Denver Public Art Free Artwork Around City

big-blue-bear-denver-sculptureThe City of Denver has an ambitious public art program. Initiated more than a decade ago, the City and County of Denver public arts program requires that all construction and infrastructure projects over a certain dollar amount set aside one percent of the overall budget in order to purchase and erect public art around the city. An unforeseen consequence of the 1% to public art rule has been the creation of some enormous public works of art as developers sought to fulfill the city mandate with a single piece of sculpture or other outdoor art. The result is a city full of large public sculptures that may be viewed for free around the city.

Free Art for Families, Visitors, and Tourists

The City of Denver offers a Guide to Public Art to help families find and see free artworks to help inspire children and adults alike while also providing fun free stuff to do in Denver. Visitors and tourists will be equally impressed by the wide variety of free sites to see in Denver. Seeing all of the public works of art in Denver could be a whole day itinerary for travelers to Denver looking for some fun, free, sightseeing in the city.

Free Sites To See In Denver – Art

The best known public art sculpture in Denver has become the city’s unofficial mascot. The giant blue bear looking through the windows into the Denver Convention Center appears to be leaning on the glass wall of windows trying to get a peak inside at the events happening in the Convention Center.

The official name of the big blue bear at the Convention Center sculpture is I See What You Mean, a title just as playful as the enormous bear sculpture.  The street the blue bear sculpture is on is 14th Street outside of the main entrance of the Denver Convention Center. Of course, the bear can be viewed from the outside of the Convention Center by passers by walking down 14th St. or even by those in cars driving by. (Open your sunroof or moon roof for an even better view as you drive by. Just pay attention to the road and don’t get into any accidents.)

Other well known public sculptures in Downtown Denver are the giant dancers outside of the Denver Performing Arts Complex along Speer Boulevard, and the horse on the giant red chair outside of the Denver Public Library downtown branch and easily seen from the north entrance of the Denver Art Museum. These Denver landmarks are titled Dancers, and The Yearling, respectively.

For more information on Denver’s public art get a copy of the Downtown Guide to Denver Artwork.

Denver Art Museum

The Denver Art Museum is located in the heart of Downtown Denver next to the downtown branch of the Denver Public Library and just a block from the Denver City and County Building, the Colorado State Capital, and Civic Center Park. The museum is occasionally referred to in print as DAM, though never in spoken conversation. It houses several permanent art collections as well as touring or temporary exhibits.

Denver’s art museum has a large collection of Western art, as well as African art, Pacific or Oceanic art, and a respectable modern art collection as well. While the museum cannot compare to the large museums in New York or California, it does have much to offer those interested in art. For those looking for "brand name" or "bit hit" paintings from well known artists such as Monet, Picasso, and Rembrandt, there are a few, but not huge collections, and virtually none that you would recognize from the poster shop in the local mall.

The museum’s contemporary art collection is both worthy and fun. It is bit more accessible than other modern art collections around the country and provides plenty of eye candy as well as the requisite number of "is that really art" pieces.

Denver Art Museum Hours and Prices

The art museum is closed on Mondays, which confuses plenty of visitors.

It is open during the rest of the week at 10:00 am except for Sundays when it opens at noon. The art museum closes at 5:00 pm everyday except Friday when the southern Hamilton Building is open until 10:00 pm. (the North Building still closes at 5:00 pm.)

Denver Art Museum admission costs $10 for Colorado Residents and $13 for everyone else.

Kids under 5 are free and children from 6 to 18 are $3 for residents, $5 for everyone else.

Parking is available in the parking garage next to the museum just to the East. However, getting into the garage is not intuitive. The entrance to the parking garage is on the southern side off of the street a block south of the road that actually goes to the museum and under the bridge that separates them. The rate is comparable to the parking meters if you stay longer than an hour, but remember that Denver parking meters are free on Sundays.

Denver Art Museum Restaurant

There is good news and bad news when it comes to eating at the DAM.

The good news is that Palettes is a wonderful fine dining restaurant inside and has plenty of great food including a Portobello Mushroom Sandwich that eats like a steak sandwich. It’s part of the Kevin Taylor Restaurant Group, and in the summer at noontime, you might need a reservation, or you’ll end up waiting a half hour or so.

The bad news is that there is no cafe style eatery with sandwiches or a quick bite to eat on the go. That means there is no place for the kids to get a sandwich or juice box and sit for a rest.

Back outside an across the plaza is a Mad Greens eatery. They have sandwiches, but as the name implies, this isn’t a cheap quick bite place with a ham and cheese waiting for your kiddos. They have soups, salads and paninis as their main offerings. Think Panera Bread if it were focused on the salads with the sandwiches as the secondary offering instead of vice versa and you have a pretty good idea.

There are a couple of coffee stands inside the museum. They serve Nolo Coffee which is very good, so your latte fix is ready and waiting.


Denver Art Museum Buildings

The Denver Art Museum is comprised to two buildings linked together via a second story bridge over the street below. The original building was designed by Italian architect Gio Ponti and resembles a stone castle. The new building is the gray triangles one. The much cooler multicolored building you may notice is the central branch of the Denver Public Library.

The newer building is an angular set of gray triangles that sounds much better in its description than it actually looks like. Designed by Daniel Libeskind the and known as the Hamilton Building, the southern museum building screams, "Look at me! I am fresh and original and designed by a world renowned architect!" As with anything that begs for attention, not all of what it receives is good. The building would undoubtedly be widely regarded as folly if not for having a famous architect’s name attached to it, which may be why the museum reminds everyone who designed it at every chance.

What Was Described denver-art-museum-hamilton-building-conception


What It Really Looks Like denver-art-museum-building-picture

Ironically, the design and the resulting interior actually suggests that the building was designed by an inexperienced amateur. The supposedly light refracting gray panels that cover the museum’s exterior do nothing of the sort. The museum could have saved a lot of money by just using plain gray panels. Inside, the angular walls required the installation of raised floor panels, painted to match the walls, in order to keep visitors from banging their heads on walls that start five feet away at floor level but protrude into even a shorter visitor’s headspace thanks to their extreme angle. For a building that is supposed to have you looking at the works of art instead of watching your head, it seems an amateurish choice.

Even more bizarre is that the museum is forced to continuously improvise new ways to display their artworks since simply hanging a frame on a 45 degree angle wall provides neither a suitable way to hang heavy artworks, nor a usable way to view them.

Denver City Layout

Which Way Is North?

Getting your bearings in most cities can be a challenge. In Denver, and anywhere along the Front Range for that matter, finding North, South, East, and West is as easy as finding the mountains. The Rocky Mountains are to the West.

If you are ever lost or confused, just take a minute to look around. Find the mountains; that is west. You can take it from there.

(For the super directionally challenged, if you are looking West, North is to the right, and South is to the left. East is behind you.)

Denver City Streets

Like most cities, Denver has a network of streets crisscrossing its downtown area. Unlike, most cities, those streets are not always laid out on a North-South and East-West axis.

denver-street-layout-graphicMany of Denver’s downtown streets are laid out diagonally, more on a Northeast to Southwest and Northwest to Southeast type grid. The reason for this unusual layout?

Early on in Denver’s history, the streets were actually laid out so that if you looked down the street (to the Southwest) you would see Pikes Peak. The name streets are laid out in this direction. They are crossed at the standard 90 degrees by the numbered streets. This arrangement was abandoned later, but not before Denver ended up with a “weird” layout for almost all of its downtown streets. It also makes for some interesting intersection where the “normal” North-South/East-West streets meet their diagonal counterparts.

Numbered Streets

The numbered streets in Downtown Denver run from lower numbers to the south toward higher numbers to the north.  Thus, 14th Street is south of 15th Street.

The crossing streets are named streets. These streets do not progress according to any external order. (They are not alphabetical, for example).

Denver Landmark Locations

A handful of Denver Landmarks and Attractions make for useful directional landmarks.

The Pepsi Center, home of the Colorado Avalanche and Denver Nuggets, is in the Southwest corner of downtown, while Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies, occupies the Northwest corner.

The Denver City and County Building and the Colorado State Capitol building flank Civic Center Park on the eastern edge of downtown.

About Denver

The City and County of Denver is Colorado’s largest city, as well as the capital city of Colorado.

Denver is known as the Mile High City because it’s elevation is 1 mile above sea level. There are many Denver attractions that mark the spots where the elevation is exactly 5280 feet. The 13th step of the Colorado State Capital Building, and the purple row of seats inside Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies, are two examples.

History of Denver

Like many cities in the West, Denver got its start as a gold mining camp after prospectors discovered gold where the South Platte River and Cherry Creek meet. The mining camp grew into a major city in the area thanks to the railroads.

Denver Population

The US Census Bureau pegs Denver’s population at 598,707. However, most people would consider the city to be much larger. While Denver’s official boundaries contain just under 600,000 residents, this reflects a law which prevented Denver from annexing any new land, thus, artificially limiting its size. The surrounding area, known as the Denver Metro Area, has closer to 2 1/2 million people.

Denver Weather

Modern technology obscures Denver’s semi-arid climate. The area averages just 13 inches of total precipitation each year. While the city does get snow in the winter, most storms pack less than an inch or two of accumulation. Most of the time, the snow melts away the next day, sparing Denver the slush and grayness that can plague other wintry cities.

While spring Thunderstorms can be powerful, Denver’s location next to the Rocky Mountains spares it from most of the severe weather, particularly tornadoes, that is common in its neighbors to the east.

Together, these factors provide for very sunny conditions, regardless of temperature, throughout the year. Denver boasts of 300 days of sunshine a year. Don’t let that fool you into thinking the weather is always the same, though. A favorite saying of the locals is, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.”

Denver Geography

Denver sits just to the east of the Rocky Mountains, known throughout the region as “The Rockies.” The mountains do not rise abruptly out of the plains. Rather, a ridge of hills in front of the Rocky Mountains runs from North to South. These hills are called the foothills and are often mistaken for the Rockies that lie behind.

The hills in the front are typically more purple while the mountains behind tend toward blue. The tallest mountain peaks visible from Downtown Denver, like Pikes Peak and Longs Peak have snow on them year round (it’s the white that you see).

Denver does sit in a slight depression which can result in hazy days when the air is calm and the temperatures are right, often resulting in what is called an inversion.

Otherwise, Denver’s sunny skies often seem unusually blue to visitors. This isn’t your imagination, there is less atmosphere at 5200 feet which makes the sun brighter and the skies bluer. It also makes it easier to get sunburned!

Where to go in Denver?