At one point in time, graffiti was considered a faux pas, a destructive defacing of cities and public buildings. Some murals were politically charged and anti-establishment, a way for rebels to quietly protest, while physically leaving their mark on the city. It was art with a powerful message that started as an underground subculture.
Sometime during this millennium though, a curious thing happened. Street art evolved into a genre accepted by the masses, worth being explored, photographed, and even commemorated in museums. It’s not necessarily highbrow couture, but it is respected. The Tate Modern in London opened the world’s first exhibit dedicated to solely street art in 2008 and people like Banksy became household names.
Street art has completely changed the way we travel. Instead of seeking out historic landmarks, whimsical millennials seek out colorful murals and rainbow desserts to practice their photography, promising to garner Instagram likes and follows. The world became a canvas and cities with extensive street art scenes suddenly became cool.
Denver is one of those places and embraces public art as a way to beautify the city. In fact, 1% of any capital construction project over $1 million dollars must go towards public art; ensuring the city’s collection of street art and sculptures is continually expanding.
With more than 100 new murals popping up last summer alone, drive down any of the main thoroughfares – Broadway, Colfax, or Santa Fe — and you’ll be greeted with a modern city awash in color. The vast majority can be found in RiNo (River North) between the 25th and 31st blocks of Larimer Street, Denver’s most conspicuous example of neighborhood gentrification. Warehouse conversions, boxy construction, patterned designs, and sculptures paint a cheery façade on a downtown that’s growing far beyond its britches. Is it covering up a larger problem? Maybe, but it is also adding to Denver’s curb appeal and that’s a debate for another day. Take the art at face value and enjoy the creativity.
Here are a few of my favorite pieces to look out for:
CRUSH Walls – 10th Anniversary Festival
New murals are added every year after the CRUSH Arts Festival in early September. Standing for Creative Rituals Under Social Harmony (yeah, it’s deep), artists spend a week beautifying the city and adding new murals to the RiNo district. Since this was their 10-year anniversary, a ton of new pieces were added, some of which you can see below.
Now that you know where they are, how do you get the best street art photos?
When shooting murals, a little pre-planning goes a long way. Think about what you’re going to wear and bring. Bright, sold colors generally compliment the art, while busy patterns may clash. It’s always a good idea to pack 1-2 outfit changes to see what looks best (that’s a pro Insta tip) and accessories like hats and umbrellas to compliment the design.
There’s a debate as to whether posed or unposed shots look better. My thought? Just take a bunch and see which turns out the best. If you have an iPhone, leave Live Photo on so you can view different keyframes and have even more options to choose from. Since I normally travel solo, a tripod and remote are how I get most of my shots (random strangers usually don’t result in good photos and aren’t always around).
Always check the weather before you head out. Lighting is the #1 photo killer so harsh midday sun (or inclement weather) can be a buzzkill. Considering most street art is in busy commercial areas, parking lots or otherwise, it’s always a good idea to visit on off-peak hours, either early in the day or late in the day and during the week over the weekend. There will almost always be some type of obstacle that you can’t prepare for from people staring to cars and construction cones (once I even had a surprise porta potty) so often times you simply have to play the waiting game (I’ve have to return to the same place multiple times to capture some of these).
Don’t get frustrated, just use it as motivation and celebrate when you finally do get that one perfect shot. Also, while you do want to visit at off-peak hours, some of these are in areas that could be considered sketchy so be aware of your surroundings and stay vigilant about traipsing through alleys by yourself – bring a buddy if possible.
- Looking for a hotel in the area? Here’s my recommendation
- For more on Denver’s street art scene, check out this post from Visit Denver.
- For the most Instagrammable dishes in Denver, read this tasty post.
- Want to see them all? Book a street art walking tour.
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