When it comes to seasons — it’s hard to pick favorites in Colorado.
Fall is all about the leaves — as people flock to the mountains to get a visual high on the colorful displays of aspens preparing for cold months. Winter obviously offers a cornucopia of adventurous outdoor pursuits as well as the endearing holiday light displays, fireworks and even ice castles. Spring is best spent in the Front Range, where flowers and trees blossom with an almost sexual flamboyance. But summer is the perfect season to mix all of your interests together (especially if your interests include nature and art) because Colorado loves outdoor art festivals. Both in and out of Denver, these festivals and celebrations make sure artists and art are not overlooked during the months where everyone wants to hike, boat, fish, camp, bike, stargaze (the list goes on).
So although a 90-degree day in Denver might push you toward the cooled interior of a museum, movie theater or other cultural institution, take a look at this roundup of outdoor art events around Colorado for the days you want to soak up the sun or smell the fresh mountain air.
Botanic Gardens Sculpture Exhibit
When: April 28 – September 23
Where: Denver Botanic Gardens, 1007 York St.
Cost: $12.50, get tickets ahead of time here.
The Lowdown: Each summer, the York Street location of Denver Botanic Gardens curates a sculpture exhibition featuring one artist and this year it’s Mike Whiting. Whiting is based in California but obviously has a soft spot for Denver, as he’s already installed a few sculptures in RiNo in the past. With this solo exhibition, visitors can experience the juxtaposition of Whiting’s steel, straight-edged and pixelated sculptures while walking among plants, flowers and trees. It’s the best of both the urban and natural worlds, right in the middle of Denver. Meet the artist and experience the exhibition with him as a guide on June 6 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. for $25.
Erie Town Fair and Balloon Festival
When: May 18 – 20
Where: Historic Downtown, Coal Creek Park and Colorado National Golf Club, Erie
The Lowdown: Art is enjoyed in many forms, and if you’ve never seen the launching of a bunch of hot air balloons, you’ve missed a unique brand of art. Of course, you’ll have to wake up pretty damn early to see the balloons go into the sky (6:15 a.m. on May 18 is the launch time) but even if you miss that part of the festival, there will be more than 200 art, craft and food vendors to keep you occupied. Set in the little town of Erie — (west of Boulder) — the Town Fair and Balloon Festival is marked as the Chamber of Commerce’s largest event of the year. Though the balloons are launched at Colorado National Golf Club, the rest of the activities happen in the picturesque historic downtown or Coal Creek Park.
When: May 19 and September 15, 4 – 8 p.m.
Where: 3rd and 6th Ave. on Main St., Longmont
The Lowdown: For over 20 years, ArtWalk Longmont has provided a thriving art scene several times a summer in downtown Longmont by partnering with local businesses to showcase music and art. At first, ArtWalk started as a gallery-hopping event, where stores between the art galleries played music and served food and drinks. Since 2007 though, ArtWalk has shut down Main Street in Longmont for an afternoon. Artists and vendors still work with local businesses, exhibiting works inside. Six to 10 live painters make up the outdoor element, aside from walking between each store, as they create works of art before visitors’ eyes on the sidewalks of Main Street.
Boulder Creek Festival
When: May 26 – 27, 10 a.m – 10 p.m., May 28, 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Where: Boulder Creek path, Boulder
The Lowdown: This mainstay of Boulder has been around for 30 years and it’s not going away anytime soon. Hailed as the “unofficial kickoff to Summer” the Boulder Creek Fest embodies everything Boulder — from locally and regionally made arts to open-air massages to plenty of craft brews. With over 500 vendors split into nine sections, the festival can entertain you for both days easily. Also, don’t be surprised if you see some folks slacklining, hula-hooping or forming drum circles. That’s all part of the vibe there.
Denver Arts Festival
When: May 26, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., May 27, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Where: Conservatory Greens Neighborhood, Stapleton
Cost: Free (and free parking, too)
The Lowdown: Though dedicated to supporting Colorado artists, the Denver Arts Festival also attracts talent from around the country. As an art festival nearly 20 years running, it serves as a staple in many artists’ rotating summer festival circuit. With a focus on fine art and fine crafts, expect to see plenty of pottery, jewelry, sculptures and painting — but also look out for woodwork, furniture, textiles and multi-media art.
Wave: Light + Water + Sound
When: May 31 – June 3
The Lowdown: Started by Breckenridge Creative Arts (Breck Create) in 2016, WAVE is an annual contemporary art festival that highlights light installations, digital projections, musical performances and other creative ventures. A handful of artists participate in the transformation of Blue River Plaza in Breckenridge, creating immersive and interactive displays for locals and visitors to the idyllic mountain town. This year, WAVE will bring some well-known international artists like OGE Group from Jerusalem and Creos from Canada. But also, Denver will be represented by Cacheflowe and AudioPixel — two Denver-based artists who have collaborated on a synchronized light and sound piece. Don’t forget to bring some warm clothes if you want to truly experience the lighting design after dark — when the sun goes down in the mountains, even in the summer, it can feel like winter again.
Summerfest on the Rio
When: June 1 – 3
Where: Cole Park, Alamosa
The Lowdown: San Luis Valley in southern Colorado is basically an outdoor-lovers playground — complete with Great Sand Dunes National Park, a slew of hot springs, desert-like valleys and snow-covered peaks. This is why Summerfest on the Rio in Alamosa serves as the perfect pivotal point in a weekend of adventuring, especially if you like art and music almost as much (or as much) as you like hiking and camping. And yes, the “Rio” refers to the Rio Grande — one of the most important rivers in the Southwestern US — and it flows right next to all the activities. With more than 125 craft, food and drink vendors, a concert series in the park and a “poker run” that raises money for charities, Summerfest has a little something for everyone.
Chalk Art Festival
When: June 2, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. June 3, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Where: Larimer Square, Denver
The Lowdown: Every year, the streets in and around Larimer Square are transformed into a museum of chalk art. More than 200 artists participate in the Chalk Art Festival, some with no experience using chalk and others with a lifetime of it. The variety of subject matter, style, technique and size is impressive and worth a few hours of browsing. But more than that, the colors are nearly orgasmic. Aside from enjoying the finished pieces, it’s an interesting festival because visitors can watch artists actively creating their work. Expect to see a lot of very chalky hands (and if you want to introduce yourself to an artist, prepare to bump elbows rather than shake hands).
Summer Art Market
When: June 9, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., June 10, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Where: 2nd and Grant St., West Wash Park, Denver
The Lowdown: The Art Students League of Denver’s (ASLD) motto is that art is for everyone. They live that ethos by providing dedicated and quality teachers to any “student” who wants to learn or improve their artistic practices. Every summer, ASLD throws a Summer Art Market in the western part of Wash Park, exhibiting more than 200 artists in as many mediums as you can imagine. This year, 163 of the artists are returning from last year — proving that the festival is a good place for artists to connect with their fans and collectors. And, after you’re done browsing through the booths, you can enjoy a picnic in the park nearby to make the most of the day.
High Peaks Art Festival
When: June 23, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., June 24, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
The Lowdown: Nederland is a small town nestled in the mountains outside of Boulder and it has always been a little haven for creative endeavors. Not only do many hobbyists find their happiness in a cabin somewhere near the town, professionals have also tapped into their muses nearby at the Caribou Ranch recording studio, among other “famous” inspirations from the area. Every summer for the last 17 years, Nederland hosts the High Peaks Art Festival to highlight all different artistic mediums in the inspiring mountain air. It wouldn’t be a true Nederland event without live music, and so far The Strangebyrds and The CBD’s are scheduled to perform this year. Since it’s roughly an hour drive from Denver, this outdoor arts event is easy to arrange while still providing that classic Rocky Mountain scenery.
Cherry Creek Arts Festival
When: July 5 – 8
Where: Cherry Creek North Shopping District, Denver
The Lowdown: Touted as a celebration of the visual, culinary and performing arts, the Cherry Creek Arts Festival is a weekend-long event that usually attracts more than 350,000 attendees. International artists often make their way to the festival, giving festival goers a rare opportunity to meet and speak with those individuals. Split into several sections including concerts and pop-up performances, the festival has an “Artivity Avenue” and a “Culinary Avenue” — featuring art and food, respectively. This year, the Artivity Avenue is offering an “imagine collaboration mural” where participants can contribute to the painting of a mural.
Breckenridge Street Art Festival: Patriotica!
When: July 4
Where: Arts District, Breckenridge
The Lowdown: In conjunction with the town’s Fourth of July celebration, Patriotica! immerses Breckenridge in a day of interactive activities. With chalk artists, parade float-making, a pie-eating contest and more, this festival indulges all your senses and pays tribute to America in a more artistic way than your average day-drinking extravaganza. So far, announcements for schedule and artists have not been made, but stay tuned to this website for more information.
Colorado Black Arts Festival
When: July 13 – 15
Where: City Park West, Denver
The Lowdown: In its 32nd year, the Colorado Black Arts Festival celebrates African American culture and arts with three days of events for the whole family. This gathering has fostered a large and loyal crowd locally and nationally, receiving many awards including the Mayor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. Expect to see dance, visual arts, a film pavilion and more artistically-inclined endeavors. Also, there will be a scavenger hunt open to all festival attendees, so put your detective hat on and prepare to learn about the African diaspora through a series of clues.
Alpine Art Affair
When: July 14, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., July 15, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Where: Hideaway Park, Winter Park
The Lowdown: Spend a few days in the nearly picturesque mountain town of Winter Park for the 45th annual Alpine Art Affair. Positioned in the middle of town at Hideaway Park, the art festival is juried and often impresses with its carefully curated selection. Before or after browsing through the artisans, enjoy a walk through town or around Cooper Creek Square (a semi-outdoor shopping center) or head to the ski resort for mini golf, mazes, mountain biking and general scenic bliss.
Art in the Park
When: July 14 – 15, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Where: Steamboat Springs
The Lowdown: Steamboat Springs is another gorgeous mountain town (not far from Winter Park) and on the same weekend as the Alpine Art Affair, Steamboat Springs throws a different kind of event — Art in the Park. Though Art in the Park also features booths of artist creations (150 of them to be exact) the main star of the weekend is the Hot Air Balloon Rodeo and Balloon Glow. Like the Erie Town Fair, you’ll have to wake up early to see the Balloon Rodeo, but it’s worth it especially if you think watching balloon pilots nearly dip into alpine lakes and compete in other tasks is exciting (and a photographer’s dream). But, if you aren’t an early riser, the Balloon Glow gives you a different kind of eye-candy — hot air balloons lit up from within after the sun goes down.
Lake Dillon Arts Festival
When: July 20 – 22
The Lowdown: This marks the 12th year that the shores of Lake Dillon are turned into an art market and craft fair, the Lake Dillon Arts Festival. Featuring a mix of contemporary, traditional, Southwest and abstract art in various mediums, the three-day event is free to the public and offers one of the best views from an arts festival that we know of. On top of the scenery, the festival also offers a raffle that could win you a $1,000 or $500 festival shopping spree — all you have to do is ask one of the artists for a ticket (and be there in-person to claim your prize).
Arise Music Festival
When: August 3 – 5
Where: 100 Sunrise Ranch Rd., Loveland
Cost: $99 – $250 (early bird prices), get tickets here.
The Lowdown: Okay, so we know this is technically a music festival. But, they also emphasize artists here and it’s only a few hours drive from Denver, so why not? Part of the draw of festivals, in general, is their creative installations and art vendors and Arise definitely does not disappoint. With a dedicated area as an interactive art gallery displaying local, national and international artists and larger-than-life installations, going to the festival just to experience the art wouldn’t be the worst idea. Plus, Arise puts a great amount of effort into using up-cycled materials and following a strict leave-no-trace policy. And when the sun goes down, not only do most of the installations really come to life, but the light shows for the musical acts can verge on masterful — an artistic achievement on its own.
Breckenridge International Festival of Arts
When: August 10 – 19, various times
Cost: Free and ticketed
The Lowdown: This 10-day festival completely takes over Breckenridge with a celebration of adventure, arts and the outdoors. Some events are free — like the giant troll-like sculpture created by Danish artist Thomas Dambo hidden in the woods — while others cost a price — like the exclusive concert with Andrew Bird and Denver’s Neyla Pekarek. There’s also film screenings, skateboarding events, highly inventive performance acts and a contemporary circus production. The Trail Mix series will return again this year, which is a mashup of hiking or biking on some of Breckenridge’s trails with live music and art accompanying the journey. The Breckenridge International Festival of Arts is a true dedication to art in all its forms and pleases us Coloradans, who usually prefer the outdoors to an indoor museum or gallery.
West Colfax MuralFest
When: August 11, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Where: Lamar Station Plaza, 6501 W Colfax Ave., Lakewood
The Lowdown: Still in the infant stages, the West Colfax MuralFest will hold its fourth annual event this year in the parking lot by Casa Bonita in Lakewood. Organized by the 40 West Arts District, this day-long event brings together dozens of mural artists to paint nearby businesses as well as mobile walls. The mobile walls are sold to businesses in the district who aren’t in the direct vicinity of Lamar Station Plaza, but still want to be involved. Since the artists only have roughly seven hours to paint their murals, you’ll be able to watch any one of them (or all of them) in action. Don’t be shy — introduce yourself and ask questions if you have them.
Affordable Arts Festival
When: August 26, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Where: 5900 Santa Fe Dr., Littleton
Cost: $10 online or at the gate
The Lowdown: Even though there’s a cover charge for the Affordable Arts Festival, all the art inside is $100 or less — making it the perfect stop for art lovers on a budget. Both local and national artists travel to this festival every August, in part because they probably “clean house” in their studios for the event, and also because the response from the public has been overwhelmingly positive. According to the festival’s website, they’ve been ranked as one of the top 20 nationally ranked arts festivals. We all love good deals, after all. Plus, instead of just looking at the art, there’s a really good chance you’ll want to purchase something (or somethings) to take home — and the festival organizers have golf carts to help load anything into your car.
When: September, exact dates TBA
Where: RiNo Art District
The Lowdown: Started in 2010 by Robin Munroe (aka Dread) this street art festival takes over RiNo to paint walls, alleys and other fixtures with murals, lettering and abstract design. Though it only featured seven artists its first year, CRUSH now attracts more than 70 artists to the streets of Denver. This last year, the festival expanded from its traditional two-day format into a week-long celebration and also added more walls to the roster. From CRUSH’s steadily growing popularity over the last seven years, international street and graffiti artists like inkie, Mr. June and The London Police didn’t have to be convinced to fly out and take part. But more than the traveling talent, CRUSH truly highlights local talent, like the Birdseed Collective, Anna Charney, Ladies Fancywork Society, Detour and more. Exciting new developments for this coming year are in the works (that we can’t talk about yet) but definitely expect more walls, more artists and more art — all free and open to explore and appreciate just by walking around RiNo a little every day.