When Denver  was barely a town of any sort, one of the first businesses was a theater. Denver’s cultural landscape has been growing ever since and in recent years the arts have all been heavily invested in as a way to make the city more desirable and progressive.
A 2006 study by the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts determined that “culture in metro Denver generated $1.426 billion in economic activity in 2005, with 14 million people attending cultural events.” In other words, culture is big business in Denver, which creates jobs—6,100 new jobs from 1997 to 2005—and generates huge tax revenues—$6.1 million between 1997 and 2005. The report also found that for every $1 of cultural spending, there is $1.32 spent at other businesses.
Cultural attendance even tops attendance at Denver’s biggest sporting events, though certainly a large percentage of people consider sports to be culture too.
And of course tourists are an important part of the equation. The Colorado Business Committee for the Arts found that in 2005 2.4 million people came to Denver to experience the cultural attractions—and spent $334 million to boot.
Culture in Denver  is wide-ranging—from the Colorado Symphony Orchestra to Opera Colorado, from the Colorado Ballet to Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, from the Denver Performing Arts Complex to El Centro Su Teatro, from jazz and blues to indie rock, from funky art galleries to museums designed by world-famous architects and so much more. The city’s public art collection includes approximately 300 works of art on display and there are over 160 music venues in the Mile High City—including city-owned Red Rocks Amphitheatre .
The Denver Center for the Performing Arts is a remarkable facility, billing itself as the “multifaceted entertainment hub of the West” with 11 performance venues in a four-block complex. In addition to the theaters, the complex is also home to the National Theatre Conservatory and the National Center for Voice and Speech.
To learn more about arts in Denver  including music, film, public art, literature, and much more, visit www.denvergov.org/artculturefilm , where you’ll find over a dozen links to sites with more extensive information on the city’s cultural gems.
In addition to the various cultural organizations and sites, there are annual events that honor or celebrate aspects of the arts. Doors Open Denver is a free two-day event with tours of the city’s architectural highlights; One Book, One Denver is a sort of citywide book club when a single book is chosen for the year to be read and discussed in public forums; The Cherry Creek Arts Festival  is a summer festival that showcases local and national artists and the city plans to host its first international art biennial in 2010.
Denver is also associated with many famous names—particularly authors. Although in On the Road Jack Kerouac expresses more affection for his Denverite pal, Neal Casssady, than the city itself, his imprint was left on the city where there are now lofts bearing the writer’s name. Journalist and poet Eugene Field lived and worked in Denver for just a few years; a statute of the characters Wynken, Blynken, and Nod from his best-known poem is on display in Washington Park  and a local library is named after him. Thomas Hornsby Ferril was a Denver native and writer who was named Colorado Poet Laureate in 1979. In 1996 City Park ’s largest lake was named Ferril Lake in honor of the man, and his former two-story Victorian house in Capitol Hill is today home to the Lighthouse Writers Workshop (www.lighthousewriters.org ).
Poetry has become part of the fabric of Denver life too. In 2004, Mayor Hickenlooper appointed the city’s first poet laureate and in 2006 Chris Ransick was named Denver’s Poet Laureate. April is Poetry Month (www.denvergov.org/DenverPoetLaureate/ ) with local workshops, readings, and other events. But you don’t have to wait for spring to enjoy poetry—it’s all over the city year-round thanks to the Poetry in Motion program, which partners public transportation with poems. Alongside ads in over 800 buses there are lines of poetry on large signs.
A more prominent part of Denver’s cultural scene is music—from classic to contemporary. The Colorado Symphony Orchestra is the region’s only full-time orchestra, with many of their concerts held at Denver’s Boettcher Concert Hall; Opera Colorado features three operas each season at the splendid Ellie Caulkins Opera House ; from the 1920s through the 1950s, Denver’s Five Points neighborhood was considered the “Jazz mecca” of the American West and legendary performers like Billie Holliday and Duke Ellington performed here.
Today Denver has several hip jazz clubs and the annual Five Points Jazz & Blues Festival captures the best of then and now. Beyond these venerable events, there are music festivals just getting a toehold, such as the Monolith Music Festival at Red Rocks Amphitheatre  that showcases local, national, and international up-and-coming rock bands and the Mile High Music Festival with several stages and superstar bands. Of course any night of the week there is live music playing at some club or bar to suit any musical preference.