Mile Low City

Denver has been getting a lot of plugs in the national media over the last few months, and nearly all of it has to do with the Democratic National Convention. The city is typically characterized as a vital and prosperous regional center with a personality reflecting both its status as a capitol of the Old West and as a fountain head of the New West. But despite these strokes -- they do like us, they really do -- Denver has a collective low sense of self esteem, which is clearly demonstrated in the way the city government throws tons of money to artists from elsewhere while offering only tepid support for Denver artists.

What’s brought this to mind most recently is the announcement of an art festival called Dialog: City to be held during the DNC this August, which includes participants from just about everywhere but here. It is being put together under the auspices of the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs and the Denver 2008 Host Committee by two contract players, Seth Goldenberg and Liz Newton. The two had been the deputy director and the education curator, respectively, at the Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver before their jobs were eliminated shortly last fall in a general belt-tightening at the institution. (I think there are many more credible artists in Denver than credible arts administrators.)

It makes sense that Goldenberg nor Newton wouldn’t think to include Colorado artists in their plans; the couple moved here only last year from Rhode Island, so they probably have no idea what’s going on in the art world locally. (It’s interesting how often the people calling the shots in the arts in Denver are recent transplants and soon move on.)

This lack of local talent in Dialog: City reflects the widely-held view among the powers-that-be in town that artists who live around here are second rate, and that to improve our reputation as a sophisticated city we need to bring in those from New York, like Krzysztof Wodiczko whose specialty is outdoor video projects (such as the one pictured) or even Seoul like architect Minsuk Cho, who’s building a pavilion in City Park.

The Denver 2008 Host Committee has pledged $200,000 for Dialog: City, but that won’t be enough, so more money is needed from private donors. Imagine what kind of impact that much money would have if it were instead spent on the Denver art scene – and how little effect Dialog: City will have once it has come and gone. -- Michael Paglia

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes