Denver, Colorado is known for many things—legalized marijuana, beer festivals and exceptional hiking locations to name a few. Dubbed the Mile High City, this buzzing metropolis has the highest elevation of any American city. Simply by happenstance, the 13th step of the State Capitol Building sits 5,280 feet above sea level—exactly one mile.
With the Rocky Mountains to its west and the High Plains to its east, Denver’s otherwise impressive city skyline is made to look almost miniature by comparison. The rarified air in the city means that alcohol packs more of a punch and balls—of the tennis, golf and base variety—fly with greater velocity than at sea level. Elevation makes the sun feel warmer and Denver experiences roughly 300 days of unobstructed sunshine per year.
Warmer, drunker and better at hitting balls than the rest of us, the people of Denver, Colorado truly live the high life. However there is one strong attraction of the city that often goes unrecognized: Denver has a distinctive and supportive art and music scene.
Denver has valued art and culture since its very inception. During the days of the Old West, the city organized a performance of Macbeth in a local saloon before it had a school or hospital to call its own.
Today, the Denver metro area collects more money per capita for the arts than any other city. A self-imposed tenth of a cent tax for the arts raises roughly $40 million a year—an impressive sum that the city collects and promptly distributes to 300 arts organizations and facilities. In addition to the annual art tax, Denver voters recently approved a $90 million refurbishing of Boettcher Concert Hall, home to the Colorado Symphony.
Perhaps the shining achievement of the city’s relentless appreciation and funding for the arts is the Denver Performing Arts Complex. Covering four blocks, the complex houses 10 theaters, seating upwards of 10,000 people, and is second in size only to New York’s Lincoln Center. Art and music lovers from across the country come to the Performing Arts Complex to enjoy symphony, ballet, opera, and traveling Broadway shows.
Denver’s music scene is uniquely diverse. This can be attributed to the fact that there are tons of venues—big, small and medium sized—allowing space and access to musicians of any genre and level of popularity to play live. In addition, Denver concert goers are more adventurous than most. The city—and the state itself—aren’t afraid to give new music a fighting chance. Over the years, many notable musicians such as Dave Matthews Band have experienced success there before receiving love in other big cities. Regardless, for every fan of music in Denver, there is a bar or venue that suits your personal preferences.
Within the city, there are seven art districts, each with a unique collection of museums, galleries, and street art to be explored. The Golden Triangle Creative District alone is home to more than 50 galleries, fine art studios and stores, as well as eight museums, including the Denver Art Museum and its famed collection of indigenous works.
The Denver Art Museum’s Hamilton Building may just be the crowned jewel of Denver. The New York Times called the structure “mesmerizing,” but that doesn’t quite cut it. The product of a collaboration between Davis Partnership and Studio Daniel Libeskind, the freestanding, titanium structure is an ode to the nearby Rocky Mountains—its angular form meant to imitate the geometric rock crystals that live within Rockies.
New museums and exhibitions are constantly popping up in the city—perhaps the most recent addition has been the Clyfford Still Museum, dedicated solely to the work of America’s most influential abstract painter Clyfford Still.
Coming to the end of its run at the Museo de las Americas on January 14, is an exhibition called Las (H)adas. This collection features installations by five local Chicana artists who have been working within their communities as activists, artists and educators for over 30 years. These site-specific installations depict the many identities of Latina women and hope to create a platform for a discussion about the realities of life for women of color.
In Denver, the art and music scenes find themselves incorporating quite often. On the last Friday of each summer month, a grassroots arts and music event called Final Friday takes place in the city’s various art districts.
On Final Friday, art galleries, music venues and local businesses stay open late and invite the community to spend a warm, summer night traversing the city and participating in a free-flowing kind of cultural exchange. Wristband purchases of just $5 support this event and go a long way in revitalizing a sense of community and appreciation for local art and music.
Artopia is an annual celebration of art, fashion, culture and music, hosted by the popular Denver blog Westword. Taking place in The Church, a multi-floor music and dance hall, this event emphasizes art that can be created before your eyes. Painters, sculptors, musicians and performers fill The Church and offer guests a full immersion in the artistic process.
Much like Final Friday, Artopia invites local vendors to participate in their event—allowing the community’s love of art and music to simultaneously support local businesses and the Denver economy. This culture of support, whether between the art and business communities, or the people of Colorado and the art organizations they happily fund with their taxes and their votes, is what makes Denver’s culture unique and worthy of emulation.