Denver Union Station after a Rockies Baseball Game, August 2019 –Doug Hesse

The 2020 National Council of Teachers of English convention was to have been in Denver this week, and I was local arrangements co-chair, along with Jill Adams, also of the Colorado Language Arts Society. Ah, well. Following is the Welcome to Denver I wrote in May 2020. It would have appeared in promotional materials. It has a touristy cast, but I tried to convey some deeper sense of the place, befitting the convention theme. NCTE Program Chair Alfredo Luján had chosen the theme ¡Confluencia! Songs of Ourselves, which was perfect for this city.

Welcome to Denver

Denver is a vibrant, progressive, historical, multicultural city with an energetic downtown surrounding its convention center. From that center and the convention hotels, you can easily and safely walk to dozens of performance venues and movie theaters, to world-class museums and cultural centers, and to countless restaurants and nightspots, from James Beard-winning venues to diners, brew pubs, cabarets, and jazz clubs. Many are along the 16th Street, a mile-long, tree-lined pedestrian promenade, along Larimer Square, the city’s oldest block, or in nearby walkable neighborhoods. People not only work and play downtown, they live here. 

Cultural opportunities abound. Only two blocks from the convention center is the Denver Performing Arts Complex, the second largest in the country, with ten theaters for plays, symphony, opera, ballet, and Broadway shows. November visitors will have their choice of events.  Dozens of other theatres, comic clubs, and performance spaces dot the city, from the innovative Buntport, Bug, and Curiosity theatre companies to famous music venues such as the Paramount, the Fillmore, the Ogden, the Bluebird, and The Mission Ballroom.  

In the mid 19th century, even before Denver had a school or hospital, it had a performance of Macbeth in a local saloon. The primacy of a saloon, befitting a city begun in the 1850’s gold rush, presaged Denver’s current 150+ craft breweries, pubs, and tap rooms, second in the nation.

Many of Denver’s distinctive, thriving neighborhoods are just 5-10-minutes away. Should you have the inclination, the glorious Rocky Mountains and foothills are but thirty minutes from the convention.  Some of Denver’s 200 parks are actually in the mountains, including Red Rocks Amphitheatre, which Rolling Stonenamed the best outdoor concert venue in the world, and Genesee Park, home of the city’s own buffalo herd, descendants of the last wild bison brought here from Yellowstone in 1914.

Even if you don’t get to the mountains, you’ll see them dominating the western horizon, with over 200 visible named peaks, thirty of them over 13,000’. While the mountains will likely be festively snow-capped for NCTE in November, Denver itself will probably be warm, clear, and dry.  It’s sunny over 300 days a year here on the high rolling plains, and with only 14 inches of annual precipitation, the air will be bright and crisp. How nice is the weather? The city’s 90 golf courses are open year-round. There are 850 miles of off-street bike trails.

The Denver Art Museum, its stunning building designed by Daniel Libeskind, has an astonishing permanent collection and features top level exhibitions, recently including Van Gogh, Monet, and Dior. The Museum of Contemporary Art, the American Museum of Western Art, the Kirkland, the Clyfford Still, and dozens of galleries in the Santa Fe and Tennyson art districts round out the visual arts.  The Cleo Parker, Wounderbound, and Colorado Ballet dance companies highlight the kinetic. 

The $120 million History Colorado Center presents an expert and honest history of extraordinary artifacts and narratives. The museum highlights travesties as well as triumphs. including the centuries before Colorado’s the Gold Rush led to statehood, time when the Arapahoe, Cheyenne, Utes, Apaches, and Comanches and others lived on this land. 

Denver is a proudly diverse city. Over 31 percent of the population is Hispanic or Latino descent and 10 percent African American.  The city holds the nation’s largest Cinco de Mayo celebration and largest Martin Luther King Jr. march and rally.  The Chicano Humanities & Arts Council has a gallery and cultural center and promotes Chicano/Latino visual arts, literature, music, and dance. 

The Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library is located in the historic Five Points neighborhood, once known as the “Harlem of the West” and a frequent stop for jazz greats like Billie Holiday and Miles Davis.  Jack Kerouac knew Five Points well from his time living in Denver; you can visit sites he wrote about in On the Road

If you fly to Denver, you’ll arrive at America’s fifth-busiest airport, an architecturally distinctive terminal with convenient and inexpensive light-rail service directly downtown.  The airport train arrives at Union Station, a completely renovated 19th century grand work of architecture whose main hall is surrounded by restaurants, bookstores, and boutiques. 

Union Station sits at the heart of lower downtown (LoDo, to locals) a center of nightlife and day life, home to everything from Coors Field and the Colorado Rockies, to the world famous Tattered Covered Bookstore and the venerable Rockmount Ranch Wear, inventor of the western snap shirt. At Rockmount you could run into Kevin Costner or John Legend, Anne Hathaway, Jack Black, or Bonnie Raitt, all of whom have bought its iconic clothing. The adjoining River North (RiNo) Art District, with its galleries, food halls, pubs, distilleries, and markets, was named one of the “one of the top 10 neighborhoods to visit in the U.S.” by Lonely Planet.

What else? Denver has seven professional sports teams, highlighted by the Broncos, Rockies, Nuggets, and Avalanche.  There’s an amusement park direclty downtown, near the Aquarium, along the South Platte River.  A gold-domed State Capitol. Botanical Gardens. Museum of Science and Nature. The Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop.  A civic plaza that drew 200,000 to the initial Women’s March and tens of thousands to the student-led Climate March on Denver. A respected LGBT community. An outdoors-oriented population regularly cited as one of the healthiest in America. A large, diverse school system and multi-branched public library. Colleges and Universities ranging from the University of Denver to the University of Colorado Medical School to Metro State and the Community College of Denver.  Teachers dedicated to the arts of language, to an educated citizenry, and to their students.

Denver is a sanctuary city of people who are tolerant, civic-minded, multicultural, and energetic: committed to the environment, to children, to opportunities for all, to a sustainable and just future.  You are all welcome here.

–Doug Hesse