Denver street artist Jolt.

(Photo: Courtesy of Bimmer Torres)

When Westword approached Jolt to guest curate the 2015 Artopia, his first reaction was to rebuild the whole thing from scratch.

“Naturally, I like to turn things upside down and look at them in a different way,” he said. “I wanted to supercharge it and bring it more into not just being a party but being more appreciated in the arts realm.”

So the Denver street artist and GuerillaGarden founder turned to more than 40 different Colorado artists and musicians for contributions to the showcase, which will run alongside the Whiteout Fashion Show on Saturday at Denver’s City Hall club.

“It’s an abundance of art set in the environment of celebration,” says Jolt, who spoke with CPR News about his vision for the annual event.

CPR: How did you get involved with Artopia as a guest curator this year?

Jolt: I’ve had a relationship with Westword for a long time. They called and asked my opinion about Artopia, and I suggested that I curate it. It’s something I’ve done over and over again, and it comes easy to me. I’m a Denver native, and I’ve been creating public art in the city for about 20 years. I’ve worked with the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs and museums like Museo de las Americas, the Denver Art Museum and the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. I’ve shown work at galleries like Blackbook and the Chicano Humanities & Arts Council. I also operated the GuerillaGarden warehouse for six years, where we threw parties and art shows. So my background is all over.

CPR: You’re incorporating art in a way that involves the five senses. How will that work?

Jolt: The only framework for the event was that I had five rooms. When approaching any big public art piece, I always simplify it. How do I get across and convey all this energy and information in the simplest form? So I broke down each room into a sense because everyone experiences art on a different level. The first room of the venue has an over-stimulation of visual projections. Outside of that room, you’ll have a minimum of five to six different artists and musicians working toward the same goal of engaging different senses. Taste, for example, is through food vendors and chefs. For the sense of smell, I got a bunch of cannons that will shoot flowers and other art. There will also be opportunities for patrons to create art and to be canvases and become art. I want people to be part of the experience.

CPR: How did your background as a graffiti and street artist inform your approach?

Jolt: I come from the underground of Denver. I do a lot of commercial work, but I still resonate with the underground. When you put a title like “Westword’s Artopia” on something, you get underground artists that aren’t necessarily sold on that. They want to be the outcasts and keep it real. And it is a good thing to be “anti-” sometimes. Now I find myself on the other side of things curating the event. So how do I still incorporate these radical artists? How can we get a little deeper with this and make a statement? So we have a group that plans to infiltrate and disrupt Artopia. It’s a great art piece, and unannounced to them: it’s Artopia funding it.

CPR: Tell us about a couple of the artists you selected and why they excite you?

Jolt: I was looking for people with a real passion for their work and who are movers and shakers. Their style of art was not the first thing I even thought about. As a matter of fact, being from the street scene, the last guys I called were the ones from the graffiti scene.

When you talk about creative ideas and forward thinking in Denver, I think of Leon Gallery. So I brought on Eric Dallimore, who always has his ear to the ground. He played a bigger role helping me out with Artopia and I also told him to do whatever he wants with his art.

We also have Saints and Sinners Car Club. People might not acknowledge them as artists, but where I come from I’ve seen the way people can turn a classic American vehicle into a show-quality piece of artwork. So there’s a car show right out front. And some of the cars are connected to pieces in the gallery, like one by Cholo, who is also a photographer from Pueblo. I’m trying to make this connection between both realms with work that’s on the street and in the gallery.

Barth Quenzer is a phenomenal painter and Brown International Academy art teacher who won a Milken Educator Award in 2012. I think he embodies the educational component and the idea of always pushing yourself as a creative. He’s not an art teacher who just sits behind a desk and speaks about art. When he gets off work, he goes to his studio and he paints. He’s tuned in to the future of art.

CPR: How has Artopia changed this year under your guidance?

Jolt: Right off the bat, I tore up the rules. I told them to bring the art back to Artopia. It’s the same format, but the art will be showcased in a different way and the music will be more incorporated with the art. There will be this incredible amount of synergy. I felt like it was cool in the past, but it had some elements that seemed a little hokey. I wanted to supercharge it and bring it more into not just being a party but being more appreciated in the arts realm. I hope people get a strong sense of our city’s arts and culture and that they are inspired to go out and try to replicate what we do.

Artopia takes place at Denver’s City Hall club on Saturday, Feb. 21.