Denver Arts: Ten People to Watch in 2015

As an arts journalist in the town I call home, I hear a lot from local artists — some of them sharing their thoughts through their art, some of them on social media, some at events around town. And my questions in the ongoing 100 Colorado Creatives blog series always net challenging, unexpected, fun and inspiring responses. Denver is full of incredible talent, people moving every creative scene toward the future. But as I observe those scenes, some people push my “awesome” buttons a little more than others — and those are my ten people to watch in 2015. The list follows, in alphabetical order.

10) Maria Cheng and Tria Xiong
Two years ago, Maria Cheng and Tria Xiong founded the region’s only Asian-American theater ensemble, Theatre Esprit Asia, with the goal of bringing not just plays with Asian themes and actors to the area, but also intensely original work. To say that the company has been an artistic success isn’t strong enough praise: Cheng’s signature one-woman show, Spirits and Sworded Treks, made such an impression on audiences at last summer’s 2014 Colorado Theater Festival that both Ed Baierlein of Germinal Stage and the Evergreen Players invited her to re-stage the tour de force at their respective venues. TEA kicked off 2015 with a pair of one-acts: “One Night of Thunder” and “The Occidental Moon,” both by South Asian playwrights. Both plays close this month; in May, look for the premiere of Cheng’s Fermata, a comic drama about an intergenerational family of classical musicians.

9) Heather Dalton

As executive producer for Colorado Public Television, Heather Dalton brings local stars and stories to life with shows like Sounds on 29th and Colorado Public Radio’s OpenAir Live & Local, both of which turn an intimate spotlight on the Denver music scene. She also takes on long-term projects such as Neal Cassady — The Denver Years, a documentary heavy with key interviews and chunks of Beat lore that premiered in 2014 after painstaking years of imagining, filming and fundraising. With the Cassady flick finally in the can (the DVD was released this month), Dalton will continue to give the Denver music scene exposure on CPT12; she’s also involved in launching a new local magazine show on the public television station and lending a hand as an enthusiastic volunteer at the annual Girls Rock Denver music camp. In a city where artists and musicians are begging for exposure, Heather Dalton is doing her part to give them hope for the future.

8) Caleb Hahne
It’s hard not to pull for a kid with great talent and the drive to go with it — and Caleb Hahne, a 2014 graduate of the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design, is clearly going places. The former Showpen resident artist works in mediums both cutting-edge and as old as fine art itself, and has already received national exposure in Juxtapoz and Hi-Fructose magazines. How far will he go with his signature mixture of seasoned drawings and digital collage? Farther, we think, than even he can imagine.

7) Viviane Le Courtois and Christopher Perez

The Temple — a long-vacant former synagogue in the heart of Curtis Park — is a place to watch in and of itself, but when you begin to break down what’s happening in the newly renovated maze of artist studios and arts offices (organizations housed here include PlatteForum and the Denver Zine Library), the real stories start to write themselves. One of those stories belongs to Processus, a community workshop with a multi-use wood and sculpture shop, a darkroom, a clean room for printmaking and a small gallery space, well-equipped with tools and equipment (including a 26” x 48” Griffin etching press) to create handmade works in an experiential atmosphere. All of this is available to members who pay a reasonable $100 monthly fee or people who purchase punch cards good for eighteen hours of workshop time. The dream of Denver artist couple Viviane Le Courtois and Christopher Perez, who put months of hard work into fundraising for the project and equipping the space, Processus is now open (there will be a grand-opening event on February 21), with future plans to add lectures, hands-on workshops and pop-up events in the hopper. Find information about Processus online.

6) Adam Lerner

Adam Lerner has been a person to watch since he first came to Denver and proceeded to shake up the art scene — first with a stint at the Denver Art Museum, then at the Lab at Belmar, and now as the director (and “Chief Animator”) of the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver. At both the DAM and the MCA, he pioneered arts programming that invites people to enjoy art and culture with a raw sense of wonder (and a few giggles) while experiencing innovative shows, many rooted in the slow turning of history. Lerner closed out 2014 on a particularly high note with the debut of Mark Mothersbaugh: Myopia, a locally produced museum exhibition that will travel to five more cities after it leaves the MCA in April. That collaboration with Devo founder Mothersbaugh has already gained Denver a bigger spot on the national map; we can’t wait to see what Lerner has planned for the rest of the year. 

5) Lauri Lynnxe Murphy

Artist and innovator Lauri Lynnxe Murphy has been a fixture on the Denver scene for more than two decades. She was a founding member of the old ILK Gallery on Santa Fe Drive, as well as the co-owner of Capsule and Pod, a gallery-and-shop combo that helped change the character of the burgeoning Art District on Santa Fe; she also took the wheel of the Boom Truck traveling gallery, which hit the streets during the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Her latest project bears some distant relationship to that gallery in a trailer: For the Mayday Experiment, which she’s been blogging about regularly on the Westword Arts and Culture blog, Murphy is building a tiny house that she’ll take around the country, spreading the word about climate change in classrooms and other public places. Determination might be her strongest suit: If anyone in Denver can build a functioning, off-the-grid tiny house, take it cross-country on a trailer and use it as a pulpit for preaching the gospel of modern ecology, it’s Lauri Lynnxe Murphy. You go, girl.

4) Dimitri Obergfell
A Colorado native, Dmitri Obergfell graduated from the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design in 2010, under the watch of Clark Richert. He’s since embarked on a career of international scale, making art that turns classicism on its head — sometimes literally, as in the case of a proposed outdoor sculpture of an upended statue that he hopes to complete this year at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. In a recent review, Westword’s Michael Paglia said the artist’s work “positively vibrates with aesthetic and conceptual energy — just like Obergfell himself,” and that pretty much sums it up. The current RedLine resident is an artist who stays in the thick of things, participating in and celebrating the successes of the local art community while also showing his work abroad. He’s definitely going places — and as long as he keeps his Colorado roots, we’ll be cheering him on every step of the way.

3) Matt Scobey

Denver artist and maker Matt Scobey is one of those people who quietly goes about his business without making a big deal out of it. He’s also a community-builder who likes to share ideas and take on projects that morph and change without finite boundaries. When Scobey isn’t at work or experimenting with modern-furniture concepts, he’s likely to be found combing the city’s alleys for found materials to repurpose. This year, he’s also serving as a Denver ambassador to Mexico City during a ten-week residency in conjunction with the 2015 Biennial of the Americas, creating work in collaboration with Mexican artists to bring back to Denver for exhibition this summer. Keep up with Scobey’s progress in Mexico online and stay tuned for Biennial happenings-to-come.

2) Lauren Wright

Though 2015 Biennial of the Americas artistic director Lauren A. Wright is a hometown girl, she spent nearly a decade in the United Kingdom, where she explored international trends in art as a curator for Turner Contemporary and also worked on special projects for Tate Modern and other respected overseas institutions. She’s returned to Denver with a double-edged purpose: to bring both a global spectrum and a hometown sense of community to the Biennial. The two previous Biennials have been met with mixed reviews and an outcry from local artists wanting more representation and opportunities. With that in mind, all eyes are now on Wright, to see if she can find the right balance for the 2015 edition, which runs July 14-18 in Denver.

1) Peter Yumi

After years of laboring in his studio, perfecting his collage technique and sharing the evolving results on the web with a world of fellow collagists, Peter Yumi went public — again — at the end of last year, with a whirlwind of gallery shows and collaborations at Ironton and Ice Cube, including a curatorial stint (that show, Something/Nothing, hangs at Vertigo Art Space through February 28). Still to come is another show at Helikon Gallery this fall. Now that Yumi is back in the physical art world, we’re looking forward to seeing where he goes from here.