Street art has become a staple of September in Denver and this year is no different, even though COVID-19 has halted most other arts and culture events in the last six months. From September 14 through 20, 100 artists will take over RiNo for the 11th iteration of the festival. Those 100 artists were pulled from 720 applications that were submitted from all over the world.
With such an impressive lineup of artists and new guidelines for the pandemic, CRUSH might be a little harder to navigate this year. So 303 Magazine put together a guide for enjoying the celebrated event with ease.
Ways to Avoid Crowds
Especially in the last few years, CRUSH has attracted thousands of visitors to RiNo, where alleys are crowded shoulder-to-shoulder as artists attempt to paint without too much distraction. This year will be markedly different, as the event will follow all state and local guidelines in regard to large gatherings and COVID-19. The festival’s organizers ask that attendees wear masks and try to maintain a six-feet distance from other visitors and also from the artists, although the artists will have safety zones around them and will be provided PPE by the festival’s organizers. Additionally, all of the in-person events that have punctuated the week-long festival in the past, like the Secret Walls night-time art battle event, have been replaced by online offerings like virtual artist panels, a how-to-wheatpaste workshop for youth and informational sessions.
Since many visitors have congregated in the main alleys in the past — located behind Denver Central Market and running from 26th to 28th Streets — this year the goal should be to visit as many off-the-beaten-path murals as possible. In fact, you won’t have the option to walk through those alleys during peak hours as they will be closed to anyone except artists, local business owners and event volunteers or employees. Mural locations stretch from the south end of RiNo, near the Ramble Hotel, to the north end near the 38th Street RTD station, with the highest number of murals in the Five Points neighborhood this year. Walk, bike or scooter to the walls that are not by Denver Central Market parking lot (and CRUSH HQ) during busy hours and you will have more room to breathe. You can plan your route using the online map (which should be available no later than Sunday, September 13).
The other option to avoid crowds entirely is to wait until the week after the festival to see the finished murals. That, unfortunately, does not allow you to meet or talk to any of the artists, but it is probably the safest way to enjoy the festival this year.
If you decide to check out the murals in progress, make sure to follow these tips in order to be respectful and safe.
- When approaching an alley or wall with a group of people already standing or watching, wait your turn to step forward or ask if you can join the group.
- Always wear a mask and maintain distance from others, especially the artists.
- Not all artists want to talk while they work, so make sure you respect their wishes. A good sign that an artist is not interested in chatting is if they are wearing noise-canceling headphones.
- Artists who like to talk are usually happy to answer questions — but please try to think of imaginative questions. An artist who hears “when are you going to finish this?” or “what were you inspired by?” many times a day will eventually find it boring. Creative questions lead to better conversations — don’t be afraid to ask about technique, how long they’ve been an artist and what artists they might suggest you look at after them.
- If you take photos or videos and post them on social media, tag the artist. If you cannot see CRUSH’s official signs with the artist’s information, look for a signature on the mural or simply ask the artist for their handle.
Artists to Look For
When there are 100 artists participating in CRUSH, it can be hard to decide who to visit or try to see in action. Some visitors will want to exclusively check out local, Denver-based artists who have many other murals spread across the city. Some visitors may be more interested in the internationally-recognized artists who are only in town for the week. And there are a lot of other preferences in between. Thankfully, CRUSH has embraced the diversity of street artists that are in Denver and beyond and boasts a lineup this year stacked with veterans and newbies, women and artists of color.
Here are some suggestions for different groupings of artists to watch during the festival. Of course, some artists overlap into many different categories and this is not an exhaustive list. If you want to see all of the participating CRUSH artists, go here.
CRUSH has always been a local’s festival, with the founder Robin Munro (aka Dread) offering a platform for many friends and peers to build their portfolios and experience. In that group are artists like Anna Charney who apprenticed under Munro and has since carved out a permanent place in Denver street art history with her psychedelic illusion murals. Graffiti-trained street artist UC Sepia and wheatpaster Koko Bayer are two women artists who have been involved with CRUSH or the local street art scene for many years and are beloved by the community. Other mainstays to the scene and to CRUSH are Anthony Garcia Sr., founder of Birdseed Collective and a muralist inspired by Indigenous patterns; Thomas “Detour” Evans, a multi-faceted artist who has displayed in the Denver Art Musem, painted portraits for the Denver Nuggets and David Letterman, created monumental murals all over the state and country and even written a book; Mike Graves, the cartoonist who imagines whimsical characters with the help of his daughter and paints them on walls; and Patrick Kane McGregor, the photorealistic muralist who started his career as a sign painter.
Each year, CRUSH brings together artists in one neighborhood to leave their distinctive artwork. But they also bring artists from all over the country and world to Denver. And on top of that, CRUSH sometimes pairs up artists for collaborations that are truly one-of-a-kind. This year, two well-known visiting artists are collaborating on one of the most visible RiNo walls, at The Ramble Hotel. Those two artists are Hoxxoh and El Mac. While Hoxxoh has painted in Denver on multiple occasions, including a previous stint at CRUSH, El Mac is visiting for the first time. Recognized for his immense skill and precision, El Mac is influenced by classical European art as well as his Chicano and Mexican roots — a fitting artist to feature in Denver. Other internationally-recognized artists to look out for this coming week are Nick Napoletano — a hyper-realistic spray paint artist, Hiero Veiga — a co-founder of the Spray Their Names project and Max Sansing — a Chicago-based artist who fuses the colorful vibrancy of street art with the technical skills of fine art.
Representation by womxn artists has not always been strong at CRUSH, but recent years have shown a change in the right direction. Much of that is due to the efforts of Alexandrea Pangburn, an artist and curator who organized the recent Babe Walls mural festival in Westminster. Not only will Pangburn participate again this year at CRUSH, but she’s also joined by a sizable amount of other womxn artists. Chelsea Lewinski, an artist that started making waves in the scene last year with her quickly-growing talent, will have an official CRUSH wall this year — she painted during the festival last year but not technically part of it. Jodie Herrera is another one not to miss — her work is inspired by the stories of other womxn and has been featured in museums and galleries. Previous CRUSH participants who are fan favorites include The Designosaur, Lindee Zimmer and Ladies Fancywork Society (the yarn-bombers). Marissa Napoletano (sister to Nick Napoletano) is a talented aerosol artist herself and will paint at the festival this year, too. There’s also some newer talent this year, womxn who haven’t painted at CRUSH before, like A.L Grime, Olive Moya, Kaitlin Ziesmer, Kaitlin Orin and Gina Ilczyszyn. All of those, except A.L Grime, participated in the Babe Walls festival just last month.
CRUSH has always made a point of offering censor-free space for artists to express opinions and beliefs, and this year will be no different. Some BIPOC artists will most likely make full use of the platform of the festival, like Bakpak Durden from Detroit. Durden is a self-taught artist who recently assisted Sydney G. James with the creation of a mural titled “Way Too Many” honoring lives lost to police violence. Gregg Deal might be another artist in the social justice category, since his mural from CRUSH last year highlighted the unjust ownership of land between white Americans and Natives. Alicia Cardenas is also inspired and galvanized by her Native roots (she goes by Tribal Murals), although the result is usually more visually symbolic than in-your-face. Another artist of color that is especially noteworthy is MPEK, a Mexico-born artist who has influenced Denver’s street art scene for many years with his distinctive style and graffiti background.
CRUSH started as a graffiti festival more than a decade ago. Back then, it was simply an alleyway and a group of graffiti artists who were shunned in the rest of the city, criminalized for their endeavors and generally disregarded as criminals. An integral part of the graffiti world is the presence of “crews” which are like artist collectives, not gangs. These crews offer beginners the opportunity to learn from veterans, like-minded artists to work together and safety from police. The festival still gives alleys over to certain crews so that the roots of the event are honored and the graffiti style isn’t eclipsed by murals. The crews painting this year are TKO Crew, SWS Crew, KD Crew and Creatures Crew. There are some individual graffiti artists to look out for as well, like Tuke and Taste. Tuke has been involved in the Denver graffiti and street art scene on and off since the early ’90s and Taste is internationally recognized.
For more information about the locations of the murals, go here.
For more information about the artists, go here.
For more information about the COVID-19 guidelines, go here.