Denver Walls mural fest hopes to reset, expand street-art scene

First impressions can be tricky. We project and make assumptions based on appearance, and those feelings often persist despite new information.

With most art, that’s the point — provoking reaction and discussion, opening new space for expression and, in the case of murals, changing the way we look at outdoor, urban environments.

For this year’s inaugural Denver Walls mural festival, Ally Grimm, the 31-year-old, Denver-based director, is doing everything she can to set the right tone. In addition to curating 17 headlining artists and producing the event, she’s promoting related gallery openings, youth scholarships, and businesses in the River North Art District, across which Denver Walls takes place Sept. 22-Oct. 3.

Julie Chon, a.k.a. Kimchi Juice, is a Korean-American muralist who will visit Denver to paint for the Denver Walls festival in RiNo. (Provided by Julia Chon)
Julie Chon, a.k.a. Kimchi Juice, is a Korean-American muralist who will visit Denver to paint for the Denver Walls festival in RiNo. (Provided by Julia Chon)

“This lineup sets the precedent for how we want to move forward,” Grimm said. “That includes the attention to detail and intention, curating a lineup that’s incredibly diverse and that takes care of everyone equally, and making sure we create opportunities for everyone on the lineup.”

The sprawling event features live painting, self-guided tours of the district’s dozens of murals, parties, workshops, gallery openings, “paint battles,” deals at local watering holes, and more.

Grimm, also an artist who’s part of this year’s fest, said she’s intent on gathering community feedback and using it for future events. She first painted for World Walls in Washington, D.C., and came to believe Denver was ripe for its own version.

“When you travel for art events it can be a really stressful, intense experience. But this was first time I felt catered to. … It’s something I felt the artist community here deserved to have, and I really wanted to bring that same level of care,” Grimm said.

She began discussions with World Walls founder Jasper Wong in early 2022, and decided that a fall 2023 debut would work best.

“It’s a tremendous amount of work to organize and put on a mural festival,” said Julia Chon, a.k.a. Korean-American artist Kimchi Juice. She met Grimm painting at the DC Walls event, and first visited Denver last year for her show at ILA Gallery. “(But) it’s rare to be able to turn every corner and see such an array of talent on the walls.”

Washington, D.C.-based artist Julia Chon, who works under the name Kimchi Juice, is returning to Denver as part of the city's inaugural Denver Walls festival. (Provided by Julia Chon)
Washington, D.C.-based artist Julia Chon, who works under the name Kimchi Juice, is returning to Denver as part of the city’s inaugural Denver Walls festival. (Provided by Julia Chon)

Mural fests, of which there are many these days, tend to have more in common with one another than not. But since Denver Walls comes from a progressive pedigree, its gender and racially diversity feels like a welcome, if indirect, response to the controversy that sank the former Crush Walls Denver festival. In early 2021, that fest’s co-founder Robin Munro was called out by women for alleged sexual assault, as first reported by Denverite, and the event quickly fell apart.

As part of World Walls, Denver Walls is not only a fresh start but a link to something much bigger. And RiNo, which has partially made its name on its color-splashed, wall-sized art, has shown what can happen when businesses, nonprofits and artists pull in the same direction, said RiNo director Charity Von Guinness.

“The fusion of art, technology, and community happening throughout Denver Walls is the perfect showcase for the pioneering spirit that defines both our arts and tech culture here in Denver,” she said in a statement.

Some of this year’s artists have names to match their kaleidoscopic creations. There’s A.L. Grime (director Grimm) and Denver sensation Detour (a globally in-demand muralist), but also Dulk, Faith47, Squidlicker, Lindz & Lamb, Nychos, and Washington, D.C.’s Kimchi Juice (Chon).

Artificial intelligence software, and the recent downfall of cryptocurrency and NFTs, has been an art-world obsession, and justifiably so. But this event isn’t afraid of tech. Murals will sport custom plaques with RFID or QR codes that can be scanned on smartphones to learn more about the artist — and earn points that can be exchanged for fest merchandise, according to a press statement.

Festival partner Illust will provide an “augmented reality sculpture garden” at Mission Ballroom, projection-mapped murals by LightBrush and DSDI, panels and a gallery opening at Redline, and a blockchain scavenger hunt with software developer COZ.

If that sounds like a lot of technobabble, it makes sense on-site. As does the visual impact of seeing larger-than-life beauty framed by concrete against a blue-sky.

“We’re preserving the presence in that moment, and capturing it,” Grimm said of the tech-forward offerings. “It’s the reason I came out here six years from D.C. I was instantly magnetized by the palpable sense of collaboration and community. I love to see art at the center of that growth.”

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