Seven years in the making now, the 40 West Arts District in Lakewood is in the business of beautifying the West Colfax Avenue corridor. Like any art district, 40 West believes in the enriching aspects of integrating creativity with our everyday lives. That is why they’ve created a gathering space for artists and community members west of Sheridan that is a little more affordable and in need of some of the love it used to receive decades ago. But they aren’t just sprucing the place up— they are dedicated to connecting the neighborhood through arts and culture activities and actively pursuing affordable and realistic options for everyone involved.
It started with Steve Burkholder, the Lakewood Mayor who in 2006 created a document with the help of a committee called the West Colfax Avenue Action Plan to revitalize the corridor. By 2011, a business improvement district (BID) and 40 West Arts became the hub for that effort, with a main gallery, 16 affordable artist studios and a vision of a renewed West Colfax. Now, they are one of 18 Colorado Creative Industry Certified Arts Districts and hold over 10 events each year.
The biggest endeavors they have accomplished are the district-wide First Friday Art Walks, the annual one-day MuralFest in August, and in 2018 the four-mile art-walk called the 40 West ArtLine. The future is looking like a welcoming place for 40 West, and with rising rent prices in Denver, more art galleries and artists are taking a good look at what the Lakewood district has to offer. This past year, two of Denver’s critically-acclaimed art galleries made the move to Lakewood— Pirate: Contemporary Art and NEXT Gallery.
Just take a drive down West Colfax and you’ll see murals dotting every other street, decorated bus stops, and a liveliness that has been absent since the days when it was the Gateway to the Rockies. Though 40 West Arts, the sister organizations, the BID and West Colfax Community Association are to thank for that, it really will be up to the community to make sure the district can sustain the improvements. The best way to do that is by attending any of the events that are planned for the district, or to visit one of the ever-expanding numbers of businesses and artist members who are shaping the destiny of West Colfax every day.
District-wide Art Walks
Three times a year 40 West Arts organizes a district-wide First Friday Art Walk in order to showcase experimental art styles and connect the separate galleries and creative community along the West Colfax corridor. These district-wide celebrations are easily experienced because all of the participating members are within a 1.5 mile area, or roughly 30 minutes walking. Not only are galleries and the artist studios open to the public, with free wine and beer, these Art Walks add a performance element to the typical First Friday experience, usually employing interactive elements into the spaces between the galleries or in the galleries themselves. This past year, the district-wide walks included a troupe of circus performers in June and an interactive performance group called the Bad Asstronauts in March.
On Friday, October 6, 40 West Arts will host its final district-wide First Friday Art Walk for the year. Contemporary dancers from Damage Dance will randomly integrate three to five-minute performances within participating art galleries. The hopes for this kind of collaboration is the dance breaks will enhance the art on the walls and vice versa.
Once every summer, 40 West and West Colfax Community Association host a mural painting festival, with live painting, art and vendor booths, food, drink and live music called MuralFest. Some of the murals that are painted in the Casa Bonita parking lot can be moved after the festival—using free-standing stanchion systems— in order to spread the artistic wealth the event fosters. The murals painted on moveable systems are transported to local businesses, who are able to purchase them at discounted rates and display them year-round on the exterior of their stores. This, in turn, helps revamp the entire area, especially because murals are an outstanding way to grab attention from passersby in cars, trains and buses.
About this push for murals to spread throughout the district, executive director Liz Black commented, “there are a lot of underutilized buildings on West Colfax, or buildings that haven’t had as much love as they had in the decades prior. And folks close to the corridor really found mural art as a way to beautify the area and provide representation to the district. It gives a sense of place— you know you’re in a certain area when you see a familiar piece of art.”
Aside from MuralFest, 40 West Arts dedicates a great deal of time and energy to connecting mural artists in the Denver area and beyond to local business owners and to finding available walls. A full list of murals painted along the West Colfax corridor and part of the 40 West Arts District, including pictures of the murals and information about the artists who painted them, can be found here.
The 40 West ArtLine is still in development stages, expected to announce “phase one completion” in June 2018. The concept, once implemented, will set it aside as a unique and remarkable art destination in the Denver area. It’s simple and worthy of Denver’s trending concepts— that is, you can walk or bike the entire four-mile route connecting three Lakewood parks while experiencing pieces of art and creativity along the way. Immersive, interactive, collaborative, these are the hot words in the contemporary art scene at the moment and there is a reason why they are popular. They invite everyday people to participate in art without buying it, which is something the art world has been snobby about doing for centuries.
Liz Black explained, “the idea behind the ArtLine is that it’s this nexus between the outdoors and the art. So you can walk it, you can bike it, it’s an opportunity to get exercise, but then along the route the vision is you’ll be able to see both permanent large-scale sculptures and pop-up installations, performances and other events that will occur along the line. It’s about discovering those fun pops of color—murals, fence art, land art, all kinds of things. Our hopes are that it will be an ever-evolving and changing exhibition, continuing to grow and expand and in five years you will be able to find a piece of art along every foot of the way.”
The three Lakewood parks that the ArtLine connects are Walker Branch, Aviation and Mountair. In order to make pivotal points in the route while still maintaining a general theme, the three parks will each have a large sculpture installed by artists Drew J. Gregory and Zak Ostrowski with PUNCH. 40 West Arts secured a $100,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant in order to commission these pieces, and will have them completed before June of next year. The three sculptures will be called: Dermal Plate Gateway, STEGOSKEL, and Unearthed Plates. They are a series of dynamic outdoor sculptures that are “interactive, memorable, and playful,” as the artists explained, “we wanted to break up an individual idea into three parts (one for each park) which led us to the concept of the discovery and excavation of Colorado’s state dinosaur, the stegosaurus—originally found in Morrison. We designed a combination of kinetic parts, layered colors and structure, and shadow patterns which would allow for the community to experience/interact with the pieces by walking around and under them. This will create a different sensory and viewing experience at multiple times during the day based on varying weather and time conditions.”
The ArtLine—with its emphasis on being outside while enjoying world-class art— will easily become one of Denver’s favorite districts. It can even be easily accessed from central Denver via the RTD W Line, making it accessible to more than just Lakewood’s lucky residents.
For a full list of participating galleries in the 40 West Arts District, visit this page.
For more information about the final district-wide First Friday Art Walk, visit this page.