By Toni Tresca
Following a series of improvements to the interior and technical systems of the Holiday Theater, the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver (MCA Denver) has announced plans for more than 30 public programs in the space through the summer.
“Since opening last year, MCA Denver at the Holiday Theater has become a dynamic home for multiple forms of creative expression, including original productions, live music, film screenings, artist talks and serial programming, as well as performances and events presented by other cultural organizations,” said Sarah Kate Baie, MCA Denver’s director of programming.
The MCA Denver was established in 1996 to celebrate contemporary art in the center of Denver by philanthropist Sue Cannon, Marina Graves, Mark Sink, Dale Chisman, Lawrence Argent and other locals. The nonprofit presents a wide range of exhibitions, events, lectures and parties. Under the leadership of Cydney Payton, the museum opened a permanent location, now called the Fries Building, at 1485 Delgany St. in October 2007.
And, just last year, under the directorship of Nora Burnett Abrams, the organization began leasing the Holiday Theater in Denver’s Highland neighborhood.
“We’re at the beginning of our journey at the historic Holiday Theater,” said Abrams in a statement. “In the months and years ahead, our goal is to create a new, long-term hub for the arts in Denver’s Northside neighborhood and generate new opportunities for innovative, community- and artist-driven programming and creative partnerships.”
Due to a historic agreement with the Denver Cultural Property Trust, the MCA is renting the Holiday Theater from the trust, which purchased the space in August 2021 for $5.1 million. The trust, a nonprofit organization run by the local development company Continuum Partners, was founded to provide the neighborhood’s cultural community with more equitable housing options. Mark Falcone, the founder of Continuum Partners and a longtime donor to the MCA, is in charge of the Denver Cultural Property Trust. Falcone established the trust to purchase and lease the theater to the MCA Denver so that it could function as an accessible space for artists.
“The theater being preserved is a beautiful gift,” Baie said. “Often when theater spaces are sold, they are turned into any number of things that aren’t publicly usable. The Holiday Theater’s long proximity to the neighborhood has made the theater a part of the fabric of the community. When we first moved into the theater, many people talked to us about their experiences watching movies and listening to music in the space. It was really important for us to honor the legacy of the building.”
The museum is the most recent tenant in the space, which has been a staple in the area for over 100 years. The building was built in 1914 and named the Egyptian Theater in 1926 before being renamed the Holiday in 1953. The space is historically significant as it was one of the first theaters in Colorado to present Spanish-language films, which were featured in the venue from the 1960s through the 1980s.
Over its 107 years of operations, it has been a Peruvian restaurant and a church, and MCA Denver has hosted artist talks and other programming in the theater since 2015. “When we took over the lease at the Holiday, we assembled a group of neighbors called the Holiday Advisory Cabinet to meet new people, form new partnerships and identify new opportunities,” says Baie. “They continue to be our guides, and we worked closely with them on programming and renovations.”
The Holiday Theater closed from December through February for a series of upgrades, “including newly refurbished and upholstered vintage theater seats, a new row of accessible seating, an upgraded projector, lighting, and sound equipment, as well as new paint and carpet,” according to a recent statement.
With the help of private donations and the Community Revitalization Grant given out by Colorado Creative Industries, MCA Denver is now able to offer more comprehensive programs and give visitors a better overall experience.
Beginning on March 21, MCA launched Cinema Azteca, a weekly film series that will present a fresh outlook on Mexican and Latin- American cinema. Its new series Icons debuted on March 27 with a conversation between Swoon, a street artist, and MCA Denver Ellen Bruss Senior Curator Miranda Lash.
The following week, Icons brought in Jad Abumrad, the creator and former host of Radiolab, for a dynamic talk. Abrams will talk with co-author and New York University associate professor Amy Whitaker about their newly released book “The Story Of NFTs: Artists, Technology, And Democracy” on April 17. On a rolling basis, additional details and tickets for future programs will be made available on the MCA website.
“We are so excited to reopen the theater after a few months of changes to the interior with a jam-packed schedule of thought-provoking and one-of-a-kind programs,” Baie said. “If you’ve come to know MCA Denver over the years as a museum that punctures pretentiousness with offbeat, thoughtful, creative and unexpected year-round programming, our plans for spring 2023 and beyond are among our most ambitious yet.”
More information can be found at mcadenver.org/holiday-theater.