Colorado likely isn't the first place coming to mind when thinking of art scenes. Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle can hog the artistic spotlight in the West and Pacific Northwest, while Chicago, Austin, Philadelphia, and New York fill up the map when heading East.
But the reality is that Denver is becoming its own unique hub for arts and culture.
Steve Wilson is the executive artistic director of an arts and culture center responsible for churning out remarkable content year-round, the JCC Mizel Arts and Culture Center at the Staenberg-Loup Jewish Community Center. And he's celebrating 25 years in that role.
Wilson was born and raised in California. He got his BFA from the University of Southern California before coming to Colorado to pursue his master's degree at the National Theatre Conservatory, a program hosted through the Denver Center of Performing Arts.
Naturally, Wilson fell in love with Colorado, for the same reasons many do: the outdoors, pace, people, and a potential career in the arts.
While the biggest cities often receive the majority of the recognition, success in such cities can result in losing the connection with those impacted most by the art itself. An arts professional can be swallowed by the "mega LA-opolis," as Wilson says.
The size of Denver was perfect. It had the arts and cultural offerings to keep him here, happy and employed.
Wilson first worked as an actor at the Arvada Center, and eventually taught theatre in town for five years before moving to the JCC Mizel Arts and Culture Center at the JCC as the artistic theatre director. Ten years later, he was promoted to his current role as executive artistic director.
Under Wilson’s supervision, the JCC Mizel Arts and Culture Center saw a host of renowned cultural offerings and programs flourish. The Denver Jewish Film Festival (DJFF), The Neustadt JAAMM Fest (Jewish Arts, Authors, Movies, and Music) and the Wolf Theatre Academy are just a few of the programs that he helped realize.
There's also a beautiful, newly remodeled 400-person theatre where the Academy program, something Wilson is particularly passionate about, puts on an incredible 11 plays in 11 weeks during the summer.
Additionally, Wilson led the former Denver Children’s Theatre (adult professionals performing for children), which has recently been awarded a Henry Award (Wilson’s fourth) for 22 years of service to the community.
Wilson is dedicated to providing cross-cultural art experiences, for all ages and interest groups in Denver.
Along with Wilson’s work with the JCC Mizel Arts and Culture Center, he's reached out to the greater arts community to build bridges throughout the city. Wilson sits on the Colorado Theatre Guild board as well as the board of the Scientific and Culture Collaborative, a collective of all of the SCFD tier one and tier two organizations.
It's inspiring to hear Wilson speak enthusiastically about the cross-organizational collaboration potential. It encourages an environment that through partnership, expands the benefits of members of the arts community and Denver. His passion for his work is evident.
“I feel like I have the best job in the world," he says.
An empire of culture like the JCC Mizel Arts and Culture Center isn't built without a dedicated pioneer on the ground, sharing, connecting, and dreaming. Denver is becoming a hub of arts and culture, and we only have people like Wilson to thank.