An alleyway and its surrounding businesses downtown are quickly becoming a welcome retreat, with the help of a few dozen local artists. The Dairy Block is more than just retail, restaurants and a hotel, it’s basically an art gallery spread across an entire city block. The local art curation organization NINE dot ARTS orchestrated most of the projects, landing 31 artists who will create 715 art pieces in total, 275 of which are commissioned. Many of the projects are already completed, and even a quick walk by will showcase more than 10 artists at a glance. The other four artists were contracted by Bonanno Concepts for Milk Market by Jacqueline Bonanno.
Dairy Block’s name comes from the historic legacy that particular block carries — a nod to H. Brown Cannon who founded the Windsor Dairy in 1920. H. Brown Cannon went on to exert his influence in Denver as a civic leader for many years and Windsor Dairy was a much sought-after product in the Mile High City. The renovated Dairy Block calls itself a micro-district that “continues the tradition of quality and craftsmanship originally established by H. Brown Cannon.”
Though the micro-district currently boasts a number of restaurants, the newly opened Milk Market and The Maven hotel, the art is what this article is really about. Read on for a description of some of the artwork and then make your way over to the newest pedestrian alley for an art-seeking adventure.
In the Alley
The pedestrian alley — complete with a cobblestone walkway and outdoor lights — runs between Blake and Wazee to the east and west and 18th and 19th Streets to the south and north. As an outdoor location, the artists highlighted are most commonly street artists in some way. All of the murals were coordinated by Colorado CRUSH — an annual street art festival in RiNo, founded by Robin Munro. From spray paint to sculpture, this one-block walk boasts more art than most of the area surrounding it.
Take a trip around Denver and you’ll start noticing Sandra Fettingis‘ art all over the place — from Denver Central Market’s facade to A Line RTD Light Rail stops. Her geometric pieces often take a cue from their surroundings for the color scheme and even the shapes. This piece is no different, with the blues and whites emulated in the rest of the alley. Fettingis creates her work with painstaking attention to detail, like the straightest of lines and differences in color.
Michael Ortiz, otherwise known as Like Minded Productions, is a Denver staple when it comes to street art. His expertise in spray paint is unmistakable, with an outstanding ability to switch between clean lines and abstract shapes. His color choices bring together the warm spectrum of the brick and the cool undertones in the covered alley section. One of Ortiz’s best attributes, when it comes to painting murals, is how he integrates different parts of the wall into his design and composition — in this case, taking his mural above the covered section and changing the direction of the lines at that boundary, which directs your eye upward instinctually.
The London Police and Evan Hecox
One of the larger sections of art in the alley is split between Evan Hecox and street artist group The London Police. Hecox — is responsible for the blue and black illustrations above the doors, while The London Police contributed their signature stick-figure characters. Even though the two styles differ greatly, their relative placement draws attention to both without detracting — a testament to the artists and curators. As with Fettingis, these artists stayed within the blue, black and white color theme, giving the alley a cohesive feel.
The Lost Object
Artist Hyland Mather — who goes by The Lost Object — was born in Alaska but now lives in the Netherlands. His style uses a mosaic-inspired technique, splicing shapes and setting them near each other. This technique allows Mather to use negative space as part of each composition, lending to his minimalistic style. Other pieces by Mather decorate walls and garage bays in RiNo already. For this alley piece, Mather showcased his ability to use any surface as his canvas, whether it be wood or electrical boxes, he doesn’t discriminate.
With a studio in Boulder, Jen Lewin can’t help but find inspiration in nature. But her pieces — hybrids of architecture, design and technology — allow us to redefine our relationships with our surroundings. Lewin has created installations all over the world, some that are permanent and others temporary. This one connects Blake Street with the pedestrian alley, halfway between 18th and 19th Streets. Each platform is illuminated from beneath, giving viewers who are looking down a sight for sore eyes.
The rest of the alley features a handful of other artists’ work, from interactive sculptural pieces to more murals and even some neon lighting. Jonathan Lamb painted small details on pipes near the south end of the alley, like white drips and other more abstract designs. Chad Hasegawa, who painted an entire wall at a school in Sun Valley last year during RAW Project, is responsible for the orange and black abstract mural next to Evan Hecox and The London Police. Both of those you might miss it if you aren’t looking for them.
Collin Parson, who works in ephemeral light and space design, created the “HERE” sign in the covered section, where the neon is reflected on the mirrored ceiling. Finally, Nikki Pike created an interactive display that reaches through the entire alley and is activated by people turning cranks attached to the wall. The cranks are connected to the top of butter barrels — much like whiskey barrels, except these were used to churn butter — an ode to the history of Dairy Block, and when cranked, colored lights turn on and a musical sound plays through the narrow space.
In The Businesses
Playing along with the already colorful theme of the Southwestern restaurant, the art inside bursts with almost every hue imaginable. First, there’s the yarn-bombed tree, courtesy of Denver’s favorite group of crochet-installation-artists, Ladies Fancywork Society. With different stripes of pattern, color and texture, the tree-shawl serves as a delightful centerpiece to the restaurant. The other piece that adorns Kachina on the inside is a mural painted by prominent Denver artist (and Denver native) Emanuel Martinez. The final piece is actually located outside Kachina, on the electrical boxes, and was painted by Birdseed Collective, headed by Anthony Garcia Sr.
The Maven Hotel + Office
This portion is definitely one of the heavyweights, as far as art is concerned, for the Dairy Block. There’s art in the lobby, in some of the suites, in the workout room and in other places both expected and unexpected. One of the first pieces to see when you walk in is by Diego Rodriguez-Warner, who recently displayed a solo show at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) alongside Cleon Peterson and Arthur Jafa.
Also in the lobby is a pop-up shop by Denver oil painting duo Wes Magyar and Jonathan Saiz, called 7000 Reasons. More permanent installations include works by Mario Zoots, Andrew Ramiro Tirado, Travis Hetman, Christine Buchsbaum, Jackie Barry, Valerie Savarie, Jill Hadley Hooper and Gary Emrich. Even the bathrooms, corridors and elevators are designed by local artists, with portraits inspired by historic Dairy Block people by Michael Dowling and a humorous installation by Jim Green, among others.
Four suites at The Maven — 713, 715, 813 and 815 — now enjoy a private and original piece of art by three local artists. All of these artists are prominent Denver muralists, with other murals in easily-accessible places. In case you want to plan a night in one of the suites and have a preference on which artists’ work you see, Molly Bounds painted 713, Karen Fisher painted both 715 and 815 and Jason Thielke painted 813. Since NINE dot ARTS curated these pieces, it comes as no surprise that all of the suites share a theme — each mural represents the human form in some way — a relatable subject.
The newest Denver food hall opened on June 1, 2018, and once inside customers are greeted by not only a variety of stations to choose from but a variety of art to appreciate. Milk Market is the newest endeavor of Bonanno Concepts, led by Frank Bonanno and his wife Jacqueline. Jacqueline is the curator of this space and their other successful restaurants — a job she said, was necessary when they did not have the budget to hire art consultants like NINE dot ARTS. But she doesn’t necessarily need an art consultant because she knows artists who have contributed to their other restaurant’s decor — and she is crafty herself.
One of the artists who repeatedly pops up in Bonanno establishments is Quang Ho, and he is responsible for a large painting in the wine cellar at Milk Market. But it seems like the larger concept behind Milk Market, compared to other Bonanno restaurants, called for a larger concept behind the art. This led Jacqueline to request a mural by Ashley Stiles, who delivered with a secretly detailed milkman. According to Jacqueline, “if you look at the milkman closely, all the white spaces on him are populated with the original blueprints, our original logo designs and the first draft of menus for Milk Market.”
Local fabrication and design team The Public Works was originally contracted by Jacqueline to make tables, but once she became aware of what this team (led by Mike Arts and Frank Phillips) could imagine and produce, she wanted more than just tables. When given the task of creating some artistic pieces, The Public Works created something that ended up changing the name of their bar from The Shorthorn to Moo Bar. On top of that, the team also fabricated an ice cream cone for the alley, made out of recycled pieces of metal.
The other pieces of Milk Market’s art come from friends and coworkers of the Bonannos. Jennifer Hendrick, a friend of the couple who used to babysit their kids, created life preservers behind MoPoke. The penny floor required the help of anyone willing to dedicate some time, placing pennies and grouting them. “We did it as a teambuilding activity,” Jacqueline explained. “All of our buildings have a piece of luck in them, and that’s it for this one. We put our sweat and tears in it, in the hopes we won’t have much more sweat and tears in the future.” Jacqueline herself even crafted a fabric mermaid, which hangs outside of Albina.
Even if you travel to the new micro-district to mostly eat and drink, make sure to take a look around you at all the art. Not only is nearly every creative piece made by mostly local artists, they are almost all one-of-a-kind. And though Dairy Block may still be competing with areas in RiNo and in the Golden Triangle Creative District, it is quickly becoming one of the most saturated blocks in Denver for art. And that is something other alleyways in Denver could take notes from.