2 Days of Arts & Culture in Denver

Spend a couple days exploring Denver's arts and culture with visits to the Kirkland Museum, the Arts District on Santa Fe, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Tattered Cover Bookstore.

A statue/art piece on the outside of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, Colorado. The art piece, named oxic Schizophrenia / Hyper Version by Tim Novle and Sue Webster, is a large, bedazzled, red heart with blood dripping out of it because of a large knife stabbiing through the other side. The sky above the art is deep blue.
Museum of Contemporary Art | Denver

Day 1: Meow wolf, music venues, Museums & more

Explore Denver’s street-art scene, which covers buildings and other unexpected canvasses throughout neighborhoods like River North (RiNo), the Highlands, Westwood, South Broadway and East Colfax. More and more of the city’s neighborhoods are emerging with their own distinct characters and signature events like First Friday art walks, hipster flea markets, modern bazaars, craft coffee bars, artist studios, small music venues and only-in-Denver boutiques.

Installation-art fans are crazy excited to hear that Meow Wolf, the wildly popular immersive art experience that debuted in Santa Fe, has opened a Denver location. Plan ahead to see this totally new venture into “fantastic realms of story and exploration.”

Thanks to a voter-approved mandate in 1998, much of Denver’s coolest art isn’t in museums. One percent of any capital improvement project over $1 million in the city is set aside for the creation of public artwork. The result is a wealth of exquisite — and often enormous — open-air pieces all over Denver.

For a sample, head downtown to the Colorado Convention Center on 14th Avenue and California Street to see “I See What You Mean,” by Lawrence Argent, a 40-foot-tall sculpture otherwise known as “The Big Blue Bear.” This benign ursine presence peers curiously into the center, providing visitors with an essential Denver photo opportunity. Just a short walk away at the Denver Performing Arts Complex, two 50-foot-tall figures frolic near Speer Boulevard as part of Jonathan Borofsky’s “The Dancers.” 

A few blocks away, the jagged edges of the Daniel Libeskind-designed Hamilton Building, part of the Denver Art Museum, jut out over 13th Avenue. The museum houses Western art, contemporary masterworks and blockbuster traveling exhibitions.  Of special note is the museum’s collection of the indigenous arts of North America, representing the artistic works of nearly every tribe across the U.S. from prehistoric times to the present. Stay for lunch at one of two new restaurants, including a collaboration with celebrated chef Jennifer Jasinski called The Ponti.

Visit the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art in the former studio of Vance Kirkland, one of Colorado’s most distinguished painters. In 2016, the studio was picked up from its original location a few blocks away and deposited in the art-rich Golden Triangle area, where it reopened in March 2018. Across the street, the Clyfford Still Museum, dedicated to the legacy of one of the most important painters of the 20th century, is one of only five one-artist museums in the nation. The Kirkland Museum is another!

If you’ve got an inclination toward vinyl and being cool, head over to Twist and Shout, a famed indy music store selling new and used music on East Colfax near popular theaters like the Ogden and Bluebird. Another option for the cool kids is the new Mission Ballroom in the RiNo district — a new concert space designed for intimate shows that has plenty of bike parking available.

Take the afternoon to explore the hub of Denver’s creative community, with the largest concentration of art galleries in Colorado. The Art District on Santa Fe, where more than 40 galleries compose the largest concentration of art galleries in Colorado, make it a Certified Colorado Creative District. Stop in at the Museo de las Americas, a unique museum highlighting both traditional and contemporary Latino art and culture.

The River North Art District, known by locals as “RiNo,” is also a Certified Colorado Creative District with a lively community of furniture makers, sculptors, edgy artists and culinary pioneers. If you happen to be in town on the first Friday of any month, take part in the First Friday Art Walk: Galleries stay open late and lively crowds create a street-fair-like ambiance in both districts.

Day 2: books & Contemporary arts

Continue your artsy adventure the next day with a morning stop at Tattered Cover’s historic LoDo location. Called “a bibliophile’s paradise” by The New York Times, this multilevel bookstore, housed in the lovingly restored Morey Mercantile Building, holds thousands of volumes covering every topic under the sun, with a particularly notable selection of Denver- and Colorado-centric books. Tattered Cover’s cafe is an excellent spot for a quick, cheap breakfast, serving strong coffee, fresh pastries and tempting breakfast sandwiches.

Just around the corner from Tattered Cover, you’ll find one of the crown jewels of Denver’s art scene — the Museum of Contemporary Art | Denver, a David Adjaye-designed structure whose sleekness contrasts with the classic red brick typical to LoDo. Inside, five galleries showcase a constantly refreshed series of exhibits devoted to innovation and creativity. Go in with an open mind and you’ll be rewarded in ways you can’t imagine. At the museum’s serene rooftop garden and café, high above the hustle and bustle of downtown, you’ll be able to relax and reflect on what you’ve seen. On your way out, browse the eclectic books, music and clothing at the Shop MCA on the first level.

Want more?

Read Colorado History: Colorado State Capitol in Denver, Things to Do in Denver: History Colorado Center, 24 Hours in Denver and a 5-Star Luxury Day in Denver.

Photo: Museum of Contemporary Art | Denver; courtesy of Visit Denver, The Convention & Visitor's Bureau/Steve Crecelius.