Artists Get Crackin'

Because I played a dancing mouse in The Nutcracker as a little girl, my mother gives me something featuring the classic little soldier every December. Two years ago, it was a nutcracker doormat; last year, it was nutcracker salad tongs. And just last week, I received a package of nutcracker candles in the mail.

Too bad Mom lives in California, because Nuts to You, a new exhibit opening this Friday at Denver's Access Gallery, is right up her alley.

Cracking open its annual holiday show, Access handed out unpainted wooden nutcrackers to fifteen local artists and told them to go nuts. "We told the artists to go wild, and they did," says Damon McLeese, the gallery's executive director. "We have a chef nutcracker, one nutcracker wearing a kilt and one completely covered in beads. But my personal favorite would have to be the Rastafarian nutcracker with dreadlocks."

The Access Gallery, a program of VSA Arts Colorado, strives to promote the creativity of people with disabilities through educational activities and exhibitions. "We want to increase accessibility to the arts for people with disabilities," says McLeese, adding that more than half of the wooden soldiers featured in Nuts to You were designed by disabled artists.

"I make all of my art multi-sensory so everyone can enjoy it, whether they're blind, deaf, whatever," says Golden tactile artist Ann Cunningham, who contributed the beaded nutcracker. "It's so important for people to be culturally connected."

Opening this Friday with a holiday party featuring live music, food and a silent auction, the show will benefit the gallery's children's programs. "We're hoping to attract some attention to what we do," says McLeese. "Every little bit helps a struggling nonprofit."

In addition to Nuts to You, which will hang through December 21, Access Gallery will also feature a lecture by McLeese this Tuesday on compliance and the Americans With Disabilities Act. On Saturday, December 13, the gallery will host a free family-friendly ornament-decorating workshop facilitated by artist and gallery instructor Jennifer Getson.

"We're not your typical retail gallery," explains McLeese, adding that they've worked with more than a hundred local artists since they opened three years ago. "We're trying to educate people as well."

Of course, Mom already gets it. But others might be tougher nuts to crack.