By their very nature, gardens are local, since the plants grow in the soil where they are planted and produce flowers, food, seeds,or simply shade. But as local becomes the new green, the Denver Botanic Gardens
are featuring everything from sculpture to food that originates in Colorado.
"It's about being in the right place at the right time," says Brian Vogt, Executive Director of the Denver Botanic Gardens. By this he means that the gardens' long-term rebranding and master plan are aligned with current values of growing local food, better nutrition, sustainability and championing anything local from native plants to artists.
"Our core idea is a single word: flourish," says Vogt. "I've built all our programs around those core values and it's being communicated to the outside world."
There has been an investment of over $50 million in new assets to the Denver Botanic Gardens in the past six years and it appears to be paying off. "We are growing really dramatically," he adds. "We have doubled membership in about five years and nearly doubled attendance to over 800,000 last year and we are the fifth most visited botanic gardens in the country."
The not-so-secret garden “Knot and Kneedle”, with “All Diamonds” in the center and “Seeing Around the Thorn Vine”, at rear, created by James Surls.
Vogt is not able to attribute a single reason for the increasing popularity of the gardens, but the annual sculpture shows are definitely near the top of the list.
"It's definitely allowed us to expand our audience," says Lisa Eldred, Director of Exhibitions at the Denver Botanic Gardens. "Visual art has made the most noticeable impact and we have grown that attendance."
That said, there have been -- and continue to be -- significant changes to the gardens in recent years including the creation of the new Mordecai Children's Garden and expanded parking lot, Hosokawa Bonsai Pavilion & Tea Garden, a new greenhouse complex and Marnie's Orchid Pavilion, and much more that might be attracting new visitors like bees to a spring blossom.
This year visitors to the gardens will be drawn not by a single artist, but by a dozen. Catalyst: Colorado Sculpture opens on May 4 at the Denver Botanic Gardens.The exhibit is intentionally timed with the Biennial of the Americas
taking place in Denver this summer.
"For a number of reasons we wanted to look to artists that had ties to Colorado," she says. "We want to give folks a chance to learn what's significant in our region."
Sculptors who will have work in the exhibit are Emmett Culligan, Kim Dickey, Linda Fleming, Nancy Lovendahl, Terry Maker, Robert Mangold, Patrick Marold, Andy Miller, Pard Morrison, Carl Reed, Yoshitomo Saito and James Surls.
There will be 20 works on display form these 12 artists, including some original pieces made specifically for this exhibit and created onsite.
"Artwork in the landscape changes the understanding of that natural environment without necessarily changing or altering it," says Eldred.
Not only will the artists being creating and displaying their work, but two artists at a time will take a group of twenty guests on private tours of the show. "We want it to foster conversation around the art rather than have it be this is the only way to understand what you see in front of you," Eldred explains.
And the exhibit will be up through Jan. 12, 2014, giving the sculptures another dimension. "We can see all four seasons with work in the garden and the changing environment around the works," she says.
“Spiral Dance” by Nancy Lovendahl.Community supported…art?
Catalyst is not the only way the Denver Botanic Gardens is involved in supporting local art.
"We have also launched an innovative community supported art program," says Eldred. "We looked at the CSA model like we have at Chatfield and people buy a share, in this case buy a share and receive 9 different artworks over the course of a season."
CSA is typically short for Community Supported Agriculture, in which people become paying members and assume a risk with the farmer that the crops will grow each season in return for the crop yields on a predetermined schedule. Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield is an historic working farm in Jefferson County and includes a five-acre vegetable garden CSA program.
The unique art program, Community Supported Art Colorado
, was created in partnership with the Denver Botanic Gardens and the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art
For $400, people who join CSArt get the opportunity to support emerging Colorado artists and grow their personal art collection. The artworks are done in a range of media and are presented in threes at three different events throughout the year where shareholders get to meet the artists and learn more about their inspiration and process. The first event takes place at the Denver Botanic Gardens on May 16. There are a limited number of shares in CSArt available, with fewer than 25 left at press time.