“See” is for cookie, as part of the Painted City series that has local street artists swapping out murals for macarons. But just seeing isn’t good enough for Tara Bardeen, Founder of Go Play Denver and the project’s progenitor. The key element is uncovering the narrative behind public pieces and the collective story of the growing city in which they live. One thing is clear, though: If the medium is the message, then consuming art has never had a tastier mantra.
WORDS: Cory Phare | Images: Tara Bardeen
Take a spin down Larimer Street in Denver’s River North Art District and you’ll see a cavalcade of color adorning exteriors. Not just relegated to alleyways and overpasses, these magnificent murals are often front and center, celebrating the exploding art scene and welcoming everyone equally who steps foot into the community. That’s the beauty of public art: Instead of being relegated to gallery walls, it forces interaction with the ever-changing urban environment, often in unexpected ways. And though change undeniably brings with it important challenges, there’s also opportunity to relish beauty and find solutions, however ephemeral.
So what better way to celebrate these sentiments—of temporality, exuberance, and surprise—than by putting them on cookies? That was the idea behind the Painted City project, coordinated by Go Play Denver Founder Tara Bardeen. The Go Play website, newsletter, and social media presence offers a voice to fun and enriching events in Denver. “We could just have published a Q&A, but why not have a painted marcaron?” said Bardeen.
Inspired by murals found along Larimer (specifically between 26th and 29th Avenues), Painted City pairs local artists noted for public space contributions with Black Eye Coffee’s Capitol Hill location. From Victoriano Rivera to Molly Bounds and Jeremy Burns, a new artist profile is unveiled each week on the Go Play Denver site, along with accompanying bite-sized companion piece at the craft cafe. “This is a love letter to my city,” said Bardeen. “I love the energy and people moving here—when people come, I want them to feel woven into the fabric of the city.”
A lifelong Coloradan, Bardeen notes the changes her beloved city has undergone since the 1980s and how the accessibility of public murals help to transcend class divisions by bringing art outside. The built-in collective experience, by default, provides a prompt, and subsequently, the opportunity to engage with and learn from those around you—about the art, about the artist, and about your neighbors. “It adds a layer of richness and understanding about the built environment when we have personal stories,” she said. Organic, unexpected interaction is what led to the development of Go Play Denver, as well as the profile of each artist to explore their individual stories. “I enjoy the sense of connecting people and being able to help people connect to others,” said Bardeen. “People want more richness and engagement now. Hopefully they see the macarons and want to learn the story. Hopefully they’ll go see the artists work. I like to spark adventures.”
But how exactly does one translate spray paint to something more confectionary? According to Black Eye Coffee Pastry Chef Ann Marie Trent, the entire endeavor is time- and planning-intensive. Along with fellow Pastry Chef Alicia Luther, they begin by making the macaron shells (a lengthy process in its own right) before researching the featured artist and their particular style, then replicating it all on little edible easels. Due to the level of involvement and meticulousness, each effort takes about two full workdays. “I pick the murals I want to showcase and plan out how I think I can best portray the artist’s work,” said Trent. “I’m not an artist like this by any means, but I enjoy the process.”
That process—of blending unexpected forms to both pay tribute to and compose part of a new story—is what makes Painted City successful in its execution. Connective narrative is what binds, whether that’s one person to another or Krylon to concrete. It’s what Painted City finds in the richness of shared humanity, of knowing the story about a giraffe painted for an artist’s daughter (courtesy of featured artist Mike Graves). So why not share a story … and a cookie? “The city falls in love with itself through arts and culture,” said Bardeen. “It’s the magic and unexpected surprises—helping people find that is meaningful.”
Want more? Check out the calendar of featured artists below and get a tote bag featuring artist Sandra Fettingis at the Denver Design Week Launch Party!
The Painted City macaron series spotlights a new artist every week. Get a street art-inspired macaron of your own at Black Eye Coffee in Capitol Hill until July 6.
Pedro Barrios, @pbarriosart
Jaime Molina, @cuttyup
Molly Bounds, @moldybongs
Jeremy Burns, @jaysaybay
Sandra Fettingis, @sandrafettingis
Mike Graves, @mikeroane
Victoriano Rivera, @yungleeo
Lauren Youngsmith, @lolo.ys
Gemma Danielle, @optimysticism
Jon Stommel and Travis Czekalski, @rather_severe
Thomas Evans, @detour303
Andy Garcia Sr., @birdseedanthony
Vote online at GoPlayDenver.com