Using the analogy of college basketball, Denver is at most a mid-major player in the Art World. It is more significant perhaps than a Division II-equivalent of, say, a Sacramento or a Tulsa, but nowhere near the significance of a major Big East-equivalent player like New York or London. Artists who want to make it to the Majors don’t move to Denver, they move – or at the very least, make a pilgrimage—to New York, hoping there to be discovered, patronized, celebrated and cash in.
On the flip side, those artists who have spent time in New York or Paris and then enjoyed any measure of success at all, but for whatever reasons have since moved to an outpost like Denver, can only talk—in the immortal words of ‘The Boss’—of their past “Glory Days”.
Denver is a nice place to live—perhaps too nice to inspire edgy art, especially of the postmodernist, comment-on-the-false-messages-of-modern-society variety. For Denver offers artists neither the urban grittiness nor the foppish social scene of New York or London. Of course the nearby Rocky Mountains have been and always will be an inspiration and a draw to many an artist. On the other hand there are only so many images of the Maroon Bells that the world can absorb.
It is not just their immediate environment that inspires artists; it is the interaction, exchange of ideas, camaraderie and competition of other artists as well. In this regard Denver’s art scene is certainly more of a draw than Barstow’s, but it falls short of the artistic milieu of say a Paris, or even a Santa Fe for that matter.
In fairness, Denver, or at least Colorado, has been home (and inspiration) to a number of renowned artists, artists like Vance Kirkland, Arthur Roy Mitchell and John Fielder, to name a few. But if the list is placed on a timeline of the 20th and 21st centuries, the high points are few and far between.
Of course this could all change if Big Money were to show up—and stay—in Denver. Artists and their Art are drawn to the major Art institutions, and the major Art institutions are drawn to Big Money—the big bucks spent by major collectors, patrons, and donors. But aside from the occasional individual billionaire ‘Big Money’ is generally synonymous with ‘Big Corporations’, and sadly Denver is losing, not gaining major corporate headquarters. This fact alone means that for the present time and foreseeable future Denver’s chances of moving up from mid-major status looks gloomy. If anything, it may struggle not to fall to Division II status.