We sent our arts survey to dozens of local luminaries, asking for suggestions on how culture could be better supported, what they did when they went out on the town for a night of culture, and this: "Your arts organization aside, who is doing the most interesting work on the local arts scene right now?"
Here's the enlightening answer from Stephen Seifert, the executive director of the Newman Center for the Performing Arts at DU:
Who is doing the most interesting work in Denver right now? We are living through a period of great ferment in the performing arts. It's hard to settle on one person or organization "doing the most interesting work," because part of the very essence of what is happening is its increasing segmentation. At one time, a city's cultural identity was tied mostly to what the major producing organizations (symphonies, operas, ballet companies, theater companies) did, and mostly they performed the canonical works of Western Europe and North America. Such organizations will always have a place in our cultural identity, but that identity is becoming much more diverse and complex. I'm sure that my own knowledge of "the most interesting work" is incomplete and shallow at best, partly because I'm so enmeshed in what we try to add to the cultural fabric, and partly just because there's so much more out there than ever before.Makes you want to get out and experience everything this city has to offer, doesn't it? Even if you have to fight presidential-debate traffic to reach DU.
There are important organizations whose own identities are tied largely to specific ethnicities, such as Su Teatro. Other organizations are dedicated to finely tailored aesthetic missions, such as Luminous Thread Productions, newly arrived in Denver and intent on producing steampunk operas. Eager and enterprising individuals are experimenting in all sorts of ways. For instance, Jim Bailey and Jeff Jenkins created Zuri Music, which is a jazz band that blurs the boundaries of jazz into classical, African, Latin and experimental music and incorporates dance, photography, poetry, painting and film into its performances. Some are using the arts for specific goals beyond just arts experiences. Marda Kirn at EcoArts Connections in Boulder connects performing artists to scientists. The resulting performing arts experiences help express the urgency, the challenges and possible solutions relating to global climate change. Others use the performing arts as educational tools, teaching self-reliance, teamwork, cross-cultural and other life skills. Just look at El Sistema Colorado, modeled after the fabled program from Venezuela, and Flobots.org, each of which works for social change through the power of music. At the same time, young indie-rock musicians are as numerous as baby bunnies. With the assistance of WESTAF and Arts & Venues Denver, however, some are trying to reach beyond the usual world of clubs and connect with non-profit presenting organizations and performing arts centers.
Leaders of those kinds of traditional institutions and venues are listening, because they are desperate to find out what will lure younger audiences to their old-style theaters. None of these cultural entrepreneurs has a very large audience. I suppose that apart from commercial, pop entertainment available through touring Broadway and stadium-rock shows, the current world of the performing arts looks a lot like the sliced-and-diced world of cable TV and the Internet. We tend to live in experiential silos we can easily curate for ourselves through technology based on our own idiosyncratic tastes.
Sorry if this is a cop-out, but "the most interesting work" going on is all of that. It's the fact that it's all happening here, now, at the same time. It's the "I have this idea and a bunch of friends from unexpected places and disciplines to help me put it on" approach. It's bottom-up, populist, and doesn't fit into neat categories.
Who's doing the most interesting work on the cultural scene? Read the answers of twenty local luminaries in "Now Showing: A Westword guide to the arts in Denver."