Watching the Watchers

April 1997

Denver is widely known as a sports-crazy town, but its real passion is for the arts. Economic studies consistently find that more area residents attend cultural events each year than show up for all the Rockies, Broncos, Nuggets, and Avalanche games combined.

But unlike sports, deciding which of the area’s many arts options are worthy of our hard-earned dollars is a lot tougher than simply root-root-root for the home team. When it comes to choosing between this Broadway show, that gallery opening, or this concert, we’re all looking for a bit of guidance.

That’s what gives Denver’s arts critics so much power. They’re our windows to the arts. All have varying degrees of influence; some have the power to literally make or break productions (and even careers).

For the most part, Denver’s critics tend to be a lot like the city itself, friendly, accessible, and generally polite. And while these are traits you might like in a neighbor, it doesn’t necessarily make for a useful critic. Criticism has the potential to elevate art, but like good drama, it requires conflict. Too often, the reviews we read in the morning paper are little more than a journalistic description of the event, much like the coverage you’d expect of a city council meeting or a pileup on I-25. What’s missing is the analysis and insight that challenges and enlightens both artist and audience.