On the Cutting Edge: Denver Museum of Contemporary Art

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), which has been a fixture on the Denver art scene for more than a decade, moved recently into a new, sustainable facility in LoDo. The 27,000-square-foot space is on track to be the first Gold level LEED- certified contemporary art museum in the United States (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

“It became apparent to us early in the process that we needed to be on the cutting edge of green building in order to be true to our mission of innovation,” said Karl Kister, president of MCA’s Board of Trustees.

According to the MCA, its green design is the “manifestation of a building that supports rather than defines the Museum’s mission.” The list of sustainable elements in and around the museum is exhaustive, ranging in scope from the double-skin facade of the building’s exterior wall, an evaporative cooling system in warm weather months and organic food in the café, to the use of recycled paper for letterhead and electronic company newsletters.

The MCA’s new, sustainable facility is on track to be the first Gold level LEED-certified contemporary art museum in the U.S.

The museum is modeled after a European concept, kunsthalle, in that it houses temporary art exhibits and acts as an incubator for art, ideas and exploration. To that end, one of the inspired ideas at the MCA was to install a library where artists curate their own selection of books that relate to their works on display.

Cydney Payton, MCA’s executive director and chief curator, said that as a “non-collecting institution the new MCA is a museum without a front door, an open invitation to our growing participatory culture.”

The opening exhibition, “STAR POWER: Museum as Body Electric,” features works by seven artists from around the globe, including Mexico, New Zealand, Kenya, Canada, Trinidad and the U.S. The inspiration for the exhibition comes from such disparate sources as Walt Whitman’s I Sing the Body Electric, the Golden Proportion, the pentagram and Chinese philosophy. Each installation closes independently through May. Four permanent commissions have been installed at the museum, and they weave their way throughout the space, encompassing the roof and the road alongside the building as well as the interior.

The Gates Rooftop Garden, designed by landscape architect Karla Dakin, is a sculpture garden that helps minimize the “heat island” effects of the building. Ceramic topiary sculptures by Kim Dickey are installed in the MCA café, and the grounds around the building are even used as a canvas of sorts. Colorado artist Clark Richert designed “Riemannian Tangencies” for the 23-by-107-foot lane that runs alongside the museum, turning the space into a plaza for visitors. Indoors, “Toxic Schizophrenia” is a new exhibit by London-based artists Tim Noble and Sue Webster. The heart and dagger image is their first U.S. public commission.

The new space features five galleries, a rooftop garden pavilion, a bookshop and three education areas.

The new space features five galleries, a rooftop garden pavilion, a bookshop and three education areas. With the move, the museum has more than doubled the area for its educational programs for children and adults.

Three defined areas are dedicated to art education and exploration, along with special family weekend programming: in the Library, artists will curate their own library shelf of resource materials that bring audiences closer to their exhibition; the Whole Room offers space for lectures, and the Fox Family Idea Box is a cantilevered room that hangs over the out over the street, with a child-sized lookout window that has views of downtown.

If You Go

Museum of Contemporary Art, 1485 Delgany St., Denver; 303-298-7554; www.mcadenver.org

Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m, Tuesday-Thursday; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; closed Monday.

Admission: Children under 12 are admitted free. Adults, $10; students, teachers and seniors, $5; first Saturdays of every month, 1 cent.

Kelly Smith, who is married and the mother of two daughters, is a longtime Denver resident. She is an editor at Colorado Parent magazine and a former editor at Mountain Living magazine. Her stories have appeared in Architecture & Design of the West, Colorado Homes & Lifestyles, Colorado Parent, Herb Companion, Log & Timber Style, Mangia, Mountain Living and Natural Home & Garden.

From the Editors: We spent a heap of time making sure this story was accurate when it was published, but of course, things can change. Please confirm the details before setting out in our great Centennial State.