A wizard, a true star: Todd Rundgren notwithstanding, that’s our Lonnie Hanzon, maker of dreams come true, the Santa Claus of visual arts who works year-round in a glitter-encased workshop — not at the North Pole, but in Lakewood.
His list of magical accomplishments over more than two decades could be the subject of a history book, but we’ll name a few of them: the beloved sculpture “Evolution of the Ball,” Coors Field’s crown jewel on opening day in 1995, and in recent years the object of controversy after it was packed into storage during a plaza redesign (happily, the sculpture will return in a new location after the redevelopment project is completed); Hudson Holiday, a local lighting spectacle that served as a model for Hanzon’s holiday run doing the same for the Houston Zoo; a series of Denver PrideFest installations, including a monumental "equality" cake; and the bewitching decor of the new Wizard’s Chest costume store on Broadway. But Hanzon, always morphing, is already on to the next big thing: immersive arts, with Camp Christmas, a family experience opening at Stanley Marketplace in November — and more to come.
It’s not the first time Hanzon has reinvented himself, and it won’t be the last. We invited him to catch his breath and revisit the Colorado Creatives questionnaire before he’s moved on to something else.
Westword: How has your creative life grown or suffered since you last answered the CC questionnaire?
Lonnie Hanzon: A lot has shifted since I answered five years ago. We had a great seven-year run with Houston Zoo Lights that just ended last year, and years of working with Neiman Marcus Corporate also wrapped up. There were a deluge of endings in our lives during this period. But that made room for growth toward immersive work, which is now my sole focus. It really is where I live. In 2014 I said that I thought the next arts/entertainment paradigm was about to shift again. It did, and I couldn’t be happier.
As a creative, what’s your vision for a more perfect Denver (or Colorado)?
I can’t speak to the city of Denver, because we moved to Lakewood twelve years ago and are really glad we did.
I think the Colorado creative community could greatly benefit from having more national and international confidence and reach, if that makes sense. We are rising out of being a cowtown, an “import” city. We make good stuff here. We have world-class offerings. Our institutions are beginning to raise the word “local” from meaning “second-rate” to something more valuable, and I hope they keep it up.
It’s a challenging time for artists and creatives in the metro area, who are being priced out of the city by gentrification and rising rents. What can they do about it, short of leaving?
I have worked in many places outside of Colorado, but I would never consider living in any of them. I can’t imagine what my studios and home would cost in L.A. or other major cities. This is a great place to live.
Surviving as a creative full-time in any developed city is very difficult if you rent, if you don’t have a stake in things long-term. I’d like to see more co-op studios with equity positions. Co-housing is another movement. I suppose property and rent is accessible in places like Detroit, Pittsburgh and St. Louis, but they will, in time, raise up as well.
What’s your dream project?
My dream project is usually the one I am working on, because it takes obsessive focus and passion to pull these things off.
As a true believer in the immersive arts, how would you size up the current climate in the local art world?
I would size up the current climate in the local art world, or at least my corner of it, as "clear to partly cloudy.”
A lot of people are revved up for the new work that is happening and seeing some blue skies up ahead, while the infrastructure from the past adapts to this new wave with some scattered showers. Examples would be pivoting from “things” to “experiences” and changing technologies.
What advice would you give a young hopeful in your field?
Figure out how to feed yourself, then work your crafts as much as you can around really good people. There are 1,500 creative careers. Don’t pick painting. Cross-train in as many different mediums as you can.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
I admire so many, and my work demands extreme collaboration with throngs of brilliant creatives, so I can’t answer that. They are all my favorite at one point or another.
What's on your agenda right now and in the coming year?
Right now my agenda is Camp Christmas. I am beyond excited! It is a collaboration with the Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ Off-Center, and will take place in the Hanger at Stanley Marketplace, opening November 22. I am also working with the Museum of AI, and have some other immersive projects cooking on the back burner for the coming year. We just had the second annual Hanzon Foundation board meeting. It is great to see the organization and its program begin to bloom. I just turned sixty, and I’m feeling stronger than ever.
Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
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I would have to say the late Marie EvB Gibbons. She was an important part of the Denver art scene, and she was taken way too soon. We owe a debt to her. She was such a role model for how to survive and thrive as an artist and teacher. She cared deeply for her family and for so many people. She taught thousands to exercise their inner ceramicist.
I also think that fresh names will and should get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year. Talent is migrating to Denver for a variety of reasons, and I for one think that’s great.
Camp Christmas, an immersive collaboration with the DCPA’s Off-Center, opens on November 21 and runs through January 5 at the Hangar at Stanley Marketplace, 2501 Dallas Street in Aurora. Photos with Santa are scheduled on Saturdays, November 23 through December 2, from 10 a.m. to noon. Timed tickets range from $8 to $21 depending on date and time, and will go fast; learn more online.
Keep up with projects at Hanzon Studios at its website.