While on book tour in Denver, I spent the day at the Denver Art Museum, and I was blown away — not only by the art (which was fabulous), but by the atmosphere. This museum buzzes with energy and brings art to life through compelling stories. I have hundreds of reasons why I think you should make a trip to this museum, but I forced myself to narrow it down to my top 11:
Kids, 18 and under, enter the museum for FREE. The museum was packed with kids, running around, laughing, pointing at art. It was invigorating. Too often, museums are too quiet — people whispering, pointing at a painting from a distance as though art is something to be revered or even feared. But this museum was alive with youthful energy. It’s so important to attract kids early — get them young, and they will engage in art for a lifetime.
DAM boasts several hands-on studios where kids and adults can paint or work with thread and beads. I love this interactive element. This isn’t a museum that keeps you at a distance. It demands that you to engage. I think this kind of interaction is key to helping people understand art and relate to it. Plus, it’s fun!
On a similar note, every Saturday and Sunday from noon to 3 PM you can stop by the paint studio to see a real artist work. Too often, we put art up on such a pedestal that we forget real human beings sit down and make it; they work, they struggle, they fight for their creativity. Seeing that process — in the flesh — helps us all relate to the creative process and inspires us to sit down and make art of our own.
The permanent collection ranges from African, Asian, Modern… Of course, I am partial to the Renaissance Room (since my debut novel, Oil and Marble, is set during Italian Renaissance), but the collection was large (it spans 7 floors in the North Building) and is filled with all kinds of unexpected treasures, from a Madonna and Child by a follower of Leonardo da Vinci to a unique story in heirloom blankets by Marie Watt.
5: All those Nooks and Crannies
One of my absolute favorite parts about DAM — and something that I don’t see enough of in other museums — is that around every corner, there was a cozy place to sit quietly, entertain your kids, or settle in a comfy chair to contemplate art. This museum doesn’t make you feel like you have to stand until your feet go numb, sit quickly on an uncomfortable bench, or rush through rooms… It invites you to settle in and spend some quality time surrounded by beauty.
Samurai (on now through June 5th) tells the story of Japanese samurai from the 1100s to the 1800s through a magnificent collection of armor and accessories. But it wasn’t just the artifacts that impressed me — this exhibit recreated the entire world of the samurai. I felt like I had been transported to another time and space. And every exhibit I saw at the DAM gave me a similar experience of being completely immersed in a whole new world.
I’ve heard of an “artist-in-residence,” but the Denver Art Museum takes this concept a step further by hosting creative people from a range of disciplines to produce work inspired by the museum. These creatives aren’t just painters or sculptors — they are composers, speech language mythologists, floral designers and tech-heads. The mission of this program is to “push the notions of what a museum can be.” I love this because as the world changes, museums must change, too — and this program gives this museum a chance to expand the definition of art itself.
I’m not a big shopper (okay, I’m not a shopper at all), but the DAM’s museum shops even made me want to slow down and browse. Yes, there was the typical museum shop fare: trinkets, books, jewelry, but many of the items here were works of art in and of themselves. If I lived in Denver, I think this would become my favorite gift-buying spot.
This is one of my favorite museum programs I have ever encountered. Each month, the museum teams up with local creatives to offer up late night workshops, performances, and special tours. Coming up are nights exploring dangerous occupations, samurai spectaculars, dance-offs and — one of my favorites, of course — the glory days of the Renaissance.
10: Downtown Denver
As long as you’re at the museum, you can take time to explore all of downtown Denver. The State Capitol, 16th Street pedestrian mall, Denver University, the Molly Brown House — all are within easy walking distance. This museum is interconnected with the rest of the city — physically at the center of things, but it’s also the artistic heart and soul of the Colorado capitol.
11: Storytelling is King
Whether you are visiting the Audacious exhibit featuring contemporary artists, the extensive Western American Art permanent collection, or one of the museums phenomenal educational programs, good storytelling rules at DAM. And this — to me — is the most important element of the museum. You won’t feel suffocated by facts or weighted down by boredom. This museum strives to tell great stories — to engage, enlighten, and inspire every visitor.
These are MY favorite things about the Denver Art Museum.
What are yours?
*Featured Image at top of post: Photo by Jeff Wells. Courtesy of the Denver Art Museum.