Master makeover complete, the Denver Botanic Gardens readies its fusion of art and science

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The new Freyer–Newman Center at the Denver Botanic Gardens.

In 2020, the Denver Botanic Gardens finished its master makeover plan. Among the new additions was a brand new center meant to unite science, art, and just the plain joy of looking at plants. Then the pandemic hit.

Now, leaders at the Botanic Gardens are welcoming a whole new slate of educational offerings, art shows, and even a library open to the public to celebrate their fully open return.

The Freyer–Newman Center represents that fusion of science and art at the Denver Botanic Gardens. The 100,000-square-foot complex on York Street and 11th Avenue features four art galleries, six classrooms, a library, a 265-seat auditorium, research labs, and more.

Director of Education Matthew Cole said having classrooms next to a library and next to galleries promotes “cross-fertilization” among the departments. 

“But the mission of the library is really to let people learn to have access to the same knowledge that experts are reaching for, to have a horticultural botanical and just gardening collection that anyone who's really interested in that material can elevate themselves.”

Cole said the number of pieces in the collection of the library is in the thousands and is the biggest horticultural collection of its sort in the West — all the way between the Mississippi River and California.

The Helen Fowler Library collection was one of the original components of the Denver Botanic Gardens. Its works range from scientific books, to gardening advice, to the latest aesthetic trends. People are even able to check out books.

Brittany Stark, the technical services librarian, came to the Helen Fowler Library from the American Alpine Club Library in Golden.

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Art classes are just some of the new offerings the Denver Botanic Gardens is housing in the new Freyer–Newman Center.

Stark said many visitors say they didn't know there was a library in the facility. The Ed Connors Rare Books Reading Room is one of the popular areas. 

“We love kind of taking folks by there when they're first here, just to kind of showcase some of the very cool materials that we have in the library.” 

The children's area is another popular program. “When we have little ones, we direct them straight to the children's area, which they love, which is great,” Stark said. “We also give them stickers because why not?”

But Stark’s favorite room is the rare books room

“I love doing cataloging for rare books. It's interesting. It's a little bit more challenging. It's a little bit more fun, but we have some really great stuff.”  

Stark said visitors must wash hands and wear gloves to handle some of the materials in that area. “But, it is just, it is immaculate and beautiful.”

Jennifer Neale, the director of research and conservation at Denver Botanic Gardens, says before this new facility, her department was in one room in the basement at the Boettcher Memorial Center

“This new facility was very specifically designed to keep the plants and fungi separate, the workroom separate. And we actually have a workroom in the back that we call our prep room that has two giant freezers. So every single specimen gets frozen before it comes into this space,” Neale said.  

The collection is primarily accessed by staff and professional researchers, but this building allows space for a reference collection in the Ecology Lab that is more accessible to consultants, the public, students, and botanical illustrators. 

“We designed the Frayer Newman Center to be a museum collections, storage area, collection space, as well as to show you that we really do intersect art, science, and education within the space. And we all work collaboratively together.” Neale said. 

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An art installation goes up at the Denver Botanic Gardens' new Freyer–Newman Center.

And the education program is prolific. Sarah Olson, the associate director of education at Denver Botanic Gardens, says her department executed 550 classes last year. 

“Honestly the space here has been so needed for so long. We used to have classes when and where we could have them, because of facility availability and we no longer have to do that,” Olson said. “Now we can put classes in the right space at the right time to complement the community that we're serving.”

Olson said the most unusual kind of educational component at the Gardens is the indoor/outdoor classroom. “It's an expensive endeavor to create a space that really complements the outdoors in such a unique way. And I was surprised that we were able to pull that off in such a complicated building,” Olson said.

Director of Exhibitions Art and Learning Engagement Lisa Eldred plans to program the three newer art galleries, which total about 4,000 square feet, to celebrate the way artists are documenting and responding to the natural world.  

“Whether it is the concept of art or the concept of science or education, those aren't nouns. They're meant to be verbs, right?” Eldred said. “You're experiencing, you're making, you're learning, you are educating. A person does science …. And the parallel paths are pretty fascinating. And so really we're focusing on communicating that across disciplines. And that's what I get really excited about. We're not done yet, and there's still a lot we can do.”

The Freyer – Newman Center gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.