The RiNo Art District is currently playing host to 17 hard-at-work artists creating sprawling murals across the neighborhood. The public art is part of the inaugural Denver Walls, a 10-day, femme-led nonprofit community event.
Running from Sept. 22 through Oct.3, the event features community artists like Detour, Casey Kawaguchi, Anthony Garcia Sr., Tuke and a cornucopia of other local and non-local talent. It aims to bring graffiti art through a wide cultural lens to the people of Denver. Once completed, these large-scale murals will be left as permanent fixtures in the Denver landscape. It also seeks to rehabilitate the Denver art community by replacing a similar annual event, Crush Walls, which held its final festival in 2020. Allegations arose of sexual assault, mistreatment, whitewashing and unethical behavior toward artists by former Crush Walls founder Robin “Dread” Munro.
“Things didn’t end gently,” said Denver Walls Director Ally Grimm, also known as street artist A.L. Grime. “So we’re trying to restart gently.”
In the hole left by Crush Walls, which was once a beloved event in the Denver art scene, Grimm has placed Denver as the 25th city to join the international organization World Wide Walls in its mission of bringing street art to communities around the world. Overarchingly, Grimm says she wanted to make sure Denver Walls was going to be done right, or not at all, which is partially why its debut was postponed in 2022.
Having artists with calming presences in the lineup at Denver Walls this year, Grimm said, was paramount to her. Grimm found inspiration for Denver Walls via World Wide Walls’ operations, citing the intentionality and lack of focus on “hype” as cornerstones of what she wants to help create in Denver.
“[It’s] really just about family and community and bringing artists together to celebrate,” she said. “[It’s] this beautiful kind of art dedication to a city.”
Japanese American artist Casey Kawaguchi, who has painted several murals across the city, recently collaborated with the Japanese Art Network, and is currently working on his own piece for Denver Walls, said the energetic magnetism of Crush Walls—which he participated in in 2020—is what initially drew him to the Denver art scene. But Grimm’s Denver Walls event has left him feeling the “most taken care of” he has ever felt at an art festival.
“[Denver Walls is] really trying to make sure I have everything I need,” Kawaguchi said.
“I think it’s a more powerful thing and a more inspirational thing than we realize when we have this kind of a festival gathering of artists. For us as artists to be able to gather like this and spend time around each other like this and see how each other work, it just pushes our own inspiration and dedication to what we do further. And for me, being able to paint what I paint, and to be able to do that on such a central space, definitely makes me feel appreciated as an artist, and also as a Japanese person.”
Fellow local street artist Anthony Garcia Sr. and Denver Walls participant is the curator of the exhibition “Making our Mark: An Exploration of Vandal Futurism.” The show debuted at the Redline Contemporary Art Center on Sept. 23 as a part of the Denver Walls lineup of events. Garcia said he wants the Denver community to understand how far graffiti and street art have come as art forms.
“A lot of the aesthetics that we’ve grown up with seeing outside on the streets are things that belong in fine art galleries,” Garcia said. “I want to let people know that graffiti is more than just kids tagging or causing destruction; it’s an actual art form and a very broad spectrum.”
Upon exiting the smoke of Crush Walls’ now infamous burn, Grimm wants Denver Walls to represent something fresh and new, whether that be reflected in the very intentionally curated lineup of artists, a commitment to representing diversity—Grimm wants “people walking on the street [to be able to] see themselves in at least one wall”—or the guarantee of fair treatment and fair compensation for every one of the artists involved.
“[I wanted to] make sure that we have considered the human element of this every step of the way,” Grimm said. “We as an organization give all of our artists full creative freedom with all of their work, and so I hope that when people stand in front of every piece, they know that it really is a little piece and a little soul of that artist.”
Grimm wants the Denver community to recognize and take home with them the understanding of what these art pieces mean for the community’s artistic future, especially given its fraught past in recent years related to Crush Walls.
“I hope people can really treasure that we have these really special moments and these artists living with us [in these Denver murals] forever, or at least for a long time,” she said.
This year’s Denver Walls festival will continue through Oct. 3 with daily events such as the Secret Walls Paint Battle and the Tools for the Creative Life panel and workshop sprinkled in.
“We put a lot of thought into making sure that every single thing we do with the festival gives back to the community in some way,” Grimm said. “And that pays us back tenfold, just because that’s who it’s for. And we’re stoked on it.”
Perhaps the most captivating part of the Denver Walls festival the Denver community will find itself experiencing in the coming days is the passion, joy, and dedication embodied by Grimm and her lineup of artists as they work to heal the Denver art scene one gently wielded spray paint can at a time.
I think there’s a lot of growth and healing that can happen in the community, and we can’t really control how people choose to find that in themselves,” said Grimm. “We can only just gently make space for it.”