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Jamie Bennett of ArtPlace America Sees "Complete Ecology of Arts" in Denver

ArtPlace America Executive Director Jamie Bennett visited Denver last week.

Jamie Bennett speaks at Junction Box.

Bennett says the Art District on Santa Fe is as much a family community as an arts destination.

A rhino stands sentry in RiNo.

Bennett was impressed by the high-level collaboration in the Golden Triangle.

Jamie Bennett, executive director of Brooklyn-based ArtPlace America, visited Denver last week. He likes what he saw.

Backed by about 30 foundations, federal agencies, and banks, ArtPlace America has awarded more than $40 million in grants, including 2013 contributions to Junction Box, home to Wonderbound's performance space, and OhHeckYeah in Denver.

Bennett is quick to point out that ArtPlace's grants aren't about art for art's sake -- they overlap with transit, public safety, and other facets of community-building. "The interventions are always arts-related," he says. "The goals are community outcomes."

This being the case, Bennett rarely looks at works of art and judges their aesthetics. "What I care more about is systems and partnerships than actual projects and tactics," he explains.

And that's where Denver shines.A rhino stands sentry in RiNo.

In a whirlwind tour that included stops in three of the city's art districts -- RiNo, the Art District on Santa Fe and the Golden Triangle -- Bennett describes "three different communities and three different ways to develop the arts and communities hand in hand."

He points to the inclusion of non-artistic entities in the RiNo Arts District membership rolls. "It's really become this community organization," says Bennett. "What really struck me about that is the art district has become an organizing principle.

The Art District on Santa Fe's demographics -- over 40 percent of the population in the surrounding La Alma/Lincoln Park neighborhood is under 18 -- stood out.

"Here you have a neighborhood that's developing as a destinations on First Friday, but it's also blooming as a family community," says Bennett. Improving walkability and instigating creative placemaking, is not only for the patrons,  he adds -- it's for the residents.

The Golden Triangle is a different animal "driven by major institutions," but what struck Bennett most was the district's high-level collaboration.

"You have Public Works and Community Planning and Development and hardcore government folks sitting there with artistic leaders," he says. "It means the municipal government and the art community are really in the conversation."ArtPlace America Executive Director Jamie Bennett visited Denver last week.

He commends Denver Arts & Venues' Lisa Gedgaudas and Ginger White Brunetti for their role in catalyzing communication. "They really know their constituents, and know how to translate from artist to bureaucrat and from bureaucrat to artist," he contends.

"Over all, the thing that really impressed me is the complete range and the complete ecology or arts that are thriving," Bennett says. "Whatever you like to participate in the arts, that exists for you in Denver."

He spent a fair amount of his career at the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, D.C., and says the city's arts landscape tends to get overwhelmed by big, national institutions, while Denver "really is the complete spectrum."

Read more articles by Eric Peterson.

Eric is a Denver-based tech writer and guidebook wiz. Contact him here.
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