By Shawn Chitnis

DENVER (CBS4)– Some of the first pieces from the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver’s Octopus Initiative, a program to bring more people closer to local art, have arrived at their new temporary homes as more pieces come into the art library.

“I’m jumping around in my sweatpants, and you know jumping in front of the TV, and my husband is like, ‘What’s going on?’” Lily Curley remembers the day she received an email from the MCA Denver. “I was like, ‘I won, I can’t believe I won!'”

Lily Curley (credit: CBS)

Curley registered with the Octopus Initiative shortly after settling in Denver with her husband from Washington, D.C.

“The fact that I had won and I had just moved here was a really special way to be welcomed to the city,” she said. “I think of it as mine now.”

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She took home a piece called “Trim Void 16” by local artist Derrick Velasquez. A collage that features different colors and shapes as well as wall moldings and references to architecture.

“Trim Void 16” by Derrick Velasquez (credit: CBS)

“I love how it looks very simple but it still has a lot of movement,” she said. “I wanted it to be the centerpiece because I hold it in very high regard.”

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The contrast could not be more significant for the couple that had spent years in the nation’s capital and is adjusting to life in the Mile High City. Curley has quickly picked up on the local arts scene and currently is working on getting some of her own pieces exhibited in town.

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“Coming from Washington, D.C., you know, the first art museums you think about are the Smithsonian,” she said. “That have these beautiful historic pieces, you know, security guards all over the place, and you can’t step within four feet of something to get a good look at it.”

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More than 3,000 people have registered with the program. Named after the animal with tentacles, the idea of the initiative is to reach out like an octopus toward the community for the arts. The museum has already shared 40 pieces from its collection with another 25 – 50 pieces coming in each quarter. Each month, the museum release more works of art through its lottery system. When you sign up for the program, you indicate which pieces you would be interested in taking home for almost a year.

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“We wanted to find the best way to support artists here in Denver because they are what make this city great,” said Nelleke Mack, the administrator of the Octopus Initiative for the museum. “Giving both new art collectors and experienced art collectors access to these artists.”

Nelleke Mack (credit: CBS)

The grants that fund this initiative not only commission the artists to create 25 different pieces but also covers the cost of rent and studio equipment for the year they are working on their art.

“The MCA Denver had watched the prosperity of the community grow but noticed this left out artists in a lot of ways,” said Mack.

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The program has also helped introduce the MCA and the world of art to those that may have been apprehensive before it launched.

“Many of them have been members of the museum and have come before but some are brand new to the museum and brand new to owning art work,” she said.

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Curley says that many young professionals like herself do not have the money to spend on professional art as much as they may want to support the community and build their own collection. But beyond the financial concerns, she says the program helps the public to discover artists they may not have heard of before. She also loves seeing art become more accessible and approachable to a larger audience.

“It’s a great way to share art with people who may not feel, may not want to go to museums, may not feel comfortable, that’s not what they want to do on their free time,” said Curley. “It [shows] the effort that the museum wanted to make to bring art to the people around them.”

LINKS: Octopus Initiative

MCA Denver

Shawn Chitnis reports weeknights for CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Email him story ideas at and connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.


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