Denver: No Longer Just for Cowboys

Denver: now a multi-cultural city infused by technology, nature, cutting edge architecture, and above all, art. From award-winning Broadway shows to world premier plays and coveted exhibitions, there’s an abundance of things to see and do during a Denver arts getaway.

It’s no secret Denver’s population is exploding. With over 300 days of sunshine, a casual business culture, more than 4,000 acres of park space, 85-miles of paved bike trails, world-class museums, chic shopping districts, exquisite dining, and more entertainment than you can shake a stick at, it’s no wonder everyone, from the east coast to the west, want to live here.

In fact, Colorado has been rated the second fastest growing state in the U.S., adding over 100,000 people to its population between 2014 and 2015. Unfortunately, for many residents, this translates to increased real estate prices, heavier traffic, and greater crowds on some of their favorite trails. However, for those wanting a more dynamic art scene, there is no better time than now in Denver. Thanks to its growing population, this once “cow town” has become a fluid and progressive center for creative undertaking. With five downtown museums, dozens of art galleries, multiple art organizations, and the second largest performing arts center in the nation, Denver’s art scene is quickly becoming its namesake, providing first-rate art, dance, music, and theater for a diverse and discerning population.

In the last thirty years, Denver has transformed itself from a city with record unemployment, nation-high carbon monoxide pollution, abandoned warehouses, and rising bankruptcies, to one of the U.S.’s most desirable cities to live. Colorado’s history is chock-full of boom or bust stories, and Denver is the epitome of this pattern. Today, it’s bursting—literally—and with this has come an art scene that no longer plays second fiddle to other major American markets. Denver now offers museums, galleries, art centers, and art schools like the prestigious Art Institute and the holistic-focused Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, which, together, draw hundreds of talented artists to Denver every year. As the largest city within a 600-mile radius, it’s safe to say Denver is now the art capital of the Rocky Mountain West.

No institution better personifies Denver’s constant evolution in the world of art than the Denver Art Museum, whose architecture spurs discussion and debate and whose interactive approach to exhibition allows for terrific creativity. In 2016 alone, the museum is pushing boundaries with exhibits like, Rhythm and Roots: Dance in American Art, What it Meant to be Modern, 1910-1965, and Star Wars and the Power of Costume, which exhibits more than 60 original Star Wars costumes.

Local, regional, national, and global artists are also celebrated at Denver’s other art museums, all of which provide unique and engaging experiences. The Museum of Contemporary Art offers a wide range of exhibitions that promote creative experimentation through art and ideas. The Clyfford Still Museum houses the collection of one of the most important painters of the 20th century, a mysterious man whose estate was sealed off in 1980 and whose works would not be seen again until the museum opened in 2011. At the Kirkland Museum of Fine Art, visitors experience the best of salon style exhibition while drowning themselves in the museum’s massive collection of mid-century decorative art and Kirkland’s brightly and sometime outlandish nebula and dot paintings. Finally, as an homage to its history and geography, Denver is the proud home of the American Museum of Western Art, whose collection is intended to give the public a better understanding and appreciation of the character, history, and beauty of the American West.

Now that Denver is a city that embraces creativity, there is also a number of growing art districts that are becoming more popular among the public and artists alike. Most notable is the Santa Fe arts district located on Santa Fe Drive between 4th Ave. and 12th Ave. With a long history of supporting artists and over 30 galleries consolidated on a single street, it’s the ideal First Friday art outing. Newer to the scene is the River North art district (RiNo), which has a vibrant and rich community of people exploring what is new, hip, and trendy. Helping the art districts grow are dozens of art organizations like Downtown Aurora Visual Arts, which doesn’t just give kids a safe, healthy place to hang out after school, but also challenges them to be free and creative thinkers. There is also the Lakewood Cultural Center, which has a good eye for high-quality touring acts and puts them together for stellar seasons of music, dance, and theater. Or, there’s the Denver Public Art Program, which has erected dozens of sculptures and art installations throughout Denver’s parks and parkways.

Denver’s artists and art organizations keep scoring with audiences not just in museums, galleries, and art centers, but also on the stage, most notably at Denver’s Performing Arts Center, which boasts five separate venues, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, and the Colorado Ballet. Here, Broadway shows like The Lion King, Newsies, and The Phantom of the Opera rotate throughout the year.

Art in Denver can also be found in the most unassuming places. In 2014, the Denver Botanic Gardens raised the bar when it presented, Chihuly, the Rocky Mountain Region’s first major outdoor exhibition of artwork by celebrated American artist, Dale Chihuly. Chihuly’s glass sculptures—ranging in size and form—were placed among flowers, in ponds, and on trees, ultimately adding bold colors and dramatic beauty to the Gardens’ 24-acre urban oasis.

Denver’s come a long way from its cowboy roots. It’s now a multi-cultural city infused by technology, nature, cutting edge architecture, and above all, art. From award-winning Broadway shows to world premier plays and coveted exhibitions, there’s an abundance of things to see and do during a Denver arts getaway.

About our extraordinary writer: Lindsay Diamond is a novelist and freelance writer living in the mountains of central Colorado. Visit to learn more.

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