Strolling Denver’s RiNo Art District can feel like visiting an art gallery without walls. According to the nonprofit neighborhood organization, more than 1 million people visit RiNo each year to explore the area’s unique and expansive street art, which can be found on the sides of buildings, in alleyways, and tucked into various nooks and crannies across the city blocks. 

Now, this historic part of Denver is becoming even more colorful, with the launch of the RiNo Mural Program, an effort administered by Keep RiNo Wild—the Art District’s fundraising arm—to provide ongoing, paid opportunities for diverse, local artists to showcase their work. 

The mural project will have a different focus each month. In February, the arts organization is shining a light on Black History Month and Black love through a partnership with IRL Art and Rob the Art Museum. Six new murals—all of which are created by Black artists and focus on Black history—are now in progress at 29th and Blake streets.  

The location of the murals, as well as the choice of partners, was as important to the success of the project as the artists who were commissioned to create their works, according to Alexandrea Pangburn, the RiNo Art District’s curation director. IRL Art is a network of experiential artists organized by Annie Phillips and Robert Gray. Gray, who’s also the creative director for RiNo’s Rob the Art Museum, was the driving force behind the Black Love Mural Festival, which took place in Civic Center Park last June. 

“I really intended for this mural program to be intentional about where these pieces are going, the artists that we’re choosing, the collectives that we’re working with throughout the month, and the community members that we’re working with as well,” says Pangburn. “Part of the goal for the month of February for Black History Month was to highlight Colorado-based Black artists. So, we really wanted to pull IRL Art into it, since they were responsible for the Black Love Mural Festival last year. I thought they would be the most appropriate collective to work with to help get this vision going for this month.”

The six artists who were chosen for the February installation are: Johnny Draco, Aisha Renee, SeeOne, Cya The Creator, Just, and Myah Mazcara. Their work can be found on six loading dock doors behind a fenced-in area. Each artist selected for the project receives a $1,000 stipend, up to $400 in reimbursement for materials, and a guaranteed space at the Black-Love, Art & Crypto (B.L.A.C) Gallery, an all-Black, pop-up gallery curated by IRL Art and Rob the Art Museum.

RiNo Mural Program
Artists at the B.L.A.C Gallery in RiNo Art District. Photo by Nikki Rae Photography

Gray said that while there was a lot of artwork being created by Black artists in 2020, much of it was inspired by trauma. He hopes the Black History Month celebration will commemorate the positivity in the Black community. “We want to focus on Black love and anything to do with loving the Black community—Black culture, Black music, Black entertainment, and just loving Black people in general,” Gray says. “I feel like that’s something that’s inclusive of everyone that they can participate in.”

All artists who are accepted for the 2021 RiNo Mural Program will be compensated by the art district for their work. Local businesses also have the opportunity to donate their walls for the monthly installations and will be encouraged to donate to the artists involved in creating the murals, as well. 

Pangburn says the nonprofit plans to partner with other companies and organizations, similar to her collaboration with IRL Art, to introduce an inclusive theme for each month the mural program runs. In March, the art district is collaborating with Base Coat, a woman-owned, nontoxic nail salon in RiNo, to choose artists to work with for Women’s History Month.

So whether you’re able to visit during Black History Month or in the months to follow, one thing’s for sure: RiNo street art scene is about to get even more interesting.

If you go: The murals are located at 29th and Blake streets. B.L.A.C Gallery is located at 2715 Larimer St. and is open for viewing Wednesday to Sunday from 2 to 10 p.m.