Love is in the air, and on the walls, in RiNo this week. After a year hiatus, Side Stories — an immersive, large format film installation featuring Colorado artists — is back for its fourth rendition, running until February 20. Timed perfectly with Valentine’s Day, this year’s theme focuses on something the world seems to desperately need nowadays: a good love story.
While on a walking tour of Montreal, Side Stories co-founder Fiona Arnold was inspired by the projection of historic images along the city walls. Partnering with Mainspring, The Martin Family Foundation and RiNo Art District in 2017, their team brought this concept to Denver, but with their own twist. Rather than historic images, they decided to provide local artists with a unique canvas — the walls of the city around them.
Now in their fourth year, Side Stories continues to inspire and support the Denver Art Community. Through a highly competitive submission process, a panel of jurors chooses five artists to feature in the event. These lucky few are then commissioned to create a large format, cinematic experience to be projected along the walls of RiNo, creating a “walkable art experience” that is free to the public. In addition, each of these artists receives a stipend of $5,000 — a donation that could make all the difference for local creatives.
“It’s nice to get paid as an artist,” said Xadie James, a local musician and returning Side Stories artist. “In a very real way, it’s important to put money into artistic communities. It allows for things like this, it goes a very long way. I am super grateful for that.”
This support of Denver Arts and Culture is crucial, now more than ever. A recent study released by the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts found that, after a peak in 2019, the arts and culture community lost a decade of growth in 2020 alone. This resulted in a $1.5 billion loss in economic activity in that sector, as well as a 46% decrease in educational outreach.
These staggering reports are what make the mission of Side Stories so impactful, and the theme of the 2022 Side Stories so necessary. This year’s show features cinematic love stories created by five Colorado artists — Ella Vance, Xadie James, Andi Todaro, Natalie Einterz and Travis Vermilye. Their films, on display at scattered points along Walnut and Larimer, are each vastly different than the last. No two artists had the same definition of love — each interpreting their assignment in unique and eye-catching ways.
Created by local artist Andi Todaro, The Nearly Neglected Ecstasy of Laughter plays on loop at 33rd and Larimer, projecting onto the towering pillars of the Dry Ice Factory. Her film explores the playfulness of sensuality after a year of separation from one another.
“It’s all of these textures of these things that you maybe don’t notice, or think of being very sensual,” said Todaro. The piece is comprised of footage of random objects from everyday life — like jello, velvet, water beads and jellyfish — paired with a poem written by the artist. She describes this work as gratitude for the senses — the way they enhance your life in ways we often forget.
“You notice how cool things are when you look at them up close,” she explained. “Love is hard, relationships are hard, but remember there are really cool things in even the most simplistic of objects.”
While Todaro’s concept is more abstract, other artists took a more traditional approach to the theme. Denver filmmaker Ella Vance used her canvas — the brick wall on the corner of 32nd and Larimer — to display a short, silent film telling the tale of three different love stories. The task of creating such work is both inspiring and demanding, and not only for the artists who create them.
“This was definitely a challenge,” explained actress Ruby Leigh Pierce, who appears in Vance’s film. “Because there’s no dialogue, there’s nothing to rely on than the physical expressions of love.”
All five artists have created a work that is exceptionally unique, making the walk from film to film worth it even on the coldest of nights. While the art featured in Side Stories may look different year after year, the immense gratitude these artists hold for the event remains constant.
“This experience is always fantastic,” said returning artist Travis Vermilye. “It’s nice to get out and see something colorful and moving on the wall. We have so many murals around this neighborhood, it’s unique to see something that is changing all the time.”
Side Stories is a large format, immersive art exhibit featuring the cinematic work of Colorado artists. The event is taking place until February 20 and is free to the public. To learn more information about the event and artists, or to view the tour map, visit their website or follow them on Instagram.