There’s a fine art to enjoying a Colorado summer to its fullest, and part of it involves catching as many arts festivals as you can. This state boasts arts fests of all genres and sizes, some full of spectacles and others places of quiet discovery. Here are ten favorites.
Summer Art Market
Art Students League of Denver, 200 Grant Street
The Art Student League of Denver’s Summer Art Market has been around for more than 25 years, and for one very good reason: It totally rocks. There’s no fest more reliable if you’re looking for quality original artwork to fit your budget, and with more than 230 artists manning booths (including nearly fifty vendors that are new in 2018) on the ASLD grounds and up and down the streets, the variety is astounding and the possibilities endless. From pottery to prints, painting to jewelry, it’s all at the Summer Art Market, along with art demonstrations by ASLD faculty, kidART workshops, live music, and food available from the Little Pub Company. Make a day of it, browsing under the sun to your heart’s content.
Salida Art Walk
Downtown Salida Creative District
Salida sits in the shadow of the Collegiate Peaks in the Sawatch Range on the shores of the Arkansas River, a stunning setting that might explain why it attracts so many artists. It’s just plain beautiful, with a small-town atmosphere and big cultural aspirations exemplified by a rash of main-drag galleries and the SteamPlant Event Center, a Salida cultural magnet with art galleries and a sculpture garden. The Salida Art Walk is one of the best ways to get to know the town’s artistic side better while enjoying the mountain air, whether you choose to amble into galleries and open studios to meet and greet with artists or bid on small artworks at a Mini-Masterpiece Auction.
Aurora Arts Festival
June 30-July 1
Fletcher Plaza, 9898 East Colfax Avenue, Aurora
The City of Aurora, where African and South American refugees rub elbows with African-American and pan-Asian communities, takes pride in its inherent diversity. That shines through at the Aurora Arts Festival, which also showcases the city’s resident artists, offers world cuisine and vendor booths, and hosts cultural performances reflecting the A-Town spirit. This year’s fest is still being fleshed out, but expect to see anything from a Chinese lion dance to Mexican folkloric dancing on stage, along with carnival rides, kid-friendly activities, theater samplers and pop-up performances.
Cherry Creek Arts Festival
Cherry Creek North
Free admission, $25-$95 VIP
If there’s a daddy of ’em all in the local arts-fest scene, the time-honored Cherry Creek Arts Festival wins the title, hands down. The three-day human traffic jam that crams the sunny streets of Cherry Creek North each summer is full of people there simply to relish the experience, browsing juried booths manned by 265 local and national artists in every medium, being wowed by pop-up street performances and savoring the many cuisines of the fest’s Culinary Avenue and food-truck eateries. If you’ve got kids in tow, plan a stop on Artivity Avenue, where they can make a space helmet or collaborate on a giant mural. Out of town this weekend? Catch up at the CCAF’s condensed sister event, the Stanley Arts Festival, in September.
Colorado Black Arts Festival
The Colorado Black Arts Festival is living proof that it takes a village to raise a child, laid out in family-friendly pavilions like the Joda Village, an immersive African cultural experience with performances, storytelling and drumming, or the Watu-Sakoni People’s Marketplace, a fest favorite peddling everything from Afro-centric clothing and jewelry to natural oils and African baskets. There’s an artists’ row as well, and you can find good eats, ethnic and otherwise, in the food court. The festival traditionally begins with Saturday’s Boogaloo Celebration Parade, which leaves 22nd Avenue and Downing Street at 10 a.m. and marches to City Park, and winds down with a gospel stage performance on Sunday afternoon.
Breckenridge International Festival of Arts
Free admission (ticketed events $20 to $45)
Festival info: breckcreate.org/bifa; lodging info: gobreck.com
Breckenridge goes interdisciplinary for BIFA, which brings art experiences — from contemporary classical music to a skateboarding jam set to live funk and hip-hop tunes — to new heights in a mountain setting. It’s the ultimate something-for-everyone festival, blending monumental art, performance, film, jazz and circus arts with chance musical concerts on a trail in the woods or a roll-in movie night for the whole family. Some art highlights include a new sculpture by Danish artist Thomas Dambo, who uses upcycled materials and trash to build charming woodland giants, and a new inflatables installation by Denver artist Nicole Banowetz. BIFA guarantees a summer vacation like no other with big-city arts and an excess of natural beauty.
Affordable Arts Fest
Arapahoe Community College, Littleton
The Affordable Arts Fest operates like a bargain basement for artists — one reason why people line up at the gate year after year, hoping to get first dibs on the goods. There won’t be any holiday-season-style doorbusters, but there will be more than 150 seasoned artists selling deeply discounted, quality overstock and older work in all mediums for $100 or less. A win-win that makes customers happy while rewarding participating artists with new audiences and extra studio space, this is a festival with real deals, so much so that organizer Jim DeLutes calls it the “garage sale” of art fairs. Whether you’re a serious collector or just looking for something nice to hang over your sofa, you’ll find something here.
The Temple Tantrum
The Temple, 2400 Curtis Street
PlatteForum and fellow denizens of the Temple studio complex will collaborate over Labor Day weekend on something completely different for Denver: The Temple Tantrum.“It’s one part music festival, one part experimental arts festival and one part comedy festival — and it’s also a costumed block party,” says organizer Lewis Neeff. Music and special installations will also drive the event, as will an artist-run festival and block party anchored by big ideas. The Temple Tantrum is also supported by Meow Wolf, which gives you an idea of what to expect...maybe. There are still surprises left to discover in the cosmos; this promises to be one of them.
Crush Walls 2018
RiNo Art District
RiNo’s popular street-art fest will be bigger and better than ever this September, with a name change to Crush Walls and help from Montreal’s Projek16. What’s become RiNo’s signature annual event will feature seventy paid local artists curated by original artist/organizer Robin Munro, and will also support an international angle, with additional curation provided by Montreal gallery owner Carlo De Luca. The result? A week with dozens of art activations within a 25-block radius, with an art-walk finale on the streets as the artists finish up their murals. And it’s all just a taste of what’s next for Crush Walls, which is aiming to add year-round events on and off the walls.
Boulder Fall Fest
Pearl Street Mall, Boulder
Boulder’s Fall Fest has been a local tradition for more than thirty years. An all-around family festival with an Oktoberfest feel, it goes one step further by embedding the popular all-Colorado Firefly Handmade Market into the usual fall festival mix of live music, kids’ activities and a well-stocked beer garden with margaritas and suds-friendly foods. Hang on the mall with friends and neighbors, peruse more than a hundred Firefly artisan booths and groove to tunes while celebrating on autumn’s doorstep. Admission is free, and all of downtown Boulder is at your immediate disposal for additional shopping and dining.