Advice to major metropolitan areas: If you want to announce to the world that somewhere amid your commercial jungles and residential mishmash is a bonafide arts district, then copy Denver — create an annual event that lets street artists of all types do their thing on buildings and in alleyways in a large designated area. CRUSH Walls, which is in its eighth year, is taking place this week (September 3-9, 2018) in the River North (RiNo) Arts District, just north of downtown.

I chatted with a few of the artists, a couple of whom have had street-art commissions all over the world, and many of whom have long worked in Denver and have made a recognizable stamp on the city’s mural scene. Mostly, I hung out around 36th Street and Cherokee and 27th Street and Larimer — which means I tackled probably a mere third of CRUSH. It literally covers 30 city blocks and encompasses almost 100 artists. By the way, RiNo typically is described as starting in the neighborhoods north of Coors Field and sprawling northwest-ward to the industrial area on the other side of the railroad tracks.

All along the way, I saw a number of dazzling murals that had me in awe over what artists equipped with spray cans, roller brushes, ladders and scaffolding — and bounds of creativity — are able to create on surfaces that can stretch as long as half a city block. I saw a few that didn’t appeal to me, too, but any onlooker is entitled to mixed reactions. The day I visited, people of all ages were ogling the murals and snapping pics of the ones they liked. It was a generally festive vibe — a celebration, perhaps, of  free expression.

“Culture is key to sustainable community growth. By supporting CRUSH, we are proud to be a part of this lively ecosystem here in RiNo.”

Jonathan Alpert, Westfield, as quoted on the official CRUSH WALLS map

There will be few mixed reactions, I gather, from the star of this mural-making binge: Shepard Fairey’s installation on the south wall of Denver Central Market (finished Wednesday, September 5). It’s a towering statement on today’s political and social tensions, erected by an internationally known artist with an unmistakeable style. CRUSH volunteers told me that it will be up probably for a year; Denver tourism officials ought to put it high on the city’s “must-see” list.

If you see this blog post in time, do check out the event. Saturday evening should be especially fun, with a CRUSH Block Party in the Denver Central Market parking lot. It benefits the RiNo Emerging Artist Fund.

Would love to get your comments. Is the event a much-needed boost to Denver’s reputation as an art haven, or are all the murals too much of a good thing?

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