As a program administrator at Denver Public Art, Brendan Picker juggles funds, fabrication and artists’ visions to realize major public-art projects, managing all the necessary moves leading to an eventual unveiling. But in his spare time, Picker also curates the Storeroom, a walk-by installation gallery in an East 17th Avenue storefront window, where he gives local artists, perhaps lesser-known than those creating major public art with big-city dollars, free rein to use the space as they please.
Given some free rein of his own, Picker helped organize the exhibition Queer City of the Plains – An Artistic Look at Denver’s LGBTQ+ History at the McNichols Building in 2020. That’s evidence of his big heart and inherent love for artists and their missions — the unmeasurable qualities that make Picker a good public servant.
Beyond his educational background in fine arts and community planning, what makes Picker’s world spin? He has plenty to say about that as he answers the Colorado Creatives questionnaire as part of our regular series highlighting luminaries in Denver arts and culture.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Brendan Picker: My father, Sebastian Picker, is an artist, and I guess you could say his work is a muse for me. There’s art that is beautiful and masterfully done, and then there is art that is also a commentary on our place on this earth, whether it’s social or political or simply trying to open our eyes to something hidden yet profound. You could say my father’s work falls into the second category, and that’s the kind of work that really inspires me.
What makes public art good art?
“Good” public art creates moments to stop, think and feel something unexpected. If people notice the work and feel something, good or bad, and proceed to think and talk about it, that’s when you know a public artwork is successful (i.e., not only if people “like” it).
What are some of your favorite and least favorite examples of public art?
I love Nicholas Galanin’s “Shadow on the Land” in Sydney. And “Truth Be Told,” by Nick Cave, at the Brooklyn Museum. Both pieces use art as a vehicle for commentary on and critique of current socio-political events and issues. And locally, I’ve always loved "Mesteño/Mustang," by Luis Jiménez, at Denver International Airport. It’s so full of energy, and really embodies the West for me. Plus, according to my own criteria, it’s probably one of our most successful artworks in the public-art collection. It’s certainly either loved or hated, which is not a bad thing.
Denver (or Colorado), love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
Love it. I know it’s cliché, but I love being close to the mountains and the sky. After growing up in New Mexico, those things are important to me. I love the city’s (and state’s) vibrant and diverse art and music scenes. And generally, the folks I’ve had the honor of working with have been smart and passionate about what they do, but also laid-back and not pretentious about it. Lastly, I met the love of my life, Kevin Daly, here. How could I leave?
What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
I’m actually really proud of all the support Denver and Colorado were able to offer artists during this pandemic in the short term with artist relief grants. In the long term, however, we need to provide more affordable artist housing and studio space. I think offering subsidized housing options to artists could go a long way in furthering arts and culture in the city and beyond. This is crucial. I’m also interested in how a 1 percent for art ordinance for private development (i.e., not just city construction projects) might increase opportunities for artists. Several other cities in the country have such an ordinance; maybe it’s time Denver pursues one?
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
Leah Brenner Clack is a powerhouse and has worked tirelessly to push for more grassroots arts programs and opportunities in Boulder. My colleague at Denver Arts & Venues, Lisa Gedgaudas, is another powerhouse. The work she has done for the Create Denver program and especially music advancement in the city and beyond is so inspiring. Also, David Moke is always a true collaborator and innovator. Lastly, a big shoutout to all the public art and museum volunteers and docents across the state. These folks share their time and knowledge to make art more accessible for all.
What's on your agenda now and in the coming year?
Managing about fifteen different public-art projects, in all different phases of the process, from writing RFQs
(requests for qualifications) to guiding the selection and approval process and helping the artist realize the project on the ground. I also plan on continuing to curate about four exhibits a year at the Storeroom, a storefront window for art installations next to the Vine Street Pub. I am also on the board of the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art and am serving on the Diversity, Equity, Access and Inclusion Task Force. Finally, my agenda includes camping trips, travel, attending art exhibits and live music shows. We’ll see what the future holds (fingers crossed!).
Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
There are so many amazing artists (it’s impossible to list them all!) in and around Denver right now, and thankfully, a lot of them are getting noticed, including Adri Norris, the Museum for Black Girls, Frankie Toan, Moe Gram, Kalindi DeFrancis, Steven Frost, Raafi Rivero, Tya Alisa Anthony, Esther Hernandez, Brian Corrigan — and I really want to see PlatteForum get some recognition for the incredible work that comes out of their youth and artist-in-residency programs. Getting our young people involved in art and social activism is always a worthy endeavor!