Experience the beauty of culture through art

Current McNichols Civic Center Building exhibits run through Dec. 18


“I’ve heard it said that the power of art is like a beating drum; you can feel it in your chest. That’s why people spontaneously cry when seeing certain artworks. It moves you and changes you and you can’t stop it.”

These are the words of Shanna B. Shelby, the chief curator at the McNichols Civic Center Building in Denver. Responsible for bringing artists’ visions to life, Shelby organizes and manipulates the space to help tell an in-depth story.

This season, Shelby has worked diligently with artists to shine light on the beauty and diversity of the human experience, highlighting Native American, Italian and Japanese American artists.

Now through Dec. 18, Denver Arts & Venues will present three new fall exhibitions at the McNichols Civic Center Building, 144 W. Colfax Ave., and a companion exhibit at Buell Theatre, 1350 Curtis St. in Denver. Several exhibition-related events include the fourth event in the Cultural Fashion Runway Series, which celebrates Native American art and fashion.

“I am always looking for diversity in themes, media, artists’ backgrounds and approaches. I believe very strongly in the power that original artwork has to educate, inspire and change people,” said Shelby. “More recently, I have been drawn to some international artists that are doing some really incredible work and pairing them with either national or local artists.”

The historic McNichols Civic Center Building opened in 1909 and serves as the Greek Revival architectural background for contemporary artists to showcase their work. The structure also serves as an entertainment space for various events.

“What’s special about the McNichols Civic Center Building is we are not a museum,” Shelby said. “We are an active community space and when people come here for a workshop, meeting, wedding or gala, they may not be expecting to see such powerful and interesting work, and they are completely surprised and delighted.”

Native American representation is at the forefront of the fall exhibits, highlighting Navajo and Sioux artists and photographical depictions of Native American life. Danielle SeeWalker, member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota, is one of the featured artists. She is a Hunkpapa and Oglala Lakota artist, writer and mother based in Denver.

SeeWalker’s writing is displayed alongside photographer Carlotta Cardana as a part of the Red Road Project. According to the project’s website, it formed in 2013 and aims to document, through words and visuals, the inspiring and resilient stories of native America. The stories, not often told, highlight the people and communities that are taking positive actions and demonstrating resilience.

“I want people to know that we are still here. We are thriving, contributing members of society, and doing brilliant work to combat several attempts of genocide and keeping our cultures alive,” SeeWalker said. “Through The Red Road Project, we are able to exemplify this with real life people and highlight the work that is being done. I want people to be challenged by the stereotypes they may have grown up with or heard about regarding American Indian people and see a different perspective — a much more accurate, resilient and beautiful perspective.”

SeeWalker and Cardana’s exhibition at the McNichols Civic Center Building is a small sampling of an almost decades-long project. SeeWalker is currently working on a tangential project highlighting “urban Natives,” especially in the Denver area as it relates to the Indian Relocation Act of the 1950s and `60s.

“Most people don’t know that the majority (more than 70%) of Native American people live in urban areas,” said SeeWalker. “I am currently interviewing many folks that came to Denver from the reservation during the relocation period. I’m really excited for Carlotta and I to share that work and uncover a history that has been buried for so long.”

In addition to the art exhibitions, Denver Arts & Venues will be hosting an event as a part of their Cultural Runway Series. The show will take place at 7 p.m. on Oct. 15 at the McNichols Civic Center Building. Prior to the event, there will be a culturally inspired vendor fair for attendees to peruse.

The show features Native designers from tribes with historic ties to Colorado and nearby states. Native fashion designers featured on the runway will include Sky Eagle Collection, Sage Mountain Flower, Red Berry Woman and Choke Cherry Creek. This immersive evening will include a special performance by Supaman and a skateboarding interlude.

“I had been thinking for some time that fine art exhibitions are not always approachable or accessible to general audiences. But fashion is immediately accessible — we all wear clothing and the fashion we choose is a way through which express ourselves,” said Shelby. “Fashion design is an expression of art, just like putting paint on a canvas. So, I thought, why don’t we thematically tie the art on the walls to fashion art, and present a runway show? Thus, the Cultural Runway Series was born.”

McNichols Civic Center Building, Red Road Project, Denver, Native American art


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