Cherry Creek Arts Fest helps de­velop new col­lec­tors

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Ray Mark Ri­naldi

Step out of the white cube, by­pass the pre­cious mer­chan­dis­ing and the con­found­ing prices, shut down the fast talk of deal­ers who quickly size up your wealth and savvy while star­ing at you through over­sized eye­glasses and it’s easy to see what the art busi­ness really is: re­tail.

Some­body sells a prod­uct and some­one else buys it. Art gal­leries are just Wal­marts with bet­ter light­ing, and they play an equally im­por­tant role in a city’s econ­omy — they keep cash flow­ing and put food on the ta­ble for lo­cal fam­i­lies.

That makes the things that hap­pen there not so dif­fer­ent from the com­merce that takes place each July at the Cherry Creek Arts Fes­ti­val. Only Cherry Creek is more fun for most peo­ple, be­cause there’s beer and mu­sic and face­paint­ing and not a lot of pre­tend.

Still, the fest, with its $3 mil­lion in an­nual sales, plays a cru­cial role in the art eco-sys­tem. When the painters, photograph­ers and sculp­tors staffing the booths at the fest get it right, when they ease new­com­ers into art buy­ing, trade their wares at de­cent rates and pro­duce sat­is­fied cus­tomers, they groom new con­sumers who feel a lot more com­fort­able pur­chas­ing art.

The artists are keenly aware of the op­por­tu­ni­ties the fest presents, both for them­selves and their in­dus­try. And they know they’re on the front lines, welcoming folks with lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence into the world of col­lect­ing.

“As some­one who is stand­ing there, putting your­self out there, the de­sire is to make sales — but you also want peo­ple to come in and be blown away and ex­cited and see some­thing they wouldn’t nor­mally see,” said artist Dolan Geiman.

Geiman, whose home stu­dio is in En­gle­wood, is a fest reg­u­lar and one of its most pop­u­lar artists. He’s been in the fair world since he was a kid, tag­ging along with his mother, who spent years set­ting up her paint­ings at art fairs. Later, he fol­lowed her into the busi­ness with his own work. “I’m from a fam­ily of art-show car­neys,” he jokes, un­der­scor­ing the sales­man­ship an artist needs to

close deals on the fly.

He does well for sev­eral rea­sons, though pri­mar­ily be­cause of his art, a com­bi­na­tion of pa­per col­lage and metal col­lage that he cre­ates by as­sem­bling tiny scraps of ma­te­rial, culled from found ob­jects — vintage magazines, posters, signs and other things — into pic­tures of bears, wolfs, moose and var­i­ous forms of wildlife. He also makes edgier pieces that por­tray, among other things, gui­tars or gun-tot­ing “cow­girls.”

They’re col­or­ful, rep­re­sen­ta­tional and, per­haps most im­por­tant in Colorado, very West­ern. Peo­ple like them.

They also like Geiman, who talks frankly about his pieces — again and again and again — to a siz­able por­tion of the 350,000 peo­ple who wan­der through the fair each year.

“I like to ex­plain my process,” he said. “There’s no magic to it. It’s a phys­i­cal, ex­tremely ob­ses­sive thing I do,” he said.

When he chats about the hours of la­bor that each of his col­lages re­quire, about search­ing out and stor­ing raw ma­te­rial, cut­ting things up and shap­ing them, and then painstak­ingly as­sem­bling thou­sands of small bits to cre­ate his im­pres­sive scenes, cus­tomers start to un­der­stand why art is priced the way it is, “why for five grand or ten grand it makes sense,” he said.

But he’s of­ten start­ing from scratch, with con­sumers who have never pur­chased a se­ri­ous piece of art be­fore. It’s hard work.

And that’s on top of the phys­i­cal de­mands of staffing a booth for three straight days, af­ter spend­ing a full day pitch­ing a tent, erect­ing walls to hang art on and — the whole time — wor­ry­ing about the weather.

“What you get is a piece of as­phalt to set up on,” said Geiman.

And artists pay for the priv­i­lege. The Cherry Creek Arts Fes­ti­val is ju­ried and com­pet­i­tive — more than 2,000 artists ap­plied for the 265 spots awarded this year across 13 me­dia cat­e­gories, rang­ing from jew­elry to ce­ram­ics to fiber to print­mak­ing. But they still rent their booth spaces, last year at $800 to $925 each.

In re­turn, they get to keep all the money they pull in from sales, which can av­er­age $12,500 per artist.

It’s not for ev­ery artist, es­pe­cially those who are not great at talk­ing to the kind of cus­tomers who of­ten start the con­ver­sa­tion with a line like, “I could do that my­self.” For a lot of artists, Geiman said, “If they haven’t done it be­fore, they hate it.”

“You’ve got to wade through a lot to get to the other side.”

It helps that the fair is so pop­u­lar in Den­ver. Cus­tomers do show up, even when it rains, Geiman notes.

“Peo­ple here are just tough,” said Geiman, who shows around the coun­try. “They’re used to be­ing out­side and be­ing in the moun­tains.”

And in 2019, the crowds could be big­ger than ever. The fair has been work­ing hard to add a ma­jor con­cert as an attraction to the weekend. This year, there’s a Sat­ur­day night event fea­tur­ing Grammy-win­ning hip-hop band Ar­rested De­vel­op­ment.

Tick­ets for the show, which is sponsored by Janus Hen­der­son In­vestors, are $22, rel­a­tively low for a big-name con­cert, and the pro­ceeds go to the fest’s year­round arts ed­u­ca­tion ef­forts.

In ad­di­tion, there will be food booths and a Stella Ar­tois Beer Gar­den set up on Fill­more Street, and there’s an art-fram­ing ser­vice on site.

Ev­ery­thing else at the fest is free, in­clud­ing ad­mis­sion, and there’s free park­ing at the Cherry Creek Shop­ping Cen­ter nearby.

There are plenty of other de­tails — in­clud­ing the lo­ca­tion of bike park­ing lots — on the web­site.

John Sadler, pro­vided by the Cherry Creek Arts Fes­ti­val

Above: The Cherry Creek Arts Fes­ti­val draws about 350,000 peo­ple over three days each year.

Randy Pa­ri­etti, pro­vided by Dolan Gie­man

Right: Dolan Geiman cre­ates pa­per and metal col­lages by as­sem­bling scraps from vintage magazines, posters, signs and other raw ma­te­ri­als.

Joanne Vaughn, pro­vided by the Cherry Creek Arts Fes­ti­val

The Cherry Creek Arts Fes­ti­val fea­tures 265 artists in a range of dis­ci­plines, plus food, mu­sic and fam­ily ac­tiv­i­ties.

Paul Au­gust Win­ner, pro­vided by Dolan Geiman

Dolan Geiman in his En­gle­wood stu­dio.

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