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The free art school on Santa Fe

Denver’s best art walk supports local artists

Photo: Sam Dufour · CU Denver Sentry / Artwork: Jason Cope ‘Return to Sender’

After attending First Friday Art Walks for the first time, aspiring and established artists tend to return to Sante Fe Drive for more.

Stoneworker Loren Lichti, who has been a showcasing artist of the art walk for the better part of a decade, described the event as “art school, without the professors or really steep tuition.”

“People rub off on each other and when you’re in a supportive, creative environment, that rubs off,” said Lichti. He slowly and deliberately carved his statue while speaking. “Around here, when somebody takes a risk and tries something, they’re not afraid to do that because they’re surrounded by people who recognize what they’re doing; if it fails, they don’t feel that pressure of ‘you’ve screwed it up.’”

Fellow artist Ethan Hoekstra, a surrealist landscape painter who paints in the same gallery where Lichti carves, has been attending every art walk for the past seven months.

“You never know who you’re talking to, who you might run into,” Hoekstra said. “When I do talk to artists, we usually swap ideas, swap ways of doing things. Basically, in the community sense, just help each other out.”

In addition to networking at the art walk, Hoekstra uses the event to display his own art and occasionally sell it. “It’s a very random process to which I have not yet found the pattern. Sometimes a painting in the bathroom is more likely to sell than anything out on the walls here.”

Down the street from the Denver Art Society gallery is a small shop called Carol Mier Fashion. In what was once a machine shop, Ms. Mier creates the “art wear” she has been selling at 754 Santa Fe Drive for two decades. Mier agreed with the many visitors and artists that night that the Santa Fe district is the place to be.

“I came here 20 years ago and there were some artists here, but it was more industrial,” Mier said. “I knew it’d be [an up-and-coming] area, so I do what I do. I design everything in here and then I make everything in the back.”

In her own words, Mier was one of the driving forces behind the rise of the art district. “[The art district] is always changing and evolving,” Mier said. “Different artists move in; we get a lot of artists from the coasts and stuff. It’s the biggest art district in the city. And about five years ago we went all over the city and got the art areas designated as art districts so artists could get recognition.”

Mier is largely a self-taught seamstress with a few fine arts classes under her belt. She too benefits from the art walk through sales, but sees just as much value in the event as Hoekstra and Lichti, as a free art school that is open to the public.

With a kind smile and a shop full of intricately designed “art wear,” she reminded her customers that, in her own words, “some of the best people are self-taught.”

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