People are worried the CRUSH Walls founder will still have power over the street art scene despite sexual assault claims

On Thursday the RiNo Arts District announced it was severing ties with the street arts festival.

Paint cans hang over a RiNo alleyway. Five Points, Aug. 29, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Paint cans hang over a RiNo alleyway. Five Points, Aug. 29, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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Updated 11:15 a.m., 12/4/2020

The RiNo Arts District has severed ties with Denver’s famous CRUSH Walls festival after several women made sexual assault claims against the festival’s founder, Robin Munro. Now, it’s unclear whether the festival will continue independently, with Munro still at the helm of an event that grants status for local artists.

“The RiNo Art District is no longer affiliated with Crush Walls,” RiNo Art District founder Tracy Weil said in an email to Denverite. “We’ll be continuing to provide paid opportunities for artists with our mural programming and new events in 2021. Keep an eye out on our website and our social media for more info. Street art in the art district will continue to create vivid images and bold messages that are so important during these times.”

Weil added that the move was a “mutual agreement.”

On September 21, the day after CRUSH 2020 ended, Robyn Frances, a local artist known as “Grow Love,” wrote on Instagram about her former relationship with Munro and why she no longer particulates in CRUSH. In the post, Frances wrote that Munro had sexually assaulted her while they were dating, and that he’d also been inappropriate with her daughter, who was eight at the time.

It wasn’t the first time Frances had posted about Munro. She wrote about her experience with him in 2018. She’s frustrated that artists continued to support Munro after that, but says that part of it is because of the power Munro has as a leader in the arts community.

“People are willing to put up with toxic people and toxic events and toxic galleries or organizations, just so that they have some sort of viewership or access to jobs and work and opportunities,” Frances said. “That’s what’s happening.  I believe the industry in general is really having to come to heads with that.”

Frances’ more recent post garnered a much larger reaction, leading several women to come forward with their own claims of abuse by Munro, which Munro has denied. RiNo responded with a statement that has since been deleted, saying that Munro had been temporarily suspended and that the claims would be investigated. The arts group has otherwise not addressed the accusations, and the women involved say they were never contacted as part of that investigation.

“It’s hard for me to understand how someone can hold an investigation on one of their artists about sexual assault, and then not contact any of the victims,” said Jessica Vaughan, who posted that she had been raped by Munro.

Vaughan said that she was initially happy to hear that RiNo had cut ties with Munro, but that the decision doesn’t entirely sit right with her.

“I’m excited that something’s happening, but it just doesn’t feel like it’s enough,” she said. “It’s been like two and a half months since I shared my story. And it’s been over three years since Robyn shared hers. So it’s, like, are we going to have to wait another three years before something happens, and then he’s going to get to continue to make a name for himself in Denver?”

Munro, who paints under the moniker “Dreadgod,” founded CRUSH in 2010. It has since become an internationally recognized event, drawing in celebrated artists from all over the world. In recent years it has been the subject of criticism for its lack of diversity and its contribution to gentrification in Five Points. The festival has since made efforts to feature more women, LGBTQ+ and artists of color.

CRUSH operated independently until partnering with the RiNo Arts District in 2017. Now that RiNo and CRUSH have ended their partnership, it’s uncertain what will become of the festival, but Kathryn Stimson, Munro’s attorney, said in a statement that Munro would retain control over CRUSH.

“After a complete investigation, including review of all communications between Mr. Munro and the online accusers, it is readily apparent that the allegations against Mr. Munro are demonstrably false,” Stimson wrote. “Mr. Munro is back in control of Crush Walls, is actively creating a panel of artists to further grow and expand the Crush Walls movement.”

It’s unclear what investigation Stimson is referring to — whether done by Munro’s lawyers, RiNo leaders or others.

Frances said it’s likely that artists would continue to participate in a CRUSH led by Munro. Many artists, she said, remain loyal to Munro, and others will understandably want the opportunity to work alongside international artists. She said that ideally, Munro would leave control of the festival to Five Points and to the original community there. 

“That would be the healthiest thing that they could do, because of the problematic nature of the gentrification that it’s caused in that area,” she said.

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