Insight and information on the cultural scene in Denver Colorado. Find out what’s happening and when, who’s going to be there! News on the groups that support the arts in Denver.

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Opening with the usual hoopla, the 37th STARZ Denver Film Festival is well underway. Red carpet screenings at The Buell and their requisite parties ushered in some of the big films, while the 200+ films being screened over the twelve day fete continue to intrigue, provoke, terrify and delight moviegoers.
Opening night brought a very pretty but far too predictable “5 to 7”, directed by Victor Levin and starring the lovely Berenice Marlohe and Anton Yelchin in a rendezvous I never quite believed. Yelchin plays an aspiring, unpublished writer, living in a nice Manhattan flat I kept wondering how he paid for. Nice comic turns by Glen Close and Frank Langella as Yelchin’s parents. I guess they pay for the flat.

The Big Night fared much better, offering The Imitation Game. Benedict Cumberbatch (TV’s Sherlock) leads a spot on cast in this solid biopic about a British mathematician, Alan Turing, who broke the German’s Enigma code, diminishing Nazi power in World War II. I loved how the story marched forward with strength and vitality while never allowing itself to get too showy. Cumberbatch pulled off a very graceful performance full of nuance but with the seams tucked in. Nice to see a leading man lead the story without feeling the need to steal the show.

My chaos theory and chaotic reality clash as I approach the twelve day cinematic binge-fest. Poring over the film guide, I circle, highlight and mark out my must see list. Then real life happens and I show up when I can and roll into the next available screening. My free-form-festing brings surprise and serendipity, leaving vapor trails that connect themes in mysterious ways.

rsz_i_believe_in_unicorns_publicity_still03 Leah Meyerhoff’s I Believe in Unicorns is a feature film debut, told by an old-soul storyteller. Her painterly eye and 16mm format sweep us into a mythical tale that lifts beyond the coming of age story, stirring up the memory of first love. The characters are young and perfect; hearts true, logic flawed, but they press on in heroic longing, even as the ugly reveals. Haunting, and beautiful, and as painful as love can be, “I Believe in Unicorns” left me musing on the power of our personal magic, wondering why we choose to spend it where we do.

Slipping into an afternoon screening of the documentary, 3 Still Standing was a dream-stand-still of another time. San Francisco in the early 80s was the Mecca of stand-up comedy. Sure, New York and LA had their stars and bars and comedy clubs, launching careers of our comedy pearls, but the oyster was the City by the Bay. In 3 Still Standing, directors Robert Campos and Donna LoCicero follow three comics from back in the day and the realities of what happens when your dreams don’t come true. Or do they? Larry Bubbles Brown, Will Durst and Johnny Steele were some of the rising stars of the SF stand-up scene, but unlike their friends and peers, Dana Carvey, Paula Poundstone and Robin Williams (each of whom appear in the film), their arcs were not stratospheric. There is something lonely and tragic in the film. The characters are not to be pitied; each man takes responsibility for his choices, but the whims of fate can be cruel and when the work dries up the dream often goes with it. The beauty in this yarn lives in the integrity of the three comics who continue to pursue and perfect an art form in a world that holds no place for it. And stand-up is hard. It takes craft and guts, high intelligence and a musician’s ear to find and formulate the funny. Will Durst, Johnny Steele and Larry Bubbles Brown stand for something, reminding us that the dream is not always connected to fame and fulfillment; sometimes the dream is in the doing.

Now it’s off to the shorts and the Brazilians!

Photo courtesy of Leah Meyerhoff

Alec Baldwin & DeOndra Dixon - Global Down Syndrome Foundation 2014 2
There’s something very special about the GLOBAL DOWN SYNDROME FOUNDATION and it was clearly on display at the BE BEAUTIFUL BE YOURSELF fashion show. Perhaps it’s because of effusive and focused energy of its founder, Michelle Sie Whitten, the electric smile of Jamie Fox escorting his two young daughters down the red carpet and sharing delightful stories about sister, DiOndra Dixon or the guests themselves. I asked Alec Baldwin about what made this night’s event different than all others.
“Well Jamie, you know. His sister, DiOndra, has Down Syndrome and so it’s family. We have our passions, things that strike home. My mother’s a breast cancer survivor so that’s a big cause for me, every family has their thing.”
So family is the great connector? I asked.
“Yes, I think that’s what makes it special, that’s what grounds it and makes you want to be a part of it.”
Helen Hunt & Brad Hennefer - Global Down Syndrome Foundation 2014
For Helen Hunt it was,” I wanted to be a part of something that supports the civil rights of all people, especially those with different abilities.” Quincy Jones Exceptional Advocacy Award winner, supermodel Beverly Johnson has a niece with Down Syndrome and actor John C McGinley’s daughter was born with the condition and everywhere I turned I heard stories of how so many lives have been enriched by a loved one with Down Syndrome; how much joy they bring to those who know them.

John C McGinley spoke of the work the Global Down Syndrome Foundation is doing and that it extends beyond quality of life, equality and advocacy, there is a focus on science and research. Indeed, Global supports the Linda Crinic Institute for Down Syndrome with fundraising, education and research to help eradicate the medical and cognitive ill-effects associated with Down Syndrome. Life-changing research is being done through the Alzheimer’s Disease-Down Syndrome Research Program, through challenge grants to national and international scientists to study sleep apnea, auto-immune disorders and leukemia. World-class medical care is provided as well through the Sie Center for Down Syndrome at Children’s Hospital Colorado, and so much more.
Kenneth Faried with Brooklyn Gilhooly - Global Down Syndrome Foundation 2014
There was such a spirit of joy, of connectedness and hope at the Be Beautiful, Be Yourself Fashion Show. The outpouring of love was reflected in an outpouring of support as a wonderfully executed live and lively auction brought out cheerful givers, open hearts and open pocketbooks. But the highlight of the evening was definitely the fashion show featuring beautiful young people who happen to have a condition called Down Syndrome. Oscar winners Helen Hunt and Jamie Foxx, Oscar-nominee, Laura Dern, Emmy-winning Alec Baldwin, John C McGinley, Beverly Johnson, Denver Nuggets’ JaVale McGee, Arron Affalo, and Kenneth Faried, Broncos Malik Jackson, Ben Garland, Britton Colquitt and Brandon McManus and pro-golfer David Duval all brought a sense of purpose and delight to the event. Wonderful to watch these celebrity models escort the real stars down the runway, strutting and beaming and blowing kisses with sweet triumph.
Generosity, cheerfulness and giving over to the best in one another were what was on parade that night. And the soundtrack to the evening was pure joy.
Jamie Foxx on Red Carpet with Brad Hennefer, Michelle Whitten
Photos courtesy of Global Down Syndrome Foundation, Kristopher Lewis Photography. Helen Hunt photo, Bogdan Morozovskiy, photographer

boundary waters canoeQuite early this beautiful morning Gabe and I flew into the sunrise toward DIA, racing the clock to catch the plane. My youngest at fifteen has never flown alone until today. After two planes, one long delay, one two hour bus ride and one another, he is now officially off the grid. Tonight my younger son sleeps under the stars on an Outward Bound Heroic Journey with twenty-five other grieving teens in the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area outside of Ely, Minnesota. I don’t even remember a time when he’s been out of ear shot, or text range. When I got the email, “Well, they’re off, and we usually don’t hear from them during the week, so… just relax and we’ll see you on Sunday”, my immediate response was a sense of relief he’d arrived safely. Hours later, there’s been no “what’s for dinner?” bounding up the stairs, no eye roll when I answer and, knowing that it will be that way for a week, it suddenly feels so different than when he’s at a friend’s.

Absence rings through the night air as I sink into the idea that he is officially off the grid. How strange in this modern day to have your child out there in the big wide world without an electronic tether. I wonder if he’s homesick, if he’s scared, and I don’t know if that’s out of my deep concern or a deeper sense of wanting to be missed. I worry and hope he’s warm, dry and has a belly full. I smile because he’ll learn to read a compass, and I’ll learn to navigate my way by the heavens. I take a moment to feel the space between us, the silence, and I know this is something I’ll have to get used to.launch

I’m practicing, feeling the fullness in the emptiness. Last week the cat came home after three days, very sick, and he went off again to spend three days at the vet. The house was not the same without him. This week is Gabriel’s turn for a solo adventure (god I hope it’s better than the cat’s) and the house is not the same without him, either. Spring has been a time of adjustment as we lean into the first year of life without their father, Dane. But change comes bearing unseen gifts, and broken hearts can be open hearts. Softer.
This is the stepping off place, the launch pad where he blasts into the world and I am earthbound on my own wilderness adventure, canoeing through the unfamiliar waters and portaging over time. Somewhere out there in this great big world lays my baby boy, drifting to sleep to the lullaby of mosquitoes buzzing. We’ll both make adjustments this week, and learn more than we can remember. But my, won’t we have good stories?

amazing soulsAdmit it. This thought has crossed your mind, hasn’t it? You’ve probably even made a mental note to ask me, or worse… unsubscribe. So what makes me send you this monthly missive? The reasons are few, but they’re mighty.
1. Yes, I am in the business of helping people buy and sell homes and I’d like for you to think of me should that thought also cross your mind. Pretty crafty, huh?
2. To keep you up to date with the Denver real estate market, how it’s doing and where it’s headed. Like this little ditty from USA Today.
2. I believe that life is richer when experienced in community, and that a community is empowered by engagement.
3. I believe that real estate is all about story. Every home, every buyer, every seller, comes with a tale to tell, a story to reveal.
4. I have a knack for meeting interesting people who do really cool things and I want to share them with you.
And here comes the mighty…
5. Every month when I send out my newsy little newsletter, chock full o’ tips about home values and market trends, writing of the wonders of a swanky little art space, or the best place to take a burlesque dance class on a Sunday morning, you call me. You reach out via comment, Facebook, phone or email to let me know what you thought, ask me a question, or (best of all) set up some face-time. And I like that. A lot.

Building and deepening relationships, creating dialogue, drinking coffee… whatever I can do to help you put a little bump in your daily grind.

Grunge film frameAfter scouring the guide and culling the heard and overheard, here are my STARZ Denver Film Festival favorites…so far. Of course, it’s only day 3 and already my Thesaurus is dog-eared and coffee stained.

For the big movies, there’s nothing more fun than to see the next big thing before it’s been released in a theatre full of film buffs. So I’ve got all of them on my list:
1. Labor Day (see below)
2. Nebraska (Alexander Payne directs Bruce Dern. ‘Nuff said.)
3. August: Osage County (Okay, I’m not a big fan of Julia Roberts but I’m a HUGE fan of Tracy Letts. And who knows, she could surprise me.)
4. At Middleton (Adam Rodgers gets his debut feature film slotted into closing night of the Starz Denver Film Festival. It’s gotta be sumpin’)

Hanna Ranch and American Mustang top my list of beautiful, moving films that reflect my interests and the gorgeous state I call home.
GENE KELLY: THE LEGACY. I was raised on the back lot of M-G-M where the likes of Mr. Kelly would cruise casually into the barber shop or to lunch at the Commissary. This should feel like a home movie.
The Resurrection of a Bastard- Dutch. Thriller. Done.
The Truth About Emmanuel- This one could go either way but my part of Denver Actor Project screens before so I’m there.
The One Who Loves You- Denver actor/director Katharyn Grant’s Indie love story because I hope it’s great and there is a cadre of Denver talent in the cast.

And then there is the element of surprise. I love to pick a day, a time, a venue and then jump in and see the film I know nothing about. It’s like buying a wine you’ve never had and the thrill of reaching beyond what you know is…thrilling. So there will be some of that throughout the week.

What I’ve seen:

Labor Day. Festival opener had me floored from the main title. Based on the novel of the same name by Joyce Maynard, Labor Day hits a place of intimacy and then stays there. One look at the state of single mother, Adele (Kate Winslet), and you can feel her heartbreak in the relatable way that says “that’s about two houses down from me”. When a bleeding stranger presses himself upon her son seeking refuge, she allows it. Or does she? I talked to many of the movie-goers at the opening night party who felt (quite adamantly) that a mother never would have done that. I saw it differently. I saw a woman whose stunned state of sorrow had stripped her of her strength. Earlier in the afternoon, I sat down with Joyce Maynard and we discussed this very thing. “The loneliness of Adele, her deep sadness, that part comes from me. The rest, of course, is fiction.” I could relate. Especially when the bleeding stranger is Josh Brolin. Labor Day is a love story. It should be no surprise that they will fall in love, what is surprising is how lovely it is to watch them do so. Look for my full review on Huffington Post

Gloria– Chilean film, takes place in Santiago, award-winning actress and a story of a woman who defies society’s definition of age… or so the promo says. I did enjoy this film though it’s filled with a lot of mundane tasks so you’re thinking, “Okay, she’s vacuuming her car. Uh-huh, she’s singing on the way to work…”. Having seen a number of ‘coming of a certain age’ stories, I don’t know what to think anymore. Is it all about regret? The one who got away? Getting your ‘groove’ back? Seems like there’s not much else we see or write about when it comes to the middle-aged, divorcee and as one, that depresses the hell outta me. Gloria differs in that she takes the ball in her own hands, frequenting a dance club filled with age-appropriate men. (Must be unique to Santiago;-) Finding one she particularly likes, she ventures into a sexual, and then loving, relationship with a man who cannot relinquish his past. Particularly the dependent ex and his grown and spoiled daughters. Gee… this sounds like a match.com story. Gloria shows the wisdom of maturity as she deals with a lover who is less so, leaving me to believe she’d rather be alone with a hairless cat and a joint than in love with a man who’s a child. Good point. Still kind of depressing.
Dallas Buyers Club. This was a surprise screening for Reel Social Club members, none of whom knew what film it would be until the doors opened. I was ready to pack up and head for the Late Night Lounge when the announcement came. I’d heard of the film months ago but wasn’t really paying attention. Saying goodbyes and grabbing a ticket, I missed the main title. I had no idea who Matthew McConaughey was for the first 20 minutes of the movie. That’s how good he was (and how much weight he’d lost). He and Jared Leto absolutely KILL it in a semi-biographical film about Ron Woodruff, a homophobic Texan who contracts the HIV virus and takes it down like a bull rider. Due to the historical nature of the story, [Woodruff was the one who took on the FDA and AZT, traveling to Mexico and Japan to bring in Interferon and Peptide T which paved the way for the lifesaving “cocktail”] there are some overly expositional bits but the film is not to be missed for the MM and JL performances.

Whether you buy a single ticket or a VIP package, the STARZ Denver Film Festival experience it worth the price of admission.

Rona BarrettThe Starz Denver Film Festival, now in its 36th year, opens this week with an impressive array of cinematic treats. More than 250 features, shorts, music videos and student films will be screened over the eleven day festival with plenty of pre-show parties, post-film panels, Red Carpet Galas and whispers in the Late Night Lounge. We’ll roll out the Kleig lights for those soon-to-be-Hollywood-blockbusters; Labor Day, Nebraska, August: Osage County, At Middleton and the Red Carpet Galas that put the “festive” in the Festival, but it’s the lesser known films that are often are the most memorable. I’ll be scouring and screening, sorting out the skinny and bringing you the news and interviews (Hello Joyce Maynard!) via my THE HUFFINGTON POST blog, but the really hot dish heats up here. I’m goin’ all Rona Barrett on you as I put the Gal in Gala, the life into the party and bring it all to you in (sur)real time and living color.
Pick-your-enemies-carefully-or-you'll-never-make-it-in-Los-Angeles.
All the little last minute details… Right now we don’t know which version LA is sending for The Centerpiece screening of August: Osage County. Will it be director John Wells’ cut or will producer Harvey Weinstein have his way with us?
All the ruffled feathers… One local filmmaker is upset by the content of the Denver Actor Project… something about “Audition tapes” was overheard. Ironically the genesis of the Denver Actor Project was intended to bring Denver filmmakers together to reflect our talent pool and beautiful city, a’la Paris Je T’aime, which Nebraska director Alexander Payne was a part of. The love letter to Denver was too ambitious to do in the available time frame so director, Brad Stabio marched to his own one-man-band pulling together six Denver actors (Jordan Leigh, Chris Grundy, Paul Page, Amie MacKenzie, Jeff Kosloski and me), shooting six individual films and a story to tie these short films together. Running 1-3 minutes each of these six short pieces reveal a part of the whole. I am one of the six, with my part screening before “The Truth About Emmanuel” on Sunday and Monday.
I plan on seeing everything my fellow thespians are in, including Katharyn Grant’s award-winning Indie, The One Who Loves You. Grant, a Colorado actor/filmmaker, directs herself in this love story, set in the 1970s about a failed singer who falls for the grifter who helps her believe in herself. Shot in and around Denver, the cast of The One Who Loves You features some of Denver’s most familiar faces including Rhonda Brown, donnie l betts, Martha Harmon Pardee, Candy Brown, Judy Phelan-Hill, Elizabeth Rose, Laura Norman and Jordan Leigh. The One Who Loves You screens Monday, November 11 at 4:45 and Tuesday the 12th at 9:00.
Stay tuned, comment, converse, share, ask and FOLLOW THIS BLOG or jump in on Twitter @tracetime, @DenverFilm, #SDFF36 And don’t forget to BUY YOUR TICKETS!

Grey-and-Brown-Horse-in-FieldIn popular culture there is topical, there is trendy and then there is timely. Three days before the Starz Denver Film Festival premiere of director Monty Miranda’s American Mustang and it the news is covered in horse…stories. The Atlantic calls out the Secretary of the Interior, Federal Appeals Court Halts Slaughter— the pounding of the activists hooves rising in defense of the wild horse.
American Mustang is a character-driven narrative about a young girl, a cowboy and a wild horse, woven with documentary style 3-D footage from the open ranges of America’s West. Denverite, Writer and Co-Producer, Henry Ansbacher, teams up with Executive Producer/Co-Writer, Ellie Phipps Price to create memorable characters from extensive interviews with those on all sides of the wild horse saga. Phipps Price spent her early years in Colorado and it was at the BLM holding facility in Canyon City where she adopted her first mustang, Dunstan. Passionate about the plight of this American icon, Ms. Ellie Phipps Price had the idea to create a film to raise awareness of wild horse preservation. She has rescued over 172 wild horses, creating a 2000 acre sanctuary to house and protect them in Northern California.
This is not Director Monty Miranda’s first rodeo with the Starz Denver Film Festival, as SDFF30 featured his directorial debut with the comedy, Skills Like This. Miranda takes a beautiful turn here with American Mustang . His breathtaking images, shot in 3-D on the open ranges of eight western states, braid the history, mistreatment and majesty of the mustang, juxtaposed by the Bureau of Land Management round-ups and the captivity that is often their heartbreaking reality. Narrated by actress and activist, Daryl Hannah, American Mustang is, in turns, sweeping and intimate; a visually stunning love song and call to action.
American Mustang premieres Thursday November 7, 7:00 pm at the UA Pavilions with screenings Saturday Nov 9 at 2:00 pm (UA Pavilions) and Sunday Nov 10, 7:00 pm at the Wildlife Experience* *Note: Tickets for this screening only available at www.thewildlifeexperience.org

I ambled downtown to the Junction Box, the new Wonderbound studio, to check out the space, witness the alchemy and have a chat with the wizard himself. The doors wide open policy at this vibrant new studio is perhaps the defining quality of the Wonderbound company. Walkers, wanderers and wayfarers are welcome to watch as Garrett and his lithesome dancers spread their joy, leaping tirelessly from repetition to repetition, stretching for perfection. Rush hour traffic idles, a homeless neighbor stops mid-shuffle and sways dreamily to the music. It’s all part of the soundtrack of community.
One of only a handful of American choreographers to be constantly presenting new works, I sat down with Ammon post-rehearsal for their new show, A Gothic Folktale to talk tutu. (I love when he does that).
Garrett_Ammon_2
TS- So, Innovator… about this award.
GA- Oh my god, it’s humbling. I mean, I’ve had so many opportunities to meet and work with some amazing people. I’m just a part of something much bigger.
No false modesty here, when Garrett speaks his authenticity draws you into his world. His vision is keen, his voice is clear and the feeling is that of an artist at peace with passion.
TS- Being a Realtor, I have to ask. How have things changed in the new space?
GA- Oh, completely, it truly fits our identity; the sense of urgency that urbanism creates, it expands on our relationship with our audience, and the need to make dance accessible.
TS- Denver really responds to you, like you’re our dance company. Why do you think that is?
GA- Hmmn. That’s nice. I think part of it is about how your art engages the world, your personal world and the larger. So dance, movement, exists in relationship to space, to humanity, but it also pushes the internals. I feel really connected, not just to the concept of connectedness, but to the energy of that union which exists in community. It’s like you embrace it, and—
TS- You build relationships.
GA- Yes.
TS- So the Arts Innovation Award is kinda like the city hugging you back.
GA- It feels that way, yes.
TS- Why do you think you’ve succeeded in creating this kind of intimate relationship with Denver?
( a long pause.)
GA- Because we’re not afraid to fail. Because we work really, really hard. And because at the end of the day, we want the same thing as everyone else in this city: to be fulfilled, to do something we’re passionate about, to be able to make a living doing what we love.
He looks out the open door at the river of cars.
GA- Isn’t that what we all want?
TS- What do you want?
GA- I want to keep pushing myself, of course. I don’t want to do the same thing because it’s that thing, so there’s that part. If I can build and sustain this company so that its members can live, you know, buy a house and really make this a career, that would be a great success.
TS- I love that. Especially the ‘buying a house’ part.
(laughs)
The Mayors Awards for Excellence in Arts and Culture will be presented to the recipients on November 14 from 6:30-8:00 PM at the Studio Loft. The event is free and open to the public. http://artsandvenuesdenver.com/events-programs/mayors-awards/
A Gothic FolktaleThe magic of autumn burns golden in its fiery leaves, reflecting on Denver’s cultural scene as it springs back to life. While the rest of us spent the summer at the beach and the ballpark, Denver’s creative community has been crafting their 2013-14 offerings. A highlight for me is the launch of Wonderbound’s inaugural season as they leap to life with a new work called A Gothic Folktale. The magic in Artistic Director, Garrett Ammon’s, choreography is often born in collaboration with other carefully selected artists, this time Denver musician, Jesse Manley, and mentalist Professor Phelyx are the lucky partners in the sublime. The effect is more than just magical, with its haunting strains and evocative story, the show is mysterious, engaging and even soothing as you lilt away to another time and place. The Wonderbound website vows to invert my reality: it was definitely twisted at the Sunday show. I took my fourteen year old son (not always an easy thing to do) and even he was transfixed. We were discussing the performance, elements of dance, the music and illusion, and then he pops out with my favorite observation. He looked at the audience that Wonderbound brings together, mix of ages and styles, and says, “Mom, this is the most interesting looking group of people I’ve ever seen in one room. It’s like the all have a really good secret in life.” Which they do. Well done, Mr. Ammon.
A Gothic Folktale plays this weekend, October 26th & 27th at the Parker Arts and Cultural Center. Tickets available.

rsz_okeeffe_georgia-chama_river_ghost_ranchThere’s nothing like a room full of O’Keeffe to make me want to take a road trip and the “Georgia O’Keeffe in New Mexico: Architecture, Katsinam and the Land” exhibit at the Denver Art Museum is no exception. Horizontal landscapes of rugged terrain, softened under pastel lights and sharpened on the shadow stimulate my need for the wide and the wild. When Georgia O’Keeffe came to the badlands of Abiquiu she was already an established and successful New York artist. The untamed West, rendered by a soul who’d found her place on earth brings serenity to every city wall she hangs on. Heavy with landscape, the exhibit takes us away from the larger, more familiar cow skulls and flowers of our collective remembrance and sits us down on a rock at sunset. Shapes, shadows, fine strokes and drama draw the viewer deeper down the river. Hopi influences aside, or perhaps front and center I found myself transported to a different time and place, staring at a church or a chasm as if alone in the enchantment.  O’Keeffe crowds solitude with the thick heat and thin air of the high mesa desert, in a tone-on-tone moment that contains life and death without judgement.
“I longed for quiet, a sense of personal attachment and a place that held meaning”, Georgia said of New Mexico.  Not only did she find it she became it, inspiring us as layers of light call to the mind to open up, to share.  A pencil sketch becomes an intimate whisper, the high blue mesa a best friend. Georgia O’Keeffe is the retreat you long to give yourself, and now she has come to you.
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Georgia O’Keeffe in New Mexico: Architecture, Katsnim & the Land at the Denver Art Museum through April 28, 2013

Before I die, I want to… rsz_before_i_die
Driving the streets north of Downtown Denver one might turn some dodgy corners. The gentrification of Curtis Park, Ballpark and Five Points neighborhoods has pushed up real estate prices as artist lofts and galleries, restaurants and the urban infill townhomes that follow, found their place beside the old Victorians. This quilted mix of luxe and lush is what gives the area its unique charm, but if you’ve ever stopped at a red light near one of the triangle parks you may have wondered… why doesn’t somebody clean that up? Often dirty, neglected and filled with those for whom a triangle in traffic is as close to home as they have, these inauspicious spaces have fallen through the cracks. So, whose responsibility are they?
Meet the Community Coordinating District No. 1, whose job it is to transform these hot spots into vital, safe and manageable environments for those who live and work in the area. Community works best when in communion; yet all too often disparate interests work, immune to or in spite of one another, making civic progress slow if not impossible. Created as an ad hoc adjunct “collaborative policy platform”, the CCD brings together government, public, non-profit and private sector organizations to facilitate those public improvements which are often dreamed up and less often realized. Adding working capacity to city-led initiatives, creating opportunities for revitalization and economic development, the CCD will scout out areas of the city that need attention and make sure they get it. Think of them as Denver’s Den Mother.
Born in 2010 as the brainchild of a collection of civic visionaries who’d been trying for decades to improve the areas northeast of Downtown Denver, the Community Coordinating District works across geographical boundaries to unite community stakeholders and thoughtful partners to leverage their assets, pool their resources and more efficiently effect change throughout the city.
Targeted areas of enhancement are Eddie Maestes Park directly across from the Denver Rescue Mission at Park Avenue West and Broadway. Long known as a staging area for the homeless, the park has been riddled with crime and drug-related activity. Rather than just “displace” these issues, the District is exploring opportunities for positive change and working through plans to implement them.
Last summer, Sonny Lawson Park gained some renewed energy with the installation of “Before I Die”, a world-wide, interactive art piece by Candy Chang . The interactive mural is like a giant blackboard with the words “Before I die I want to…” painted on it as a universal writing prompt. Visitors are encouraged to pick up a piece of chalk, reflect on their lives, and share their personal aspirations in a public space. The original Before I Die… mural was installed in New Orleans, where Chang transformed the side of an abandoned house in her neighborhood into a giant chalkboard and stenciled it with the sentence. By the next day the wall was entirely filled out and it kept growing. The wall turned a neglected space into a constructive one where neighbors had an outlet to get to know each other and remember their loved ones.
Having been installed in more than 20 countries around the globe, Candy Chang’s Denver incarnation has made its way downtown, where it lives outside the newly renovated McNichols Building at the corner of Colfax Avenue and Bannock, inspiring denizens through February.
The Community Coordinating District offers many opportunities for civic engagement and public participation through its weekly Monday morning meetings, volunteer ops and upcoming events. Strategic partnerships with Arts & Venues Denver, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Parks and Recreation, Denver Police Department, Department of Public Works, Denver’s Road Home, Ballpark Neighborhood Association, City Parks Alliance, Curtis Park Neighbors, Denver Biennial of the Americas, Denver Rescue Mission, Redline Gallery, St. Francis Center, Denver Shared Spaces, Ballet Nouveau Colorado/Wonderbound, Betterweather Inc., Dept. of Community Planning and Development, City Councilwoman: Judy Montero and City Councilman Albus Brooks, promise to keep it interesting.

“Before I die…” was brought to Denver through a partnership of Arts and Venues Denver, the Community Coordinating District, Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, and Denver Design Build LLC. For more information on Denver’s Public Art Program, click or call 720-865-4313.