Every year, street art lovers in Denver and beyond count the days until September, when the annual mural festival in RiNo gives them an experience unlike any other in the state. For 11 years now, CRUSH Walls has transformed the alleys and buildings of RiNo into an open-air art gallery that is truly a feast for the eyes. And even though this year has proven difficult for the art community, the festival organizers are happy to announce a list of artists who have been chosen through a highly competitive selection process to participate from September 14 to 20.
“Artists just want to create during these difficult times,” said Robin Munro founder of CRUSH. “Several artists have been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis and it’s important that we try our best to keep one of their creative outlets and income streams going.”
All of the artists who paint during the week-long festival are paid a stipend for their time and effort and are provided with equipment and materials. Obviously, with the financial impact of COVID-19 on many businesses that annually support the festival through donations and sponsorships, the pool of stipend money isn’t as deep this year. But, it hasn’t dried up completely. Even though last year’s festival (the 10th anniversary) “boasted its biggest year yet” as the press release stated, this year will just be scaled back a bit. And, “more artists may be selected if the event can raise additional dollars for artist stipends.”
“It was a very different world when we put out the first call for entries for the 2020 CRUSH Walls,” wrote Tracy Weil, RiNo Art District’s executive director in the press release. “The COVID-19 crisis started to hit mid-March. As hundreds of applications poured in, we really weren’t sure how things would look this year and what measures we would have to take to put on our event.”
There were more than 700 applications submitted this year by artists from all over. For the most part, the scaled-back roster of accepted artists looks very similar to previous years. There are 100 artists announced so far and that group will paint a total of 40 murals (some artists always work together in groups and others will have a one-time collaboration).
Some of the most recognizable local names who will once again paint during the festival are Detour, Jolt, Anna Charney, Birdcap, Casey Kawaguchi, DINKC, Alex Pangburn, UC Sepia, Koko Bayer, Lindee Zimmer, Anthony Garcia, Patrick Kane McGregor, Mike Graves, Pat Milbery and So-Gnar, Zehb, Taste and, of course, the founder of CRUSH Robin Munro (aka Dread).
The rest of this first-round announcement of artists is hyper-local, only straying outside of Denver for artists that mostly already have connections to the city and its street art scene. Hoxxoh, for example, is an artist who painted one of the featured murals for CRUSH in 2017 in the Denver Central Market parking lot and again visited Denver to paint schools during the RAW Project. Hiero Veiga is another visiting artist who will participate in September. Veiga recently started the Spray Their Names project with help from Denver-based artists to paint murals that honor lives lost to police brutality and has shown work in local galleries.
One of the most exciting visiting artists to make the roster this year is El Mac (Miles MacGregor). El Mac was born in Los Angeles and started painting in the mid ’90s, finding influence from classical European art as well as from his Chicano and Mexican roots. Now, he’s an internationally famous artist with paintings all over the world, both inside art museums and out on the streets. His work is placed on a pedestal by other muralists for its unique style and impeccable technique.
Even though the experienced artists are amazing to watch in action, it’s also nice to know that CRUSH accepted some applications from first-timers as well. Olive Moya is a locally-based muralist who started making a name for herself after painting at some small local businesses like Huckleberry Roasters. Last year, she was awarded an Urban Arts Fund grant to paint a mural on the Cherry Creek Bike Path. With her participation in CRUSH this year, it won’t be a surprise if we start seeing a lot more of her murals popping up around the city.
But perhaps the most important part of this event in previous years and especially in this upcoming one is the “censor-free” guarantee. Artists are encouraged to express opinions, beliefs, politics — as long as there isn’t any nudity or obscenity that’s deemed unnecessary. And in the 11 years, the festival has occurred, the art has been overwhelmingly positive and positively received by the community. The festival organizers ensured that the selection process took into account the needs of the community, including artists with a diversity of skin color and backgrounds.
“While the event has been scaled back, the focus will be to continue efforts to provide a censor-free platform for artists to create in the district. In support of the Black Lives Matter movement, other social issues and COVID-19 responses, several of the artists will be addressing and incorporating these themes into their work,” the press release stated.
This kind of activist-fueled art is not new to the street art community nor to CRUSH Walls. Last year, artist Gregg Deal took the opportunity to make a statement about Indigenous lives and the stealing of Indigenous lands with a mural in the main alley near CRUSH HQ. Other artists like Zehb, Jodie Herrera (Chroma J), Luis Valle, Anthony Garcia, Onver, Armando Silva, Marka27 and others painted portraits of BIPOC as tributes, monuments and likenesses. Jolt painted a cartoon depiction of the gentrification of RiNo with the Art District (one of the festival’s organizers and sponsors) as a raging rhino trampling small houses.
Although the underpinnings of the festival are the same as always, the actual event will look a little different this year, due to measures to keep the event safe for visitors. The Art District has said it will follow all state and city guidelines in order to put on the festival. In previous years, the alleys have been packed shoulder-to-shoulder and the after-dark events were just as crowded. To avoid this, many of the larger public events will not happen and will be replaced by either virtual offerings or more controlled events like artist panels and guided mural tours. More information about these measures will be released closer to September.
The full list of participating artists in this first round announcement is: Adam Vicarel, Aerosol Kingdon, Anna Charney, AJ Davis, Alicia Cardenas, A.L. Grime, Anthony Garcia, Alex Pangburn, Bild, Bakpak Durden, Birdcap, Casey Kawaguchi, Chris Haven, Diana Merkel, Chelsea Lewinski, Detour, El Mac, Dread, Elvis Nunez, DINKC, Esic, Gina Ilczyszyn, Gregg Deal, EMF, Hector Palacios, ICR, Hoxxoh, Hiero Veiga, JD Pruitt, Jason T. Graves, Jason Garcia, Jodie Herrera, Jher, Jolt, Julia Williams (The Designosaur), Kaitlin Orin, Kaitlin Ziesmer, Kayla Mahaffy, Karma Leigh, KD Crew, Kendall Paints, Koko Bayer, Ladies Fancywork Society, Lindee Zimmer, Lindz and Lamb, Lyfr, Marissa Napoletano, Max Coleman, Max Sansing, Michael Ortiz, Mike Graves, Megan Walker, Miles Toland, Mythik, Miss Meeg, Mpek, Olive Moya, Onver, Pat Milbery and So-Gnar, Nick Napoletano, Rem Robinson, Patrick Kane McGregor, Reds, Patrick Maxcy, Rumtum, Sandra Fettingis, Sandi Calistro, R0melle, Scot LeFavor, Shitty Kitten, SWS, Taste, su/q, Sydney James, TKO Crew, We Were Wild, Zehb, UC Sepia.
For more information about the festival, go here.
For more information about the artists, go here.