Meet Brian Corrigan, Denver's "Oh Heck Yeah" Phenom


Confluence Denver

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From "Aha!" to "Oh Heck Yeah" and everything in between, "Community Change Agent" Brian Corrigan is transforming downtown Denver in ways that the city has never imagined. And his creative vision has earned him admirers -- and probably makes his former sixth grade teacher very proud. It was during an unlikely -- and very cool -- marriage of something Pong and Space Invaders-like in downtown Denver last year when Brian Corrigan had himself an "aha!" moment.

It was Create Denver Week and Corrigan -- a local artist and and a self-proclaimed "community change agent" -- had been instrumental in bringing a large-scale, interactive arcade game to the Denver Theatre District's LED screen. Corrigan recalls watching random passers-by shimmy and bounce around while trying to demolish intergalactic robots on a gray and rainy June day. "People were stopping on the street and randomly playing with each other, even through those weather conditions," says Corrigan. "That's where that aha moment came to us, like this thing could be a lot bigger than what we ever imagined." And that aha moment inspired an "Oh Heck Yeah" project that's in the works for next year -- one that recently earned $200,000 in grant money for an interactive arcade experience that is certain to blow Denverites away.

And that's exactly what the 32-year-old Corrigan has been doing since he moved to Denver a few years ago -- blowing folks away with a creative spirit that aims to change the way the community interacts. "When people believe they can do things, it starts to change communities," he says. "All of the sudden, people are able to take that risk on an idea that they've always had. And I think that's really fundamentally what I think is really fun about it."

The Creative Placemaker

Brian Corrigan's "Oh Heck Yeah" project will transform Champa St. between 14th and 16th Avenues.

Corrigan's project -- which really is being called "Oh Heck Yeah" -- will transform the area of Champa Street between 14th Street and the 16th Street Mall into an "immersive street arcade." The arcade game -- the theme of which Corrigan is keeping a secret for now -- will be projected on to the LED screen, with people being able to use their smart devices and their own bodies to act as the game's controller. The project will run from June 7 of next year through July 26, with folks being able to play Thursdays and Saturdays during that time period.

Working with the Denver Theatre District, the Downtown Denver Partnership and other entities, Corrigan aims to use social and traditional media outlets to get the word out about the game's characters, even going so far as to set up Twitter accounts for the robots or superheroes or evil monkey characters, whomever they turn out to be. Adding to the intrigue will be the use of local comedians, using tweets to bring the characters to life.

"People can become familiar with these characters before the street arcade has even happened,"says Corrigan. "It's gonna make you feel like you're actually inside the video game when you're on Champa Street. That's the goal."

Corrigan has another goal in mind when he turns the two-block corridor into "a transmedia storytelling platform" next year. "We see this as one way to merge the digital with the physical, but also a way to help revitalize downtown through arts and culture," he said. That particular function of the Oh Heck Yeah project is why Corrigan was able to secure a $200,000 grant from ArtPlace America, a collaboration that's made up of national foundations, banks and federal agencies that provide "creative placemaking" funding for art projects around the country.

The grant that Oh Heck Yeah received fell under ArtPlace's "Using Art to Help Communities Imagine New Futures" funding category. And that perfectly describes what Corrigan is trying to do with his new project. "I think it's interesting to think of a theater district of not necessarily having theaters inside the buildings, but breaking down the walls to actually have the theater on the street" he says. "And doing it in such an immersive kind of way and an interactive way that we're literally using these video games as theater and we're reinventing what the stage is."

A lot needs to be done between now and June 2014 for the project to become a reality. For starters, Oh Heck Yeah has an Oh Heck Yeah-sized budget of $750,000. Organizers still have to come up with another $300,000 to get to where they need to be. Corrigan says he's optimistic about getting the money needed for the project and says that he and other organizers are expected to launch a Kickstarter campaign soon, in an effort to raise dollars.

Next year, Brian Corrigan will help bring a large-scale, interactive arcade game to the Denver Theatre District's LED screen.

"Changing Conceptions"

The $750,000 price tag that comes with the Oh Heck Yeah project will be the largest budget that Corrigan has ever been presented with. But he thinks he's ready for the challenge, and so do his admirers. "He is so hard-working and really creative and upbeat," says David Ehrlich, Executive Director of the Denver Theatre District. "Brian is just a great at what he does and gets where media is going." Corrigan has made quite a name for himself in the Mile High City after moving here from Washington, D.C., a few years back.

In addition to his role with Create Denver Week, Corrigan produced the stunning "First Light," a 2011 gala for the opening of Denver's $29 million Clyfford Still Museum. Around that same time, Corrigan produced a series of "pop-up stores" that specialized in the selling of Colorado-designed goods, along the 16th Street Mall and at Stapleton's Forest City Discovery Center.

"I think he's part of why Denver is so cool," Ehrlich says. "Everything is changing around us and Brian's concept of bringing media and theater to the streets makes it all so different. We like it because he is changing the conception of what the streets are." And that's why Corrigan embraces his "Community Change Agent" title, something that he could have been dubbed as far back as the sixth grade, when he strung Christmas lights on his classroom desk.

"I had an extension cord running across the room because I sat in the back," Corrigan recalls with a chuckle. "I think about how awesome that teacher was to allow me to do that, to completely embrace who I was. I think of the support I've had in just being me, and if I can help build support for other people so they can be them, then that's really what being a creative city is all about. It's about individuals."

Photos by Kara Pearson Gwinn.