You only know if you know. It’s a little bit like a neighborhood full of dozens of speakeasies, but for art.
Follow the map through the streets and up a staircase. There aren’t many signs. Some of the studios aren’t labeled at all.
And that’s part of the magic of it. It’s where real artists make their crafts. Some are open by appointment only or completely private.
But as part of the monthly First Friday NoBo Art Walk, you can pop into artists’ studios in North Boulder and watch them work, see what they’ve created and get an inside glimpse at the Boulder art scene. The Art Walks are free and open to the public.
Download a map from the website or pick up one for free at any of the studios. Follow it yourself, hitting up whichever studios draw you in, or head to the information tent in front of the Ace Community Art Gallery, 4635 Broadway, for organized activities. A few times throughout the night, there are guided tours of a selection of highlighted studios. Earlier this year (with plans of more), there was a guided bike tour, which is especially useful, as the NoBo Art District is scattered; while there are clusters, other studios are a mile or so apart.
North Boulder is Boulder’s first and only area officially designed as a Creative District.
“There’s something a little mysterious about that area,” says Lisa Nesmith, president of the NoBo Art District. “There are dirt parking lots with buildings set way back. You have to get out of your car and off the sidewalk to discover what’s back in there. There’s very little signage indicating what’s going on. That is both an opportunity and challenge.”
The challenge is part of the reason why the Art Walk launched in the first place, about nine years ago: to show people all that was going on in this lesser-visited pocket of Boulder.
The northern edge of Boulder has always been filled with creative spaces: metal melters, ceramic studios, woodworking garages, the kinds of maker spaces you might not be able to set up in a dense suburban neighborhood. Back then, this part of town (with its sweeping foothill views and direct access to Highway 36, which leads to Lyons and Rocky Mountain National Park) was more open. As the neighborhood developed, it grew around the existing creative spaces.
“But the creatives were there first, and they’ve dug deeply in,” Nesmith says.
This shaped the mood and values of NoBo today, which plays into what makes these Art Walks so unique.
“It’s a unique experience and setting, in that we don’t have a lot of visible retail for art up there but we have a huge density of private art studios and collective studio spaces—a labyrinth of warehouse spaces,” Nesmith says.
These aren’t storefronts on the mall, or retail stores that carry a ton of pottery, jewelry and paintings.
“It is a very intimate interaction with the artists,” Nesmith says.
First Fridays (held on the first Friday of every month, except January and July) started with only five artists. Now on any given event, 15 to 30 venues open their doors. This year, drawn by the 200-plus regular attendees, local food trucks have started showing up. And increasingly more studios have begun offering live music.
But nothing too flashy. More like fun, loud garage bands in the parking lot. The raw feeling is part of the character, Nesmith says.
“It is kind of the last vestige of undeveloped Boulder,” she says. “On the east side, you’ve got upscale businesses and on the west side, it’s still gritty and funky and hasn’t changed much over the years.”
Tips For the NoBo Art Walk
- The Art Walk is located along Broadway from Pine Street to Highway 36. It runs 6-9 p.m. (although that may vary by studio) on the first Friday of every month.
- Get a map online or at the studios. You can’t find all of the studios without one. Also check the website for a list of participating artists about a week in advance.
- Visit the information tent in front of Ace Community Art Gallery, 4635 Broadway. Find out what organized events may be happening that night.
- Look for demos and special activities at different studios.
- Follow polka dots and pink flags to find surprises.