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Cat figurine in alley. Photo by Kylie Henson.

Don't avoid these alleys

Neglected urban spaces get a splash of color thanks to surprising and inviting art installations

July 10, 2018

By Kylie Henson

Next time you walk around downtown Denver, look out for the cats.

Not just one random feline, either. More like 300 cat figurines. Purring and meowing in an alley just a few steps from Larimer Square.   

Welcome to “Alley Cats,” an installation by local artist Kelly Monico.

On June 15, the Downtown Denver Partnership launched Between Us: The Downtown Denver Alleyways Project, which is produced and funded by the Downtown Denver Business Improvement District and curated by the Black Cube,.

The project is aligned with Happy City Denver and features alley installations from artists Monico and Carlos Frésquez, both art faculty at Metropolitan State University of Denver, as well as Stuart Semple, Joel Swanson and Frankie Toan. Their work has energized alleyways in Denver with the goal of bringing surprise and delight to each person who visits them.

“This investment in our downtown alleys provides the perfect opportunity to activate our alleys through art, encouraging people to spend time in these underutilized spaces, ultimately creating safe, welcoming and selfie-worthy places,” said Tami Door, president and CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership

Each installation is remarkably unique. Monico’s idea was to fill the alley with several hundred cats.

“I knew I wanted to do animals because I felt like there was something that everybody can relate to with animals, whether or not you like them,” she said. “There’s just this unconditional love that animals bring us.”

There are over 25 breeds of cats represented, and some have been customized. She thinks the cats bring a sense of comfort to the alleyway, a stark contrast to the feelings generally evoked by the dark, narrow passageways in the city. 

Ironically, as she channeled these feelings into the alley, she also noticed that the cats brought some people a sense of discomfort – because there are 300 of them.


Air fresheners hang in a downtown alley, the product of artist Carlos Fresquez, a professor at MSU Denver. Photo by Kylie Henson.
Air fresheners hang in a downtown alley, the product of artist Carlos Fresquez, a professor at MSU Denver. Photo by Kylie Henson.

While Monico’s alley gives you a sense of excitement and surprise, Fresquez activated his alleyway with humor as he installed giant “alley” fresheners, similar to the air fresheners that hang from the rear-view mirrors of cars.

“People need to smile more,” he said.

Monico, who is an art professor with Fresquez at MSU of Denver, also teaches students how to create installation pieces of their own.

The most recent student project was an award-winning Hispanic-Serving Institution installation, which invited viewers on the Auraria Campus to choose a string that represented their personal diversity and mount it between labeled pegs that marked their characteristics. The installation is on the second floor of the Jordan Student Success Building.

She said her students were extremely passionate and worked tirelessly to make their vision come to life, and she hopes that “the project created a platform for future projects with the administration and students that encourage and promote University initiatives.” 

“Alley Cats” will be installed for about a year, but Monico is already thinking about the future. She hopes to repurpose the cats after the installation is finished.

“I would like to find a way to auction them off and give the money to something like the MaxFund or the Humane Society,” she said. “… Because they have given so much to the people through these figurines, I would like to give something back to the animals.”

See the map below for the locations of the alley installations.

Map of downtown alley art

Left to right: "Alley Cats" by Kelly Monico, located between 14th and 15th Streets, Larimer and Market Streets; “Y/OURS” by Joel Swanson located between Curtis & Champa Streets (southwest side); “I should be crying but I can’t let it show” by Stuart Semple located Between Champa & Stout Streets (northeast side); "Alley Freshener" by Carlos Frésquez, located between Stout & California Streets (southwest side); “Public Bodies” by Frankie Toan located between Stout & California Streets (northeast side).

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