Next Stage Collaborative at Denver Performing Arts Complex
Visitors at the Next Stage Collaborative enjoy the gallery’s virtual reality exhibit. The collaborative is at the Denver Performing Arts Complex. Students from CU Denver’s College of Arts & Media are exhibiting their work at the space, which was designed and renovated by College of Architecture and Planning students.

University of Colorado Denver students are giving theater and concertgoers a different view of reality with a new exhibition at the Denver Performing Arts Complex.

The Next Stage Collaborative gallery, a partnership between CU Denver and Denver Arts & Venues, opened recently in the complex’s galleria. The collaborative gives students from the College of Arts & Media (CAM) the chance to show their work in the one of the City and County of Denver’s major cultural hubs. The gallery is on the ground floor, across from the Buell Theater, tucked underneath the staircase to the parking structure.

College of Architecture and Planning (CAP) students designed the Next Stage Collaborative, turning a 900-square-foot vacant retail space into a flexible modern gallery.

Students from CAM will provide artwork, manage the gallery and work as docents who guide visitors through exhibits. The debut installation is from students in the digital design program and features a virtual reality exhibit called “How the Heart Works.” It uses VR headsets to show the inner workings of the heart using 3D modeling and are enhanced by computer-generated sounds, images and graphics.

Next Stage Collaborative posters
Posters on display at the Next Stage Collaborative at the DPAC.

Also on display are augmented reality artworks. While virtual reality projects use headsets and headphones to create immersive environments, the AR projects ask viewers to enhance two dimensional posters by viewing them through smartphones and tablets loaded with special software. The student project brings posters to life with animation.

CAM professor Michelle Carpenter is one of the faculty members whose students works appear in the Next Stage Collaborative. She believes the space is better suited for digital works than traditional galleries.

“The space offers the opportunity to showcase student and faculty work that pushes the boundaries of traditional design,” Carpenter said. “It is very exciting to be able to shape our classroom projects in a way that push the boundaries of high tech design, knowing that you have a place to showcase this outstanding CU Denver’s student work.”

It’s also an opportunity to connect with DPAC visitors, an audience that’s attuned to the arts but might not know about CU Denver’s programs.

“We consider this a fantastic opportunity to create an awareness and more visibility for our incredible programs at CU in the City,” Carpenter said.

Professor Rick Sommerfeld, M.Arch., said 30 students from CAP’s Colorado Building Workshop were part of the redesign and build out.

“Designing and building the gallery at the Denver Performing Arts Complex provided students an invaluable experience rarely realized in a traditional college setting,” Sommerfeld said. “The project exposed the students to how their theoretical ideas translate into reality, and their work with consultants, subcontractors, building code, budgets and the clients will give them a strong foundation for their future professional careers.”

The Denver Performing Arts Complex is owned by the City and County of Denver, and its Arts & Venues office worked with CU Denver and is funding the project with a grant from its Next Stage Now program. The Next Stage Collaborative is currently open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 7:30 p.m. Additional days and hours may be added, depending on visitor traffic and show schedules.