Visit neighborhoods like open-air galleries

A look at Ratio Beerworks’ commissed piece by Blaine Fontana during a Rebel Tours stop on Sunday, May 20, 2018 in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood. (Sierra Voss, Special to The Denver Post)

A 10-foot-tall cartoon mural of a doofy man walking an awkward fish on a leash hangs over a mass of morning-after millennials crowding into Crema.

Painted by Denver’s Michael Graves, the mural on the chic RiNo cafe is one of dozens of pieces of street art — not graffiti, as Graves would remind me — spattered on the ‘hoods walls, loading docks and food trucks that give it its flavor.

But if these murals are art, what’s their story? Without placards or a curator, appreciating these compositions — or even finding them — can be a challenge.

Enter Cori Anderson, a 27-year-old who last year founded Rebel Tours, a guided showcase of Denver’s fast-growing and criminally underserved street art scene. For $20, Anderson turns Santa Fe, downtown or RiNo into an exhibit, detailing the background of the artists behind these eye-popping works.

Cori Anderson, owner of Rebel Tours, speaking to a tour group on Sunday, May 20, 2018 in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood. (Sierra Voss, Special to the Denver Post)

Anderson traces her interest in the form to a family trip to London, where she saw some of her first graffiti when she was 10.

“It was fascinating to me to go to an art museum, walk outside and find something I thought was even cooler on the street,” she said.

While she may not be a street artist herself — her sole tag was a stencil she spray-painted on a traffic cone as a bored high schooler in Winter Park — Anderson has done enough homework on the scene to gain the ear of Denver’s street art community. A writer for Colorado culture blog 303 Magazine, Anderson estimates she’s written 170 articles on Denver’s art scene, with about 30 of those dedicated to street art.

Last year, a curator at the Denver Art Museum asked her to organize a tour of notable street art for its board members and sponsors. The 75-person group tour solidified as Denver’s unofficial street art whisperer and cut a prototype of what would become Rebel Tours.

As the DAM recognized, Anderson is coming into the scene at the right time.

“Two years ago, it would have been hard to do these tours,” she said. “In the last two years, it’s blown up.”

Graves, the Denver street artist responsible for the mural outside of Crema, concurs. From when he first got into graffiti in the 1990s, Graves said that street art is “the biggest it’s ever been” right now.

(At the same time, graffiti — marking property without the property owner’s permission — is on a downturn citywide, according to Nancy Kuhn, communications director for Denver Public Works.)

Graves said he’s encouraged that enough people would be interested in street art for Rebel Tours to exist.

“The more support for art the better,” he said. “Five years ago, no one would want to do a tour. “It’s gone from doing things in an alley that’s not accepted to having people do tours. That’s a huge leap.”

Anderson wants to take it further. Rebel Tours is just one part of a larger entity she’s founded called the Denver Street Art Network. She wants to use the organization to curate art classes and other events as well as create a cohesive bond among the city’s likeminded artists. The ultimate goal is to draw more eyes to Denver’s overlooked street artists — and maybe attract a few more while she’s at it.

“If I can inspire people to become street artists, I would consider my job well done.”

Primed by its hip demographic, RiNo in particular has become a hot spot for the form. The neighborhood has hosted CRUSH, Denver’s take on Miami’s popular Wynwood Walls street art celebration, since 2010, inviting artists from as far as The Netherlands to bring their prismatic paintings to life on the block. On top of that, local businesses like Infinite Monkey Theorem and Ratio Beerworks have started commissioning their own pieces, catalyzing a street art revolution in the area.

Looking at two huge pieces commissed by Birdcap (left) and Casey Kawaguchi (right) on Sunday, May 20, 2018 in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood. (Sierra Voss, Special to the Denver Post)

Because of the nature of CRUSH, much of the street art only lasts for about a year before it’s scrubbed and painted over. So, we went for a walk with Rebel Tours on a recent Sunday to take in RiNo’s art while it’s here to see.

Anderson began her tour outside of Graves’ Crema mural. In a trendy neighborhood, it’s a relief. The painting feels like a nod of recognition, as if to say, “Yes, it’s OK that your jeans have a permanent mustard stain on them.”

Anderson kept the group moving from cafe to alleyway, explaining slang and the cultural tension in the art form as we went. A tagged-on mural by Beo Hake on Larimer Street spun into a conversation about the tension between the street art establishment and outsider graffiti artists.

No two tours are exactly alike. Anderson will change her path through RiNo depending on how she feels on a given day. And then there are the happy accidents. At one point, construction supervisor Brian Roberts peeled back a chainlink fence to show us a trove of coolly minimalist murals, including works by Inkie, a well-known UK artist that developed along Banksy, the roguish prince of the graffiti world. “I love how much emotion he gets on the squiggly things with so little detail,” Roberts said, wide-eyed.

Later, Anderson lead the group from cafe to brewery, stopping outside of the patio at Ratio Beerworks. A potpourri of shapes splashes across its 20-by-60-foot wall, where colorful polygons and piano keys mingle with a faux-tagged portrait of Louis Pasteur.

The Sunday patio crowd glanced over at us. The group, all Denver twentysomethings, listened to Anderson explain artist Blaine Fontana, clipboard in hand. Despite having stumbled down this block on many a late night, it was hard not to feel like a tourist.

That sounds awkward, and it was. But the way Anderson sees it, we should embrace that feeling.

“I started this tour because I spend a large part of my time wandering around parts of my city trying to make myself feel like a tourist, trying to get lost, because that’s how I see beauty,” she said. “It’s intrinsic to think you know a place because you’ve lived there for years. But if you can rediscover these places, it will make you enjoy them more.”


Cori Anderson showing a Rebel Tours group a piece comissioned by Bruno Smoky. Sunday, May 20, 2018 in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood. (Sierra Voss, Special to the Denver Post)

Denver Street Art Tours

Rebel Tours. Tours explore Denver’s River North, Santa Fe and Downtown neighborhoods. Meeting and ending locations vary. Thurs.-Sun.; times vary. Private tours available upon request. $20. thestreetartnetwork.com

Denver Graffiti Tour is a two-hour walking tour of RiNo street art for $25. Tour features information about the art, artists and parallel stories. Tours begin at 10 a.m on Saturday and Sunday.; dates and information at denvergraffititour.com; 720- 583-5154. For private tours and free mid-week tours for school group: info@denvergraffititour.com.

The Cherry Creek Trail Urban Arts Fund Bike Mural Tour explores murals along the Cherry Creek Trail. The tour meets outside of REI (1416 Platte St.), 2018 dates to come at artsandvenuesdenver.com.

CRUSH festival will return Sept. 3-9 to take over the streets of RiNo with fresh graffiti and street art. crushwalls.org

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