Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Take Ten: Meet the latest class of MasterMinds

In the early 2000s, Denver was all about the creative class. Author/big thinker Richard Florida had labeled the metro area one of the top creative spots in the country, an honor that John Hickenlooper used to promote the city that had just elected him mayor. Fifteen years before, he'd been one of those entrepreneurial adventurers — an unemployed geologist who joined with other visionaries to found the town's first brewpub, the Wynkoop Brewing Co., still going strong 25 years later. And Hickenlooper, too, is still going strong: Today he has a starring role as governor of Colorado.

But we didn't need Florida's seal of approval, or Hickenlooper's unusual career path, to know that Colorado is full of creativity. For generations, the Front Range has drawn artists and other aesthetic explorers, people who want to make their mark on the landscape — people every bit as daring as would-be brewmasters or new politicians, but rarely as high-profile. Or highly compensated.

In honor of the groundbreaking, often underappreciated and almost always underpaid work that so many of these artists were doing, a decade ago Westword created the MasterMind awards, a grant program that every year gives five no-strings-attached awards to arts organizations and individuals in the fields of literary arts, performance, multimedia, visual arts and fashion/design. We inducted our first class in 2005 and will honor our tenth this week.

When we named Buntport to that original class of MasterMinds, it was a fledgling theater troupe of Colorado College grads; today it's one of the biggest draws in the city, a theatrical institution that continues to do cutting-edge work. Other early honorees, including the Denver Zine Library, have had a tougher time over the past ten years; now under the guidance of Kelly Shortandqueer, the library will open another chapter when it moves yet again this year. And individuals like Brandi Shigley (our first fashion honoree) and Lauri Lynnxe Murphy (our first visual-arts winner) not only continue to impress us with the scope of their own art, but with their generous support of other artists despite the challenges of the scene — challenges that finally inspired Murphy to reluctantly move on this year. But her heart, and her art, will always be a part of Denver.

A surprising number of MasterMinds have stayed in this city, where today they are integral members of the increasingly lively arts scene. And they also contribute to the increasingly lively process of choosing the next class of MasterMinds. The nominations list alone is a breathtaking guide to the scope and sweep of activity in this area. While narrowing that group down to the five who will each get a $2,000 grant is one of the hardest things we do all year, making the calls to the new class of MasterMinds to let them know they've won is definitely the easiest. And the most satisfying.

We made those calls earlier this week. And with this announcement of the tenth class of MasterMinds, we have now honored fifty artists and arts organizations since 2005, giving grants totaling well over $150,000.

The state of the arts in this state? Inspirational. For proof, just look at our cover story. Over the past year, arts and culture editor Susan Froyd has been paying homage to some of her favorite Colorado creatives — 100, all told — on our Show and Tell blog. From those profiles, we chose eight to feature in "State of the Arts," people ranging from longtime fixtures on the scene (cover boy Andrew Novick, for example) to up-and-comers. And, in fact, two of the latter just happen to be members of the 2014 class of MasterMinds. New Orleans native Eric Dallimore is not just a multi-faceted artist; he's also co-owner and curator of Leon Gallery, one of Denver's havens for emerging and undiscovered artists. For his work both at Leon and on his own, Dallimore is our 2014 MasterMind in the Visual Arts. Then there's Adam Stone, whose collaborations with Buntport are just the start of his endless creativity, which earned him the 2014 MasterMind/Performance award.

They aren't the only MasterMinds who've appeared in the paper. A year ago, Alan Prendergast's "The Lifers Book Club" took a look at Words Beyond Bars, a program developed by ex-librarian Karen Lausa that took the book-discussion-group concept to high-security inmates at the Limon prison. For her innovative work, Lausa wins the 2014 MasterMind/Literary Arts award.

Although our last two winners haven't done their work behind bars, they're always out in the community. Kim Shively, our 2014 MasterMind for Multimedia, is a filmmaker/editor/producer who's made promo videos for titwrench as well as Warlock Pinchers, Magic Cyclops and Joshua Novak; she co-directed Wesley Willis's Joyrides, a documentary about the famed underground musician. Currently, she's finishing a new documentary about Lucha Libre culture in Denver. For her work documenting underground culture as well as creating smart, innovative web TV — don't miss her new show, The Existential Beaver — Shively is a real mastermind.

So, too, is Lisa Elstun, our 2014 MasterMind in Fashion/Design. A sublime couture designer who works privately with individual clients, Elstun goes much further. She's also a teacher, mentor and consultant to others in the design business who's more than ready to help Denver's fashion community move forward, and she helps propel the industry as a behind-the-scenes force with Fashion Group International and the Denver Design Incubator.

For more on all of our winners, go to

Meet the MasterMinds

2014 MasterMinds

Adam Stone

Eric Dallimore/Leon Gallery

Karen Lausa/Words Beyond Bars

Kim Shively

Lisa Elstun

2013 MasterMinds

Ietef Vita/DJ Cavem

Counterpath Press and Bookstore/Julie Carr and Tim Roberts

GroundSwell Gallery/Danette Montoya and Rebecca Peebles

Nix Bros./Evan and Adam Nix

Kitty Mae Millinery/Susan Dillon

2012 MasterMinds


Ken Arkind/Minor Disturbance

Andrew Orvedahl

Dianne Denholm

Lance Stack/Flat Response

2011 MasterMinds

Slam Nuba

Sarah Slater

Tricia Hoke

Illiterate/Adam Gildar

Tiffiny Wine

2010 MasterMinds

Fallene Wells

Jennie Dorris

Jolt/Guerilla Garden

Eric Matelski

Laura Goldhamer

2009 MasterMinds

Brian Freeland/LIDA Project

Viviane LeCourtois

Ravi Zupa

The Denver Voice

Vicky Nolan

2008 MasterMinds

Creative Music Works

RiNo/Jill Hadley Hooper and Tracy Weil

Jason Bosch/ArgusFest

Art From Ashes

Mona Lucero

2007 MasterMinds

Jessica Robblee

Jimmy Sellars

Tony Shawcross/Deproduction/Denver Open Media

Vox Feminista

The Fabric Lab/Josh and Tran Wills

2006 MasterMinds

Dragon Daud, aka Dave Denney

Katie Taft

Deb Henriksen

Cafe Nuba/Ashara Ekundayo

Johnny Morehouse

2005 MasterMinds

Lauri Lynnxe Murphy

Emerging Filmmakers Project @ Bug Theater

Brandi Shigley

Denver Zine Library

Buntport Theater

You can meet the 2014 class of MasterMinds — and many previous honorees — at our official 2014 MasterMind Awards ceremony, at 8 p.m. Saturday, February 22, in the Living Room at 1055 Broadway. The ceremony is part of Artopia, our annual celebration of the arts that will fill the Golden Triangle with art, music and merriment.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun