role models, with lots of opportunity for positive reflection and proud selfies. The pop-up is still going strong after opening its second iteration in February.

Best Museum Comeback
Courtesy of the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys

After a two-year hibernation in storage, the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys debuted in its new Lakewood home last August, unveiling more spacious, up-to-date digs, with the promise of even more space opening to the public as funds allow. With a collection of over 20,000 objects, albeit tiny ones, the museum can use every inch of space — for bigger exhibits, workshops, meeting rooms and other DMMDT business. In the meantime, you can help keep the museum moving forward by visiting and viewing dollhouses, exquisite miniatures and trendy toys that have languished in storage for years, as well as some DMMDT favorites.

MCA Denver
JC Buck

In the post-Adam Lerner world of MCA Denver, recent hire Miranda Lash — the museum's Ellen Bruss Senior Curator — comes to the MCA from earlier roles at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, and the New Orleans Museum of Art, bringing a fresh eye for diversity. Of Latinx heritage, Lash not only brings an understanding of Colorado's deeply rooted Chicano culture, but one that makes room for everyone, including LGBTIA artists and artists of color. What she does with those skills remains to be seen (new director Nora Burnett Abrams curated MCA's current shows), but we're expecting big things.

Best International Art Exchange
facebook.com/groups/pandemicselfportraits

Artist Adrienne DeLoe was feeling deflated by inactivity a year ago and started the Pandemic Self-Portraits Project as a way to get busy. The concept quickly went global, and today it presents as a diverse visual diary of how artists everywhere were feeling in a single moment, and how they each dealt with the same familiar issues. Turns out everyone really is completely different from everyone else. The project will live on, archived by DeLoe in a book she's preparing for publication as soon as June; watch her Instagram for updates.

facebook.com/groups/pandemicselfportraits
instagram.com/pandemicselfportraits

Best Of Denver®

Best Of