Locals Push to Decriminalize Graffiti in Denver

There’s a shop on Broadway where graffitists and street artists can meet and mingle, shop and learn, develop their skill without judgment and view an ever-changing flow of graffiti murals from their mentors and peers. On paper, Community Service, as the place is so cleverly named, is a street wear and art supply store.  To its patrons however, Community service is their friendly neighborhood graffiti shop.

Like Community Service co-owner Bryan Cappel, most of the people who frequent this haven are more than just your average vandals.  They see graffiti as a creative outlet: another medium for them to hone their skill and create something beautiful.

“It’s an art form to us and to other people its vandalism,” Cappel said.  “The line is always going to be changing depending on who you’re asking.”

True enough; graffiti has translated negatively onto the general public for many decades, seen by many as nothing more than the defacement and destruction of property.

Recently however, there has been an influx of positivity stemming from the commercialization of graffiti by the media and its slow acceptance as an art form amongst scholars and their academic communities.

But the commercial success of graffiti is just the tip of the iceberg for pro-graffiti Denverites pushing to erase the negative connotations that remain.  The fact is, while some may see a beautiful work of art, there are still those who will only see crime and violence.

Through the promotion of legal graffiti, Brittany Duncan, co-founder of Bacchus Community Events, is hoping to change those people’s minds.

“Vandalism is graffiti with no art conceptual design,” Duncan said. “Just chicken scratch on walls. And even good art is vandalism without approval from building owners.”

Co-worker Sean Montgomery agrees.

“If I replicated the Sistine Chapel on the front of your house it would be vandalism,” Montgomery said, “a work of art, but vandalism none the less.”

The goal is to deter young graffitists from being vandals and instead teach them to be artists.

Due to its rich history and artistic values, graffiti is used as an educational and inspirational tool in many urban community and youth outreach programs.  Bacchus sponsors these types of programs in Denver and stands by the value it brings to the children and their neighborhoods.

“That’s what I’m fighting for!” Duncan said, “I’m working with all the youngsters trying to teach them how to do it legal and make money as professional architectural artists.”

Community Service has been involved in several education opportunities as well.

“We’ve gotten involved with schools out here and their art programs,” employee Cappel said.  “They’ve done field trips and have students come out here and really learn technique as far as using aerosol and that as an art form in itself.”

In addition to education, many believe that creating more legal walls will help those both inside and outside of the graffiti scene.

Therefore, while the city of Denver will probably always have their fair share of problems with the graffiti culture, there are those like Duncan, fighting to form a basic level of understanding between city officials and legitimate street artists that would allow for them to coexist.  Legal street art is just one of the collaborative efforts in development as a result of their hard work.

But graffiti has been an expensive problem for city governments for decades, and no matter how quick the cleanup or how many the fines and citations, illegal graffiti continues to rise, leading some to believe that the decriminalization of street art is to blame.  According to Denver Public Works, there has been an average of more than 1,400 graffiti abatement requests a month in 2013, an increase of over 30 percent from 2012.

And unfortunately, since there is no evidence to support a relationship between designated walls and a decrease in graffiti vandalism, efforts for more legal walls seem to be futile.

Denver street artists said goodbye to the infamous Jewel St. wall this summer, leaving behind the last remaining legal wall in the state of Colorado.

“We had the Jewel wall just down the street [from Community Service], that recently changed, but as of right now, really the only legal wall is up in Boulder,” Cappel said. “But if we had more spots where people could have that outlet, I think that could change a lot.”

A recent article in The New York Times suggests that the disappearance of these legal walls is not just localized to Denver.  New York City has been experiencing a slow depletion of their infamous graffiti galleries over the last couple of years, the most recent of which was the sudden whitewash of 5pointz in Queens in mid-November.

The New York Times article states, “The gradual loss of these walls has street artists wondering where they — especially younger, less established artists — will be able to paint.”

Luckily, in Denver, private-property owners can authorize graffiti on their buildings without any input from the city, allowing pro-graffitists to share their building canvases with those who no longer have a public space to paint or view local street art.

“Once the property owner authorizes it, from our standpoint it is no longer illegal,” Denver Public Works spokeswoman, Daelene Mix, said.

Community Service has collaborated with local and national graffitists to create a new mural on their shop building’s back wall several times a year since they first opened.

So while the fight for graffiti acceptance continues, Cappel is happy that he can offer something that the city currently can’t.

“Providing our back wall to have people come out and see a huge mural that’s constantly changing…even that helps out a lot,” he said.

To learn more about Community Service, watch the interview with co-owner Bryan Cappel below.


Denver Art Students League’s “Revisiting” Celebrates Visiting Instructors, Big Data Becomes Art in Munich, and a Women Steals Sculpture From Denver Art Studio

The Art Students League of Denver (ASLD) is celebrating the artists who’ve shared their skill and expertise with ASLD students over the last decade with a new exhibit.  Revisiting opened over the weekend and features works by past ASLD visiting instructors.  According to Westword, while the exhibit features many new pieces, several older works donated by private collectors and local galleries are being shown as well.

A recent exhibit in Munich, Big Data Art 2013, used the ever-evolving field of information technology databases as the basis of its showcase.  According to The Denver Post, several artists used this opportunity to display political messages regarding the “big brother” nature of big data.  Big data and its violation of personal privacy has become a highly controversial topic in technology and marketing circles, so its no surprise that the issue has now made headlines in the art community as well.

Closer to home, according to 7News, police are looking for a white women who entered a Denver art studio last week, grabbed a sculpture on display and left immediately in a green/teal cadillac.  The statue was of a dancer holding a flowing ribbon and was stolen from Fascination Street Fine Arts Studio.

CSU Health Network Uses Art to Smoke Out Campus Tobacco

The Colorado State University Health Network (CSUHN) has been practicing its creativity lately, using art as a means of delivering health messages to students.

Their latest creation was a photo display in the Morgan Library on the CSU campus.  The display showed 18 photos of or relating to tobacco and smoking (see photo gallery below), in support of the National Cancer Society’s 38th annual Great American Smokeout.  Each year on the third Thursday of November, the National Cancer Society uses this event to encourage Americans to smoke less, quit smoking for the day or quit for good.

As part of the event, the Health Network used the photo display to show additional reasons to quit smoking with the tag line: “It’s not just your health…”

Some of the photos depicted child labor in biti (tobacco) factories in Bangladesh.  Others were of dogs affected by second-hand smoke with captions explaining the link of canine nasal and lung cancer to second and third hand smoke (see Tobacco Display Photos).  A little closer to home, half of the photos were taken of tobacco litter on the CSU campus by graduate student Madhu Kumar (see CSU Tobacco Display Photos).

The project was headed by the CSUHN Health Education and Prevention department and was directed by the assistant director of alcohol and other drugs, Andrea Coryell.  Angela Gale, a public health graduate student and Coryell’s program assistant, worked hard on the project, collaborating with outside organizations and setting up the display on the day of the event.

“It allowed us to look at social justice issues associated with tobacco use,” said Gale, “and see that multiple issues impact student knowledge on campus including second hand smoke and pets, as well as child labor.”

The images were powerful enough to attract several students to the display and ask about quitting options.  Gale provided these students with quit kits (see photo gallery) – boxes filled with different quitting resources as well as the contact information for the CSUHN tobacco cessation counseling services.

Roommates Jessica Phillips and Kara Johnson, both seniors at CSU, picked up quit kits in the hope that they could support each other and quit together.

“It’s not that I haven’t wanted to quit before,” Phillips said, “but now seems like a good time as any to try again.”

Along with the photos, Gale also put up a large poster that stated, “I would rather ________________ than use tobacco.”  Sticky notes were provided so that students passing by could fill in the blank by writing their own reason for quitting or being tobacco free and placing them on the banner (see photo gallery below).

“The poster piece was very poignant,” Gale said. “It gave us a chance to see students viewpoints on choosing not to use tobacco products in a positive way.”

Although the display was taken down before the CSU Thanksgiving break, the poster and sticky notes will remain in the library until the end of the week.

Gwen Sieving, the CSUHN tobacco cessation counselor, explained that while it’s hard to reach people of all ages with health communications, college students are an especially difficult population to get through to.

“On a campus like this, your messages really need to pop,” Sieving said, which is why the CSUHN has turned to more artistic channels for their health communications.

Denver Cleans Up Vandal Graffiti, Arts Go Digital at RMCAD and Art Stunt “Project Speedo” Declared a Success

Westword has always been an advocate for graffiti, but their most recent post takes on a more controversial look at the subject with a discussion on the thin line between art and vandalism.  Lakewood and Denver enforce two very different laws when it comes to graffiti clean-up, and according to Westword, one of these methods is much more effective at keeping a neighborhood’s non-art graffiti to a minimum.

As business, education, science and the like transition into the digital, the arts are not far behind trading in dust-covered coffee-table books for online galleries.  The Westword Arts Blog illustrates one such transition with a recent Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design (RMCAD) show, Sophont by multimedia artist Desirée Holman, which went from the physical at the Philip J. Steele Gallery to the digital (now viewable on the RMCAD website).

"Project Speedo" by Kyle Williams

“Project Speedo” by Kyle Williams

What may be Colorado’s largest speedo was sported by one of the Denver Performing Arts iconic “Dancers” on Sunday.  According to 9 News, it took local hip hop artist Kyle Williams over three weeks to crochet a pair of Colorado flag underpants worthy of the more than 60-foot statue.  Despite some ladder problems and the possibility of repercussions for Williams, he declares “Project Speedo” an overall success.

Denver Band Wiredogs Shoot First Ever Music Video: “Am I the Resistance”

Earlier tonight, Denver rebel/punk band Wiredogs wrapped up their third day of shooting this month for a music video for their recently released track, “Am I the Resistance.”  Formerly The Hate, this will be their first music video under their new name.

All those on set were friends and family of the band or director, Shaun Burba. Burba was joined by friends and videographer/photographers Derek Reinhardt and Garrett Larson who offered their help both on and off the set.

“The first day of shooting I dropped by to help out with lighting and ended up acting [in the music video],” Larson said.

Tonight, he ended up in front of the camera a few more times before taking his place behind the scenes.

The music video is being shot at Denver hydrovaccing company, Hydrodig’s home base off I25.  Both Burba and Larson, who are coworkers at Hydrodig, suggested a bay of the company’s industrial garage for part of the shoot.

They piled in dirt for atmosphere; backlit the band with studio lights to get silhouettes and added one studio light in front for features.  Burba, who was also the primary videographer, and Reinhardt, who has shot for Denver’s Welcome to D.O.P.E. Game in the past, started with some broad group shots of the band and then focused in for close-ups and detail.

Local hip hop star and member of Welcome to the D.O.P.E. Game, Turner Jackson, came down to the shoot to show his support.  With him came his 4-year-old son Kimara, who played a starring role in the video.


Turner Jackson and son Kimara on set at Wiredog’s “Am I the Resistance” music video shoot.

After the band shots, Kimara and a few other actors had their turn in front of the camera.  The “Am I the Resistance” song and video feature themes of war and poverty including a storyline surrounding child soldiers in Africa.  A rather disturbing image, young Kimara wearing a black hoodie and bandana wielded a machine gun for part of his role as an African child forced into warfare at an extremely young age.

The broad band silhouette shots will later be super imposed with clips and images of war, poverty and similar themes that often arise in war torn regions of Africa.

For more on the shoot, check out the gallery and live feed below.

Denver’s Best Street Art Shared by Scene Veteran, DIA Named Best U.S. Airport for Art, and the Public Contribute to Imagine Denver 2020

A 20-year veteran of the street art scene challenged “Denver’s Best Graffiti Street Art” as posted by Westword earlier this month, and shared what he thought to be the top twenty instead.  Images of his chosen murals were taken by photographer Gary Glasser, aka “The Anarchivist” and can be seen on the Westword Arts Blog.

Denver International Airport was just named the best U.S. airport for art by USA Today readers.  According to the newspaper, the airports win can be attributed to Leo Tanguma’s mural Children of the World Dream of Peace and Gary Sweeney’s America, Why I Love Her.  Surprisingly, no mention of DIA’s infamous demonic blue “Mustang”, the red-eyed statue that claimed the artist Luis Jimenez’s life during its creation, was made.

Speaking of our beloved (and loathed) Mustang, Denver Arts & Venues has been asking people to think big (bigger than the DIA Mustang) about arts and culture in Denver.  So far more than 5,000 responses on the topic have been collected from people both inside and outside the current Denver art scene.  According to KUNC, the public’s thoughts and ideas will be used to create the city’s new culture and arts plan, Imagine Denver 2020.

DAM’s “Passport to Paris” Inspires New Brew, Denver’s Art Hotel Breaks Ground and SVPER ORDINARY Opens in the Source

The Denver Art Museum’s current exhibit “Passport to Paris” inspired brewmaster Cory Forster’s newest Dillon Dam Brewery beer.  According to Summit Daily News, La Seine Shine was introduced at a special event at the Denver Art Museum last month, but the beer can still be enjoyed at the Dillion Dam Brewery and at the Rackhouse Pub in Denver.

Last Monday marked the groundbreaking of a highly anticipated new boutique hotel south of the Denver Tech Center.  According to The Denver Post, once built, the hotel will house a collection of modern art curated by the Denver Art Museum’s former curator, Dianne Vanderlip.  Cleverly named the Art, the building was dubbed the “Keystone” of the cultural center’s rebirth by Mayor Michael Hancock.

SVPER ORDINARY Gallery + Retail Concept celebrated the grand opening of its second location Saturday inside The Source Marketplace, which up until now lacked an art and design space.  Previously Super Ordinary Gallery, the company has been featuring works from emerging artists from Denver’s RiNo Art District since 2010.  According to Denver Art News, the new location includes home items and accessories meant to inspire artful living.