Local Life

Murals take daily life from dull to delightful

Tours, festivals, exhibits highlight growing medium for public art


Local artist Chuck Parsons knows well how the metro area’s street art scene has grown and changed over the last more than 30 years, and well he should. He has been a part of it many times.

“I’ve been very interested in establishing and growing the mural scene in the area since the ‘80s,” Parsons remembers. “There was a group of us interested in that kind of public art because it’s so accessible and adds color and richness to the landscape.”

In recent years the metro area’s murals scene has been booming, especially with all the new arts districts springing up over the city. Places like Lakewood’s 40 West Arts and Denver’s Santa Fe and RiNo arts districts actively encourage the medium, but enormous works can also be found on buildings on downtown Denver’s buildings.

“I enjoy doing these kinds of works because they’re free to the viewer,” said muralist Patrick Kane McGregor, whose dog has become a staple of murals around Denver. He’s contributed dozens of works around the metro area. “It’s a way to share beauty with people every day.”

One person who has paid special attention to this beauty popping up all over town is Cori Anderson, who founded Rebel Tours, which takes travelers on a guided trip to see some of the city’s best street art. Tourists can pick one of three options — Santa Fe, RiNo, or downtown Denver, and she’ll not only point out some of the best works but get into the story behind them.

“People take these works for granted and often don’t think about the fact that an artist or group of artists created them,” Anderson said. “People like these tours, not because they can see the art, but because they get the stories and have their questions answered.”

As a lifelong lover of wandering the streets in whatever city she found herself in, Anderson has dedicated herself to sharing her knowledge about Denver’s street art scene. She is a regular writer for 303 Magazine, and also founded the Denver Street Art Network to grow and connect the burgeoning community.

“I’ve always loved street art as a kind of creative expression that exists despite limitations,” Anderson said. “I think the spirit behind it is so rebellious and so kind.”

There are also street art festivals in the region, which allow people to see murals being created in real time. RiNo hosts CRUSH, which invites artists to come and create works on the block. And Lakewood’s West Colfax MuralFest has become the annual highlight of its 40 West Arts district’s creative year.

“We’ll be giving visitors mural tours around the city so they can see all that has been created,” said Kevin Yoshida, a board member of 40 West. “Murals allow you to think about your city as a creative campus.”

Murals have become such an exciting form that the Arvada Center’s summer exhibit is bringing the works indoors for its “In Sight on Site” exhibit. Participating artists were given blank panels hung in the Center’s three galleries and given free rein to create a mural.

“I enjoy working outside, but it’s an interesting challenge working on something indoors,” said Thomas Scharfenberg, a muralist who is joining Parsons, McGregor and about 18 other artists in the exhibit. “I think of the pieces as food, and each one is a different flavor for the viewer.”

The best street art is a gift for all members of a community, and telling those stories to larger and more diverse communities is just one of the reasons it is still a vital art form.

“People might only see it for a few seconds every day, but that repeated quality helps the work stick in your mind,” Parsons said. “In a way, seeing street art is like going to a music festival where every stage is playing something different. There’s all kinds of shows to see.”


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