February 1, 2022

February is Black History Month! MCA Denver Staff Shares Their Influential Artists & Creators

Tai Bickham


February is Black History Month! It is a time to honor and recognize the contributions and achievements made by Black/African Americans in this country. In recognition of Black History Month, we asked our staff to share artists/creators who have impacted their lives and those that have made an influence on arts and culture in contemporary society.


Dylan Woods - Cafe & Bar Manager 


Instagram Image of the artist, N3PTUNE
image: N3PTUNE @ HI - DIVE. 2021. Photo by @kovoho

I'm a huge fan of N3PTUNE. I saw him open for Sleigh Bells a few months ago and he has such an incredible stage presence. He just dropped a new album Renaissance and he's playing with pop, gospel, R&B, electronica all at once it's crazy. He is also going on tour with Sleigh Bells this Summer and I believe he's currently raising funds for that. 

Here's a blurb from Spotify: 

Named a “Denver Musician to Watch in 2021” by 303 Magazine, N3PTUNE is an explosive multi-hyphenate hailing from Denver, CO. A proudly queer singer/songwriter, producer, dancer, model, actor, and director, N3PTUNE is carving out a lane in Denver's music scene, unlike anything that has come before.


Eric Fogal - Gallery Attendant & Visitor Services Associate

Spellling - Musician

Photo of the singer/artist, Spellling, on stage
image: musician/artist, Spellling. Photo by  @ninaraj

I really dig this artist Spellling (spelled with 3 LLL's). She is from Berkeley, CA. She is an experimental pop artist. She has a really original and different sound. I really like the song Haunted Water but for people who really want a music video there is also Hard to Please.


Tai Bickham - Marketing & Community Specialist

Thornton Dial - Artist 

Photo of Thornton Dial
image: Portrait of the artist, Thornton Dial. Photo by David Raccuglia

I recently discovered the works of contemporary artist Thornton Dial (1928 - 2016). Born in Sumter County, Alabama, Dial was a self-taught contemporary artist who incorporated texturized materials into his large-scale artworks like corn husks, steering wheels, the carcasses of animals, toys, carpet, etc...and used fire as a material to create a texture or residue that paint alone could not achieve.  

Dial's artwork often speaks to societal issues like poverty, racism, historical and contemporary injustices, the poor and rural South in which he grew up, and American idealism. With his use of color, texture, and the sheer size of his art, Dial demands the attention of the viewer and the space to experience it. One of my favorite works is Trophies (Doll Factory), 2000. Composed of materials like Barbie dolls, stuffed animals, rope and then splashed with color from oil, enamel and spray paint, the art looks like beautiful chaos. 

Thornton Dial's commentary in Trophies (Doll Factory) addresses the critique and deluded perception of women in our society. Set to look in a nightmare jungle, the smiles from the Barbie dolls belie the grim predicament of which they are in, and yet, are painted gold, like a trophy, symbolizing the idea that women are often looked at like a shiny trophy, molded to societal standards of beauty and identity. Though it is a darkly humorous approach to addressing gender standards and the weight that is put on women to be representative of a males definition of femininity, the chaos of which the dolls are placed in this jungle, seems like a good representation of how it can feel, mentally, navigating a narrative terrain created by men. 

image of Thornton Dial, Trophies (Doll Factory)
image: Thornton Dial. Trophies (Doll Factory), 200.  Barbie dolls, stuffed animals, plastic toys, cloth, tin, wood, rope carpet, Splash Zone compound, oil, enamel and spray paint on canvas 75 x 123 x 18in. Image from

Courtney Law - Director of Communications, Partnerships, and Digital Initiatives 

Dorothy Ashby - Musician 

black and white photo of Dorothy Ashby with her bandmates
E. Azalia Hackley Collection, Detroit Public Library

Dorothy Ashby has been referred to as “the most unjustly under-loved jazz greats of the 1950s.” She foregrounded the harp, once thought to be a background instrument in an orchestra, during the heyday of Bop jazz, and wielded it as a tool of improvisation. 

In a 1983 interview with W. Royal Stokes for his book Living the Jazz Life, she shared that, "It's been maybe a triple burden in that not a lot of women are becoming known as jazz players. There is also the connection with black women. The audiences I was trying to reach were not interested in the harp, period—classical or otherwise—and they were certainly not interested in seeing a black woman playing the harp."

She was born in 1932 in Detroit, MI to a jazz guitarist father. She attended Cass Technical High School. Other graduates of this school include musical talents and jazz greats such as Donald Byrd, Gerald Wilson, and Kenny Burrell. It was there that she picked up the harp. 

Ashby had a trio, which included her husband, John, on drums, which regularly toured the country, recording albums for several record labels. She played with Louis Armstrong, among others. And in 1962, Ashby won Down Beat magazine's critics' and readers' awards for best jazz performers. She also wrote scores for a theater company that she ran with her husband. 

According to Wikipedia, “she was fearless in her musical choices as she played not just bop, but soul, Brazilian, African, Middle Eastern and like her contemporary (and other great jazz harpist) Alice Coltrane, free jazz.” 

And as Tom Moon stated for NPR, “Ashby swings, plain and simple. When she plays some mid-tempo scooting-along tune, like her own "Rascallity" (audio) all the stock riffage and jazz bravado common on so many records of this era disappears. Leading her chamber group, Ashby operates in an unassuming way, leaping through intricate arpeggios that no other jazz instrumentalist could attempt. Her single lines may not be terribly fancy, but she selects her notes carefully, and plays each one with a classical guitarist's stinging articulation.”

I would say that Afro Harping is the album that I am most familiar with and love dearly. Here is a wonderful interview that Red Bull Music Academy hosted between harpists Brandee Younger and Zeena Parkins the album on its 50th anniversary (in 2018). 

album cover of Dorothy Ashby's Afro-Harping

Events happening in Denver

Passages: Bound and Free 

WHEN: Currently on view through Feb. 25, 2022

WHERE: Blair Caldwell African American Research Library

This exhibition portrays artist Verline “Mijiza” Geaither's personal interpretation of the experiences of many Black men, women, and children who live and have lived in the United States of America. As you experience this artwork, consider what it might invoke inside of you about your personal journey. What have been the passages in your life, what do you anticipate in the future? We all come and go. What do you see? How do you feel? What do you know? And, ultimately, who is in control?

Organic Tarot: Works by Tya Alisa Anthony 

WHEN: Currently on view through–April 3, 2022

WHERE: Denver Botanic Gardens

Ticket Information here

Interdisciplinary artist and curator Tya Alisa Anthony combines archival photos with botanical imagery to illuminate and reframe the personal stories of Depression-era Black sharecroppers and reimagine them as icons of divine and mystical power. Organic Tarot explores the often-hidden stories of people of color depicted in historic photographs.

In the Upper Room 

WHEN: Feb. 11–March 13, 2022

WHERE: Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA)

Ticket Information here

Loyalty, spirituality and colorism are all at play in this dramatic dark comedy based on the real family history of playwright and novelist Beaufield Berry. The Berrys are a multi-generational Black family living under one roof in the 1970s. Their lives orbit around Rose, a strong-willed matriarch whose superstitions and secrets drive her relatives nuts. Fed up, the aunties, in-laws and granddaughters of the household make their own plans to break away so they can finally live in peace. But by standing their ground, they may lose what has held them together all along.

The Culture Museum - A Selfie Experience 

WHEN: Friday - Sunday 

WHERE: 1439 26th St

Ticket Information here

Historic Five Points is home to a new immersive pop-up art museum and selfie exhibition celebrating Black girl magic! The new experience is curated by Museum for Black Girls founder Charlie Billingsley.

JUICCY’S Jukebox: Spillin The Tea, About Our Black History 


600 East Colfax 

Show starts at 9pm every Tuesday in February 

JUICCY’s Jukebox: a Black Fleamarket/Bazaar of resources curated, designed, and for the Black/Brown Queer community! Featuring local QTBIPOC performers, DJ’s, and MORE!

MyCultureMyRules Presents An American History Film Series

Trident Cafe 

940 Pearl st

Boulder, CO, 80302

See the schedule of screenings here:

MyCultureMyRules Presents An American History Film Series. Dedicated to films that honor, celebrate, and elevate Black culture and traditions. Enjoy film, food, and engage in conversations that educate, inspire, and build solidarity. Click the link above for the schedule of film screenings throughout the month of February. 

Turn The Page With Colorado Matters: All That Is Secret 

WHEN: Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022 6pm - 7:30pm 

WHERE: Virtual/Online

Register for the free event here

Colorado Matters invites you to read with us and then meet the author. “Turn The Page with Colorado Matters” is February 8, at 6 p.m.

History and mystery come together in Colorado author Patricia Raybon’s new novel “All That Is Secret,” set in Denver when the Ku Klux Klan ruled the city. Raybon’s main character, Professor Annalee Spain, comes home to solve her father’s murder. Family and faith drive the young Black theologian to follow in the footsteps of her literary idol: Sherlock Holmes. This is the inaugural book in Raybon’s new Annalee Spain mystery series. Grab a copy of “All That Is Secret” and join Colorado Matters to meet Raybon in this virtual event!

The Block Party: A Market for us, by us

Saturday, February 12, 2022 11am - 2pm 

Clayton members Club & Hotel 233 Clayton Street Denver, CO 80206

Register for the free event here 

To celebrate Black History Month, Joce Blake and Clayton Members Club are hosting a market highlighting Black businesses in Denver. 

Some businesses featured: Adult Ent, Black + Blossomed, Body Love by Tal, C.R.Lee, GGs Cosmetics, Lawrence & Larimer, S.Monèt Art and more. 

Demystifying the Black Panther Party and Black Lives Matter Organizations 

WHEN: Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022 2:30 - 4pm 

WHERE: Blair Caldwell African American Research Library

Register for the free event here: 

Join Senior Librarian of the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library, Jameka Lewis, as she unpacks the historical and contemporary social climates that birthed the existence of these very unique, largely demonized and often misunderstood organizations. Learn more about the mission and activists that transformed grassroots concepts that inspired global change agencies.

An Evening with Dianne Reeves and your Colorado Symphony

Saturday, February 19, 2022 7:30PM

Ticket Information here: 

Denver's own five-time GRAMMY® Award-winning vocalist Dianne Reeves returns to Boettcher Concert Hall for an intimate evening with your Colorado Symphony

Purnell Steen & the Five Points Ambassadors 

WHEN: Thursday, February. 24, 2022

WHERE: Dazzle

Ticket Information here

Purnell Steen and The Five Points Ambassadors (also known as LeJazz Machine) is a band dedicated to playing and preserving the music of Denver’s legendary Five Points neighborhood. For their annual show in celebration of Black History Month, they will definitely swing and sway the Five Points Way, and, ever the storyteller, Purnell will share the histories of Black artists who have worked and played in Five Points.

Black Voices of Dance 

WHEN: Feb. 24–27, 2022

WHERE: 2590 Walnut St., Boulder

Ticket Information here

Boulder Ballet Presents Black Voices of Dance, an evening of dance highlighting the nation’s most vibrant Black voices in the field. Three world premieres celebrate the work of some of today’s prestigious Black choreographers, including Gregory Dawson, Sidra Bell, Amy Hall Garner and Boulder Ballet’s own Lance Hardin in an evening of original works sure to transcend.

Buffalo Soldiers: The Forgotten Black Army in the West 

WHEN: Feb. 26, 2022

WHERE: Blair Caldwell African American Research Library

Register for the free event here

Learn more about the largely unknown history of African American army regiments, nicknamed the Buffalo Soldiers. Members of the Buffalo Soldiers of the American West organization will bring these individuals to life with stories, historically accurate costumes and artifacts. The presentation will include a special dedication to Cathay Williams, the only woman to serve in the US Army as a Buffalo Soldier. Ideal for all ages.

The Hue-Man Experience at Tattered Cover Presents at Jason R. Thompson

Tattered Cover Bookstore - McGregor Square

Thursday, February 24, 2022 5:30pm 

Register for this free event here

The Hue-Man Experience at Tattered Cover Presents Jason Thompson to discuss his new book, Diversity and Inclusion Matters: Tactics and Tools to Inspire Equity and Game-Changing Performance. This event will take place on February 24th at 5:30pm at our McGregor Square location. It is a free event, but registration is required. A mask is required to enter the event space.

Drawing from his own personal and professional experience, Jason will share several "Jason-isms" that he has learned over the course of his life. As a DE&I coach of 25 years, Jason's work has been featured in ColoradoBiz magazine, USA Today, Washington Post, CNN, The New York Times, and The Guardian. Purchase the book in advance here.

Henry Ossawa Tanner and Black Artists in Paris, c. 1900 by Emily C. Burns, associate professor of art history at Auburn University

March 1, 2022 - 6 pm–7:15 pm

Ticket Information here

Philadelphia painter Henry Ossawa Tanner made waves in the Paris Salon in the 1890s and early twentieth century, especially with his evocative paintings of biblical miracles. While US art critics often commented on Tanner’s blackness, French reviewers rarely if ever mentioned it, and the painter called the Paris art world a “perfect race democracy.”

This course session—presented by Emily C. Burns, associate professor of art history at Auburn University—introduces Tanner’s outstanding French career by discussing the paintings of his in the exhibition and others from his oeuvre. The discussion contextualizes Tanner alongside other representations by Black US artists who used the opportunity to exhibit in Paris to pursue their artistic interests and to challenging racist stereotypes, especially those who submitted photographs, charts, and dioramas for inclusion in the “Exhibit of American Negroes” at the 1900 Paris World’s Fair.