Supernova brings art to the LED screens of the Denver Performing Arts Complex

We think of public art as still and semi-permanent, but for one day a year, public art is fleeting and animated.

14th and Champa LED 2
14th and Champa LED 2
The screen at 14th and Champ streets during Supernova 2016. (Courtesy of Supernova)

We think of public art as still and semi-permanent — murals in alleys and sculptures on the lawns of city buildings. But for one day a year, public art is fleeting and animated.

This Saturday, Supernova Outdoor Digital Animation Festival will light up the LED screens at the Denver Center for Performing Arts with work by artists from all over the world.

Now in its second year, Supernova will present 14 hours of programming on the big screen at 14th and Champa streets and on a temporary LED installed in the Denver Performing Arts Complex Galleria. The pieces will also play, without sound, on the screens at 15th and Champa, 16th and Champa and 14th and Arapahoe.

The festival comes free to the public courtesy of Denver Digerati, the Denver Theatre District and, largely, the brain of Ivar Zeile.

“The festival is something that didn’t just appear out of the blue,” said Zeile, director of Denver Digerati and Supernova. “We started testing this infrastructure with public LED screens I think starting back in 2011, and the whole protocol came from saying, ‘We have access to these screens, our mandate is to use them for some artistic purpose and my background is in film and art.'”

DPAC Temporary LED Theatre

Zeile watched and selected all 140 digital shorts himself, partly through his own curation efforts and partly through submissions. The animation chosen this year comes from regional artists as well as artists in the U.K., Canada, Australia, Russia, Iran, Italy, Korea, Germany, Switzerland, France, China, Denmark, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Taiwan, Venezuela, Argentina, Mexico, Bulgaria and Belarus.

The style and content can vary wildly, but at its core, Supernova is meant to be the most accessible kind of art festival — and not just because it’s free to anyone who walks up.

The festival is a unique concept that’s centered around a niche that is growing and thriving and exciting,” he said. “People can expect to see things that are accessible for most people but still firmly rooted in art in a progressive way … Animation is the most popular form of art in the world.”

It’s a unique experience for the artists, too, since they would normally see their work projected on a screen or wall. A large LED screen can give digital animation new life.

The Denver Performing Arts Complex, Sept. 20, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) colorado; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; Denver Performing Arts Complex; dcpa; theater;
The Denver Performing Arts Complex, Sept. 20, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

And a festival like this makes a lot of sense for the Denver Theater District, says David Moke, director of programming. Supernova fits well with the district’s mission to “bring light, art and activity to the streets of downtown Denver.” Plus, it’s low-cost compared to, say, a music festival and can be funded by the advertising the LED screens display every other day of the year.

“Bringing people downtown, that’s not too difficult to do anymore,” Moke said. “This is content that normally people, if they ever see it at all, it’s on their computer screen. We’re forcing it on them in a positive way at the highest level.”

Part of the appeal of Supernova, as Moke and Zeile both point out, is that you don’t have to hang out in one place all day. It’s not a commitment. Anyone who’s interested can stop by at any time, for any amount of time.

The work will be broken down into segments throughout the afternoon and evening, with showcases featuring abstract animation, music videos, work out of the CU Denver College of Arts and Media and more. The centerpiece is a juried competition. (You can find a schedule here.)

SUPERNOVA Outdoor Digital Animation Festival Official Program Preview - Selections from 2017 Competition from Denver Digerati on Vimeo.

The fact that you don’t have to do much to participate is a beautiful thing,” Zeile said. “I think that’s kind of a rare thing these days. That’s why we try to brand it as the future of public art.”

And that future isn’t just in ease of access, it’s in the medium itself. Zeile looks at his 10-year-old son and other kids as an example — they’re the next generational wave of digital natives for whom many experiences relate to technology, and there’s no reason why the way they like to experience art should be different.

SUPERNOVA Outdoor Digital Animation Festival Official Program Preview - Selections from ANIMATION FOR ALL AGES from Denver Digerati on Vimeo.

In the short amount of time that Denver Digerati and the Denver Theater District have been experimenting with digital animation on the district’s LED screens, the pool of artists has grown.

It dawned on me that something was really happening here,” Zeile said.

The initial plan was to put on Supernova every two years, but in the first go-around, they found there was more than enough quality work to choose from. And in just their second year, Zeile said he received more submissions.

For the average audience member, that just means a chance to see more, better art, and to see it in a way that Zeile says no other city is doing.

“Exposure to a new facet of that is what the public really gets out of this. And the experience of seeing these works on the LED — there’s nothing quite like it,” he said. “… I’ve observed people watching, and you do get the sense that 10 year from now, this could be the norm.”


Supernova Outdoor Digital Animation Festival starts at 3 p.m. and runs through 10 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 20. 

Supernova also has an education component geared toward the artists in attendance and anyone looking to get into the field. That portion of the program happens in the morning at the Auraria Library and has limited space. Anyone who is interested should RSVP to ivar@plusgallery.com.

For more information, go to supernovadenver.com.

Ashley Dean

Author: Ashley Dean

Ashley Dean covers dining and nightlife, and other odds and ends. She previously covered music and did some copy editing for the Denver Post, the Colorado Daily and the Daily Camera. She's from New York, likes her bourbon straight and has strong opinions about Kanye West. She can be reached at adean@denverite.com, 303-502-2804 or @AshleyDean.