The Year in Culture: Pot concerts, symphony discord, Tarantino, democratizing art and more

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(Photos: CPR File)

In 2014, the Colorado Symphony made bold moves, Denver revived a historic landmark and two Colorado cities laid out visions for their art scenes.

Here are highlights of the biggest developments across the state in 2014:

Denver and Boulder cultural plans

Photo: DPAC 3 - sculpture garden
Denver Performing Arts Complex's (DPAC) sculpture garden along Speer Boulevard.

At the beginning of March, Denver launched “IMAGINE 2020,” the city’s first comprehensive cultural plan since 1989. Some of the plan’s key components include reimagining the Denver Performing Arts Complex (DPAC) and providing residents with better, more equal access to culture.

For the latter, the city implemented a so-called "creative place-making" grant program to take art to the people, called "P.S. You Are Here." Last August, Mayor Michael Hancock announced the first eight projects to receive grants from the $40,000 pool.

In August, Boulder began hosting public forums to gather community input for its cultural plan. The plan will examine the impact of public art and seek new ways to help local artists advance their careers. Boulder officials expect to launch the plan in 2023.

Colorado Symphony

Photo: CSO Boettcher vision
Jerome Kern, Colorado Symphony board president and CEO, lays out the symphony's vision for Boettcher Concert Hall at a press conference.

The Colorado Symphony made its share of headlines in 2014. CEO and board chair Jerry Kern loudly voiced his concerns regarding the fate of the symphony’s downtown home, Boettcher Concert Hall.

In response to Denver’s proposal to raze the 36-year-old venue and replace it with an amphitheater, the Symphony created Build a Better Boettcher, a $40 million campaign to renovate the hall. The Symphony plans to remain in Boettcher Hall, at least through the end of the season, and continues rent negotiations with the city.

The Symphony made a concerted effort to reach new audiences, casting its programming net wider than many other American orchestras. That effort included the Symphony’s Classically Cannabis concert series, which made national headlines. The ensemble is also trying to update the concert-going experience by ditching the traditional tuxedos and allowing alcohol into the concert hall for its Masterworks series.

And the Symphony and CPR announced the end of their 15-year partnership, ceasing the broadcast of Colorado Symphony performances on CPR airwaves as of Nov. 30.

Restored Union Station

Photo: Union Station
Visitors take photos of the exterior of Union Station Saturday, July 26, 2014 during the grand opening celebration.

In July, the newly renovated Union Station opened to the public. The revived structure creates a new cultural focus point downtown and is a storied gateway into the city’s history. In addition to restaurants, shops and bars, the transit hub houses a 600-piece art collection. This includes works by Colorado artists as well as historical artifacts, such as 1940s celebrity trading cards and other items found under the station’s benches during construction.

Colorado Ballet’s new home

In August, the Colorado Ballet got a new home, moving into a renovated 30,000-square-foot facility in Denver's Arts District on Santa Fe. For the first time in its 54-year history, the ensemble owns its space. CPR received an exclusive tour.

New Aspen Art Museum

Photo: Aspen Art Museum 1
Exterior wooden lattice surrounds the news Aspen Art Museum designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban.

The new Aspen Art Museum also opened in August, seven years after its conception. Pritzker Prize-winning architect Shigeru Ban designed the $45 million-dollar building, which looks like a large lattice-surrounded cube. While some people love it, the ski town’s two local papers ran angry letters from residents who disliked the new facility. Shortly after its opening, the Aspen Police Department charged two people for trespassing after Aspen artist Lee Mulcahy offered a $100 reward to anyone willing to climb the museum’s exterior. The museum also received negative feedback from animal rights activists, who were angered by an exhibition involving live tortoises walking around with iPads strapped to their backs.

Chihuly at Denver Botanic Gardens

Photo: Chihuly CAR
Crews work to ensure Chihuly's glass sculptures make it to Denver Botanic Gardens without breaking.

The Denver Botanic Gardens set new attendance records this past year, largely due its exhibition of work by famous glass artist Dale Chihuly. In 2014, 1.4 million people came to the botanic gardens on York Street -- up from around 900 thousand the previous year. When the show closed at the end of November, donors purchased a large-scale Chihuly work for the garden’s permanent collection; it's entitled “Colorado.”

Colorado films

In April, the state legislature increased the budget for the Colorado Film Incentives Program, a tax-rebate program for films produced in Colorado, from $800 thousand to $5 million. This cash incentive may have been what drew famed director Quentin Tarantino to Colorado. In October, San Miguel County gave Tarantino final approval to film his new $44-million dollar western, “Hateful Eight,” in Telluride.

Indie, folk, rock and bluegrass

Esme Patterson
Singer-songwriter Esme Patterson in the CPR Performance Studio

A handful of notable Colorado bands called it quits in 2014. Denver band Thee Dang Dangs and chamber pop group Princess Music both announced they were disbanding in July. In December, three other popular Colorado bands broke up: You Me & Apollo, an Americana band from Fort Collins; Denver indie rockers A Band in Pictures; and Denver pop band the Flashbulb Fires.

In 2014, Denver songsmith Esme Patterson left her band, Paper Bird, to pursue other projects. And the Denver Public Library launched Volume in August. The web service offers streaming and downloading of music by Colorado artists.

We take note as well that the beloved and hugely influential bluegrass band Hot Rize found their way back to the studio after almost a quarter century. Tim O’Brien, Pete Wernick, Nick Forster and Bryan Sutton convened at the eTown headquarters in Boulder, playing old-school style around a single microphone, and released "When I'm Free."


Lori Callahan1
Lori Callahan

The Colorado arts community lost some of its finest this past year. This included Denver theater impresario Henry Lowenstein, 89, who passed away in October. Denver theater also said goodbye to Randy Weeks, the president and director for the Denver Center’s touring division. Singer-songwriter Joe Cocker died Dec. 22 at his ranch in Western Colorado at 70. And Colorado stand-up comic Lori Callahan, who was a 30-year industry veteran, died in February at age 54.