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The Octopus Initiative, Putting Art in the Hands of Many

Though a lottery process, you can borrow works of art for up to one-year

Words: MCA Denver

Issue 1, 2023

Image Credits: MCA Denver

THE Museum of Contemporary Art Denver (MCA) launched the Octopus Initiative just before the pandemic happened. Funded as part of the Elevated Heartbeat campaign, the initiative commissions, 20 Denver artists to create works that are a part of an art lending library. The library allows all Metro Denver residents to select their favorite works, and through a lottery process, borrow works of art for up to one year, making living with art more approachable. The Octopus Initiative puts art in the hands of many, extending the reach of the museum into the community.


The Octopus Initiative, which both supports the artists in our community and also gives wide audiences an unprecedented level of direct experience with serious art, symbolizes everything the MCA is trying to do by broadening the ways that art enriches the life of our city.


Over the last decade, Denver has experienced a level and growth and prosperity not seen since the gold rush. The Octopus Initiative was created to help ensure that Denver artists are not left behind by this growth but continue to add vibrance and creativity to civic life: ensuring that Denver remains a creative place to live. Artists were nominated through a peer nomination process and selected by the MCA Denver curatorial team. Once selected into the program, each artist is commissioned to create 25 works of art that become part of the art lending library. The artists are paid for their work, as well as given a stipend to help fund their supplies and pay for studio space for a year.


"The generosity provided by MCA Denver through the Octopus Initiative has opened a world of possibilities for me artistically and financially. With the studio grant and direct commission funding, I allowed myself a moment to reflect on the work without the stress of everyday economic burden,” said artist Derrick Velasquez. “However, beyond this, the mission of the Octopus Initiative was the driving force behind the creation of the new work –it is an unprecedented move to put art in the hands of many while also putting significant money in the hands of Denver artists."


All the commissioned work is on view at MCA Denver. Museum visitors are able to browse a selection of works in a specific area of the MCA, displaying up to 75 artworks at any given time. Through a lottery system and web application developed by the museum, visitors will select their favorite works, and if chosen, be able to borrow the work for up to one year. Each work is framed and has a custom carrying case to ensure safe transport to and from the museum. By offering these long-term loans, the program strives to better connect Denver residents to the artists living and working in Denver, strengthening the entire community as well as challenging preconceived notions of how visitors engage with art in a museum setting. The library consists of 500 works by 20 artists. A few lotteries have already taken place but the next one is right around the corner.


The web application that was designed for the Octopus Initiative also allows anyone to browse all of the works in the Octopus Initiative from the comfort of their couch or favorite bar. By simply hitting the “heart” button next to the works they love, and completing the registration process, any Denver Metro resident can sign up for the lottery system without having to visit the museum, making access to artwork easier than ever.


The group of artists commissioned to create work for the Octopus Initiative includes: Suchitra Mattai, Molly Bounds, Chris Oatey, Sierra Montoya Barela, Derrick Velasquez, Laura Shill, Clark Richert, Viviane Le Courtois, Diego Rodriguez-Warner, Kristen Hatgi Sink, George P. Perez, Tya Anthony, Extra Vitamins, Joel Swanson, Tsehai Johnson, and Jaime Carrejo.

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