Magazine / People

Denver’s Dana Cain is the queen of cool

Dana Cain in her home

Alumna Dana Cain says she's always loved retro and popular culture. Photo: Justin Edmonds

If Denver comes to mind when you think about modernism, or art shows, or anything cool or hip, then you probably have Dana Cain (BA mass communications ’81) to thank.

Founder of the Denver Modernism Show, the Colorado Chocolate Festival and the Vintage Voltage Expo, among others, Cain has hosted more than 150 events in the Denver area since 1983.

The modernism show, her biggest claim to fame, grew from a small event in a 4,000-square-foot space in 2006 to one of the biggest modernism events in the world. The 2010 show was held in the National Western Complex with some 140 vendors from across the nation showcasing retro fashion, cars, furniture and art. Cain also hosts the Vintage Voltage Expo (classic stereo and musical equipment), the Collectors Supershow (toys) and the Rocky Mountain Book and Paper Fair. In years past she’s penned collectors’ guides, run a full-time collectibles business on eBay and worked at local stores dedicated to midcentury style.

“I was born in ’57, in the same month that they launched Sputnik,” Cain says. “I grew up with ‘The Jetsons’ and ‘Star Trek.’”

She also was influenced by her mother, a trendy furniture store employee who would collect vinyl chairs and pole lamps — some of the items that can be seen in the modernism show. “I’ve always loved it,” Cain says of retro and popular culture.

Cain’s next project is a summer 2011 relaunch of the Denver County Fair, which hasn’t been held for at least a century. Cain says it’s “not just Grandma’s county fair,” promising “cutting edge” crafts (think clothes and funky jewelry by Colorado fashion designers) and rodeos featuring skateboards and bicycles instead of saddle horses and bucking broncos.

For Cain, the events are all about “promoting Denver as the creative city of the West,” proving to all the naysayers out there that Colorado can hold its own with other cultural meccas.

“We can’t drive an hour to Chicago or California or Seattle to find art,” Cain says. “We have to create our own culture.” Which Denver has, she adds, thanks in large part to burgeoning music, art and fashion scenes and a healthy stream of funding to the arts.

And thanks to people like Cain.

“Dana’s enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit have done so much for the art scene in Denver,” says Gwen Chanzit (MA art history ’74), curator at the Denver Art Museum and a lecturer in DU’s School of Art and Art History. “When she organizes an event, everyone knows it will be high-energy and well-attended. She’s highlighted the work of local artists, made modernism cool and brought a variety of people together. Denver now hosts events formerly exclusive to places like Los Angeles.”

In the past five years, Cain has taken on a new role in the scene: art collector. Among her collection of about 150 original pieces by Colorado artists are a painting of angelic ramen noodles and a Mary Mother of God paper towel dispenser called “The New Holy Water.”

“I was never an actual cheerleader in high school. I didn’t have the bod,” Cain says with a laugh, “but I’ve always had the personality. And I like thinking of myself as a cheerleader for Denver. I like cheering for the arts, galleries and all the things I think are cool. That’s me doing my part to support the local culture.”


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