To the casual traveler, the Art District on Santa Fe may look like a cultured oasis among downtown Denver’s shiny, new facade. After all, it was voted one of the top 10 greatest neighborhoods in the nation by the American Planning Association.
The neighborhood’s understated Latin influences, however, teeter on the verge of extinction—the result of Denver’s rapid expansion and inevitable gentrification. Only a few cornerstone institutions remain, humbly reminding visitors of the district’s heritage.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the area became nearly 99 percent Latino, which really gave it a soul. It stayed that way for almost a decade, until the Auraria campus—three different higher-learning institutions with about 42,000 students—displaced nearly half the community.
Countless revitalization and economic development projects have been undertaken in the years since, one of which was to create the Art District. Officially established in 2003 with 17 galleries, the district didn’t receive a critical mass of support until the Sandy Carson Gallery moved in, attracting talent. Artists banded together and established an official 501(c)(3) a few years later. Now the district boasts over 30 galleries.
Today, most people know the Santa Fe district for its First Friday Art Walks. But visitors looking to glean a deeper understanding of the neighborhood should head to Su Teatro, a homegrown Chicano performance center, or Museo de Las Americas, the only museum in Colorado focused primarily on Latin American culture. “The work we create is a response to communities of color, but it’s aimed at educating everyone on issues going on,” explains Victoria Gonzalez, PR and marketing coordinator of Museo.
For a taste of authentic Mexican cuisine, El Noa Noa has been a cornerstone for more than 30 years, while Andrew Zimmern and Guy Fieri have both recently visited El Taco De Mexico.
From culinary arts to stage productions, all forms of art celebrate the cultural tapestry of this neighborhood. You just have to know where to look.