Signs of the Times

Fake parking signs are spreading the poetry of a diverse cast of Denverites down the Colfax Corridor.

By Katelyn Skye Bennett

credit: Sarah Harvey

credit: Sarah Harvey

Drive down Colfax and you will notice parking signs that contain poetry and prose rather than parking directions. These signs are part of a Write Denver project to change the face and attitude of the city.

Write Denver is an outreach program of Lighthouse Writers Workshop. Dan Manzanares, community programs coordinator, said the parking sign project began with “generative” writing workshops. The neighborhood-focused workshops take place across LoDo, the Colfax corridor, and Five Points. 

Write Denver received a grant from the Colorado Art Tank in 2016. “We immediately started holding workshops around town in those three target neighborhoods. People would write, then they submit, and we kind of curate or edit those writings when Write Denver gets a submission. And then we ‘publish’ them in the form of parking signs,” Manzanares said.

The idea was to flood the city with literature so that even ordinary spaces could transform people through poetry and prose, according to Manzanares. “I think we can have a conversation through art, or art can be a catalyst for deeper conversations.”

Write Denver collected short compositions from the neighborhood-focused workshops as well as a variety of off-site and pop-up writing workshops geared toward diverse and marginalized communities. The goal was to highlight alternative voices rather than the typical Lighthouse members.

In October 2015 Write Denver led a special workshop for Denver VOICE vendors. Some of the writing from that workshop has been installed on parking signs. The signs also feature writing from the Hard Times Writing Workshop, a collaboration between Lighthouse and the Denver Public Library (see page 16). 

Manzanares hopes to have 100 parking signs up by November as long as they continue to have enough funding, but he said Write Denver is putting them up “guerrilla-style.” They did not ask the city’s permission, so the signs will stay up as long as others keep them up. Save for one sign by the capitol that the city asked him to remove, he said the response has been positive and has drawn more Denverites to Write Denver.

“It’s going very well,” Manzanares said, cracking a smile. “It’s kind of been a game changer for Lighthouse. It’s forced us to integrate our audience base. It’s diversified us in fantastic ways.” 

“One of the goals that Write Denver has made clear to us is that we can do these outreach programs to these kind of marginalized communities and get them more comfortable or confident that their voice matters, that they have a perspective to share, a story to share that’s just as important as the mainstream society,” he continued, adding that he hoped the project could inspire conversation between the Denver social strata.

Brian Dibley, a former Denver VOICE vendor whose poetry was used for the project, hopes the signs will help people and encourage them to pursue their dreams. Several of Dibley’s poems are published on signs around the city, including “Hands” and “Cheesman Park,” which describes the park he went to with his wife before she died a few years ago.

“It feels fantastic [to have my poems on the signs]. Guess it gives me a big boost to keep on writing,” Dibley said. “It’s an honor.” 

Lyric Saint James, another poet who submitted her art to the VOICE through Hard Times, said, “I love that my poetry is being published. Other works I have self-published without much recognition. My poems are inspired by the look I see in a person’s eyes, and how I translate it into mine...It is my hope that the work causes others to think.”

Manzanares hopes the signs inspire more empathy. “I would love the conversation to grow so large and be based around this idea of people experiencing homelessness or extreme poverty, that they are people, that they are intelligent, creative human beings.” ■