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Denver’s Art Legacy

In the Old West days, folks in Denver were more likely to experience Shakespeare than to learn arithmetic or have a broken bone mended. Denver had a performance of Macbeth before it had a school or a hospital.

Much has changed in this “Gateway to the Rocky Mountains” that has experienced a population boom for decades; Denver’s metropolitan population has increased nearly 30 percent since 1990, and it is the second most populous city in the Mountain West. However, Denver’s dedication to arts and culture has not faded.

“The seven-county Denver metro area, with a population of nearly 3 million, has a self-imposed 10th of a cent sales tax for the arts that raises more than $40 million a year, which is distributed to 300 arts organizations and facilities,” said Richard Grant, recently retired director of communications for Visit Denver. “That is more on a per capita basis than any other city. Today, we are considered an arts capital.”


A Sophisticated City

Just in the downtown area, Denver has the Denver Performing Arts Complex, the world’s largest performance facility under one roof, and five art museums.

The Performing Arts Complex is a four-block, 12-acre facility. Besides hosting touring productions of shows such as “Kinky Boots,” “Pippin” and “Blue Man Group,” the campus is home to the Colorado Ballet, the Colorado Symphony and the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, recognized for its fine acoustic properties. Groups can also enjoy a cabaret or comedy improvisational evening and perhaps take advantage of a backstage tour, where all the magic of theater is exposed.

The Denver Art Museum’s Frederic C. Hamilton Building, a structure that consists of titanium peaks, glistens under the Colorado sun. Designed by Daniel Libeskind, the renowned architect of One World Trade Center, the building is itself a work of art and serves as an architectural landmark for the city and the region, according to Grant.

“The museum has the best collection of Native American art in the country,” he said. “All North American tribes are represented.”

A host of original and touring arts shows, including exhibitions devoted to the works of Van Gogh, the French masters and Yves Saint Laurent, are also reasons to visit this museum.


Western Arts Abound

The American Museum of Western Art is a sharp contrast to the Denver Art Museum’s modern design.

“Housed in the historic and completely renovated 1880 Navarre building, once a bordello and gambling hall, classic Western art from all eras is represented in the museum’s extraordinary collection,” said Grant.

Denver was founded as a gold-mining camp in 1858, and the city’s Western heritage is featured in many attractions, including the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave in nearby Golden, where visitors learn the story of this famed cowboy via many of his personal items and recordings.

The Black American West Museum, located inside the former home of Colorado’s first African American woman doctor, explains the prominent role African Americans played in the settlement of Colorado as miners, soldiers, homesteaders, schoolteachers, ranchers, blacksmiths, cowboys and lawmen.