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'Windows of Inspiration' provides opportunity for struggling artists and businesses

"I think it’s so important to let these local businesses and artists know that they’re loved and I’d love to continue this project," the program's creator said.

DENVER — Thirty-four degrees in the shade doesn’t really sound like perfect mural-painting weather. Alicia Keyser begs to differ.

“I’m from Wisconsin and I’m kind of used to being outdoors and having to just deal with however cold it is,” Keyser said.

Keyser moved to Colorado about 20 years ago, and she’s held onto her ability to stay warm on cold days. She’s also held onto her Midwestern optimism—even after a year like last year.

“I still stay optimistic—I try and stay optimistic,” Keyser said, as she painted an octopus on Smith + Canon’s Ice Cream Company on Colfax Avenue in Denver.

Staying optimistic hasn’t been easy for a lot of artists since the pandemic hit in early 2020. For Keyser, it meant that the many arts festivals she relied on for income weren’t a source of income any longer. It was an unexpected turn for the artist.

“I quit my job as a graphic designer to go freelance at the very end of 2019. I didn’t really foresee all the changes that have happened,” Keyser said. “No crystal balls in my world.”

She is now a freelance graphic designer and an artist, and said she doesn’t always know when her next paycheck is coming, which is why she is grateful for the octopus-painting gig at Smith + Canon. Keyser got the job through a project called “Windows of Inspiration.” The creator of the project, Nikki Kolakowski, said it was something she needed to do when she saw the arts community and small businesses struggling because of the pandemic.

Credit: Anne Herbst/9NEWS
A sketch of an octopus that artist Alicia Keyser made. Keyser is painting the octopus on Smith + Canon's front window.

“This project is so necessary I think it’s so important to let these local businesses and artists know that they’re loved and I’d love to continue this project,” Kolakowski said.

"Windows of Inspiration" matches small businesses with local artists. The artists paint custom works on windows and get paid for their work and the small businesses are paid for the window space. The money comes from larger businesses and companies that have marketing budgets.

“'Windows of Inspiration' gives these companies a chance to invest back into their community and really invest in marketing in a really unique and creative way,” Kolakowski said.

So far, the project has given $10,000 to local businesses and the arts community. Fifteen different businesses and artists have participated.

“This last year has been more than difficult, and for many small business people it’s been tragic,” said Curt Peterson, owner of Smith + Canon Ice Cream Co. “To have an artistic initiative to help lift the community and soothe some of the pain—what better opportunity, and of course I wanted to participate.”

Keyser said she’ll use this money to help pay rent this month. Peterson will take the money he gets from the window space, and give some discounts to customers who mention the mural.

Credit: Alicia Keyser
The finished octopus mural at Smith + Canon Ice Cream Company.

“What’s more important than me getting a really cool octopus on my front window, is that the community has a little more eye candy,” Peterson said.

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