Denver’s art scene wouldn’t be as diverse or accessible without the distinction of its seven art districts in different neighborhoods. Spread across the city, these districts offer residents and visitors countless opportunities to experience culture — through visual art, performances, music and more. Each district adheres to its own unique style, which means that a visit to all of them is worthwhile. This guide is for any level of art lover — from the first-time gallery hopper to the seasoned collector — and highlights some of the best places to experience the heart of each district.
Art District on Santa Fe
Where: From 12th Avenue to 5th Avenue on Santa Fe Drive
The Lowdown: As one of the first art districts in the state, the Art District on Santa Fe has been giving artists in Denver a place to call home for almost 20 years. Located in the La Alma-Lincoln Park neighborhood of Denver, the Art District is steeped in the rich Chicano culture of the people who established it. According to the official La Alma website, it is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Denver, with nearly all of the residential units built before 1900. Now this neighborhood is a cultural hot spot. Join the festivities at the Art District On Santa Fe for their First Friday art walks — the largest one in Denver. No matter the weather, this art district comes alive for the First Friday of each month giving people the opportunity to experience the artwork that this rich neighborhood has to offer.
Notable Places: Art on Santa Fe centers around other cultures, especially Chicano/Latino cultures. Hence, you’ll find some established and acclaimed places like the Museo de las Americas, Su Teatro and the Chicano Humanities and Arts Council (CHAC Gallery). Other must-see stops along this stretch are the Center for Visual Art — an offsite gallery for Metropolitan State University — Michael Warren Contemporary, RULE Gallery, 701 Gallery, and Kanon Collective (all proceeds go to the artist who created the work). Another unique gallery in this district is Access Gallery, which creates a community of artistic development and education for people with disabilities.
Artists to Watch for: A trip to the Art District on Santa Fe won’t be complete without looking at some of the street art and graffiti in the alleys surrounding Santa Fe Drive. This is also where you’ll see the most repeated artists — like Jolt and Belove (who are spray painters) and Primerdome (who uses wheatpastes). To find the studio artists who have been instrumental in shaping the district, visit the Artists on Santa Fe workspace — the original art studio and gallery of the neighborhood.
Golden Triangle Creative District
Where: Between Speer Blvd, West Colfax and North Broadway
The Lowdown: In the Golden Triangle you are able to find Civic Center Park, the Colorado State Capitol, the Denver Art Museum and more. Tracing its history back to the 1890s when the Colorado State Capitol was built — the Golden Triangle truly began to transform with the “City Beautiful” movement in the early 1900s, directed by Mayor Robert Speer. The last Friday of every month is called “Final Friday” where the community is welcomed for an art walk in the district. The event is free to attend and art galleries stay open until 9 p.m. — much like with the First Fridays in other art districts. This historic area was only recently designated as a Colorado Creative District in 2016 — but this recent designation does not take away from its rich history and cultural definition.
Notable Places: This is the home of most of Denver’s major art and culture museums — Denver Art Museum, Clyfford Still Museum and Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art. It’s also the place you’ll find the Molly Brown House Museum, where the structure is as historically interesting as the woman who lived in it. Check out the established William Havu Gallery for high-end contemporary art, and for a foray into other cultural adventures, see a show at the Curious Theatre Company.
Artists to Watch for: Since this is the high-end art destination, the artists you’ll always find in this district are ones who live on through their art displayed at museums. Of course, Clyfford Still is a must-see (considering the Denver museum shows his work exclusively, according to his will). Some of the mainstays at the Denver Art Museum are the Western American Art collection with works from Albert Bierstadt, Marsden Hartley and N.C Wyeth, as well as the Textile Art and Fashion collection with rugs, clothing and tapestries from across the world and throughout time. It’s always a good idea to look into what the special exhibits at the DAM are, and usually, it’s worth whatever the extra ticket price costs.
RiNo Art District
Where: I-25 to the West, I-70 to the North, Park Ave./Broadway to the South and Larimer to the East.
The Lowdown: What was only a glimmer of artistic activity a decade ago is now one of the highest-grossing cultural forces in the Denver area — RiNo Art District. It is a hub of creative artists, businesses, art galleries and festivals. RiNo draws its rich history from four Denver neighborhoods — Five Points, Cole, Globeville and Elryia/Swansea — all of which help inform RiNo’s complex style. The RiNo Art District is often acclaimed for its hundreds of murals painted along the walls of this creative area. Each year these walls are transformed into murals and graffiti lettering during CRUSH Walls — an event bringing the district together through art and community celebration. On the First Friday of every month, RiNo opens its doors for a range of events from live music to art openings like many other creative districts around Denver. But, you’ll either have to contend with or join the busy weekend crowds of club and bar-goers as well.
Notable Places: Stop by DATELINE during the opening reception parties for exhibitions (usually on Friday or Saturdays) and you’ll most likely run into the artists displaying work. If you want to escape from the ordinary, glide into colorful abstraction at the contemporary haven, ATC DEN. If you’re visiting RiNo for the murals and street art, start in the parking lot of Denver Central Market — the approximate headquarters of CRUSH Walls — and stroll through the alleys. On the Brighton Boulevard side of RiNo (across the train tracks), visit Plinth Gallery to appreciate artistic ceramics, Helikon Gallery & Studios for exhibitions and in-studio visits with artists, and Station 16 Gallery at The Source.
Artists to Watch for: Any day in RiNo might bring you face-to-face with an artist, like Robin Munro (the founder of CRUSH), Laura Krudener (the founder of ATC DEN), Chris Haven, Gamma Gallery, Thomas “Detour” Evans, Scot LeFavor, Jodie Roth Cooper, John Vogl, John Van Horn — the list goes on. Of course, a trip to the RiNo Art district is almost incomplete without seeing something created by one of the founders of the district in the first place, Tracy Weil. Look for one of his murals at Larimer and 35th. Visiting RiNo Made will allow you to purchase art from dozens of local artists, but especially Denver native and wheatpaste extraordinaire, Koko Bayer.
Tennyson Street Cultural District
Where: Tennyson Street in Denver’s Berkeley neighborhood
The Lowdown: Originally founded in 1863, Berkeley’s Tennyson Street has grown to become a center for culture, shopping and more in the Denver area. Tennyson Street has a growing number of art galleries alongside some of Denver’s best shopping and dining experiences. On the First Friday of every month, Tennyson Street joins other districts in hosting a First Friday Culture Walk from 6 to 10 p.m. Although Tennyson Street doesn’t hold a candle to the number or diversity of galleries as the Art District on Santa Fe, it offers more options for eating and drinking along the way. And the charm of this art district is that each establishment within it expresses their own creative identity — from murals on the side of bars to one of the best secret patios with incredible decor in Denver.
Notable Places: To experience art on its own, visit Westward Gallery (for contemporary, traditional and fine art) or Alto Gallery (for modern, street art and everything in between). Some of the other stops on your journey should include the Denver Cat Company — where you can order coffee and pet the roughly 15 cats meandering around — or the Bookbar, with a mural on the side painted by Denver-based artist Delton Demarest.
Artists to Watch for: Although a trip to Tennyson might not provide as many opportunities to meet and greet with artists who call it home, there’s a good chance you’ll run into Michelle Courier, the co-founder of Westward Gallery and an acclaimed artist on her own, or Anthony Garcia Sr., the founder of Birdseed Collective — a nonprofit that uses Alto Gallery as its headquarters.
South Pearl Street
Where: South Pearl Street in the Washington Park neighborhood.
The Lowdown: Although it originally grew because of tracks being laid for a tram — South Pearl Street has had its ups and downs since coming into the scene. South Pearl Street was affected heavily by the Great Depression and the pop of shopping malls in the ’70s and ’80s. Since then South Pearl Street has fought to get to where they are today — a center for shopping, dining and culture in Denver. The area is most notably known for its abundant farmers’ market, but it also attracts artists who craft accessible art — like ceramics, jewelry and other handmade goods. South Pearl Street is one of the districts that offer a First Friday art walk each month, but only through November.
Notable Places: There are a handful of galleries in this district — Gallery 1505, Colorado Potter’s Guild, Harrington Gallery and J.J. Cunningham’s Gallery — sprinkled between a larger selection of dining, shopping and wellness retreats. These places are wonderful starting off points for beginner collectors or those looking for a special gift.
Artists to Watch for: Since 1975, local artist Nancy Condit has been a pivotal figure in the South Pearl district, after starting the Sand Dollar Gallery. Now, the artist creates watercolor cards and sells them in order to send proceeds to Bicycle Colorado in the hopes of making Colorado roads safer for bicyclists. If you like the retro-mountain-charm look, check out Blair Hamill’s prints of places like Aspen, Rocky Mountain National Park and other landmarks in the West at Gallery 1505.
Arts on Belmar
Where: Between West Virginia Ave and West Alameda Ave in Lakewood, Colorado
The Lowdown: The Arts on Belmar creative district is just a short drive away from Downtown Denver and seems to be a little oasis to find restaurants, art galleries and more. Located within a 22-square-block pedestrian district — this district gives you the feeling of an old town center bustling with life. Visit Arts on Belmar between 5 to 9:30 p.m. on the First Friday of every month for an art walk, where you can meet artists, tour their studios, enjoy the galleries and, of course, purchase art.
Notable Places: Although this district is much newer than the others, a small stretch of it provides a hearty experience in contemporary art with two main galleries holding it down — Sally Centigrade and Valkarie Gallery. There’s also a small enclave of artist studios in the district, which on First Fridays offer a chance to see the artists in action — or at least sitting in their studios surrounded by their work.
Artists to Watch for: Valkarie Gallery is owned by two artists, Valerie Savarie and Karrie York, who created the space in order to display their own art and highlight other artists in a diverse collection. Usually, a visit to Valkarie involves a chance to see one or both of the artists’ work. Other artists who are often found here are Arna Miller — a clever printmaker — and Melissa Behr — a mixed media artist who incorporates photography.
40 West Arts
Where: On West Colfax Ave between Kipling Street and Sheridan Boulevard
The Lowdown: As one of Denver’s fastest growing art districts — 40 West Arts has taken on the challenge of revitalizing the West Colfax corridor. 40 West Arts features a four-mile walking and biking path brimming with art called the 40 West ArtLine. This four-mile path takes you on a journey all through the 40 West Art District — showing you art, sculptures, history and more — connecting three of the major parks in the area. This creative arts district hopes to be a place which inspires both novice and professional artists to continue their craft and grow community engagement. Community engagement in this district can be seen clearly during 40 West Arts First Friday art walk. Engage with artists, try new food, experience unique artwork and enjoy the kitschy wonder (and tourist trap) of West Colfax landmark, Casa Bonita.
Notable Places: 40 West is still attracting a full roster of galleries and cultural institutions, but already they have lassoed a few of Denver’s most established galleries, like Pirate Contemporary Art and NEXT Gallery. These places push the boundaries of contemporary art and focus on showcasing local, emerging artists. For a more raw experience, visit the 40 West Artist Studios and see some artists in action. 40 West also offers some quirky cultural attractions, like the famous Casa Bonita, the Pinball Museum and the Alamo Drafthouse.
Artists to Watch for: All over the 40 West ArtLine you’ll encounter pieces of public art, but one artist is seen over and over again — Katy Casper. She’s responsible for the interactive ground murals, as well as the labyrinth out front of 40 West Studios. Other street artists to keep an eye on are Pepe Gaka (find the lion head at WestLine Flats) and Bobby Magee Lopez (the two hummingbirds by the light rail). A visit to Pirate Contemporary Art will refresh any perceptions about pretentious art galleries because the entire operation is coordinated by the artists who display work, and the proceeds of any art sold go entirely to the artist. Inside NEXT Gallery, artists Adrienne DeLoe and Jordan Lyn are must-sees, as they both explore mediums in unusual ways. DeLoe uses insects, skulls, crystals and other natural elements while Lyn uses embroidery and hand-stitching techniques.
For more information and to find more galleries, read our guide to Denver art galleries. If you are an artist looking for a studio or workspace in one of these districts, check out our guide to art collectives.