Arrrrrr! Just in case you hadn't noticed, pirates are in this year. But you won't run into Johnny Depp or any other lonely peg-legged seafarin' brigands at the 24th Anniversary Group Show, which opens on Friday, December 19, at Pirate: A Contemporary Art Oasis, one of the oldest cooperative galleries in these parts. On the contrary, you'll find pros, says veteran Pirate Louis Recchia, who's been a member for "about 23 1/2 years." In the early days, he says, things were a lot looser than they are now. Buccaneers might have blended in. "It's a lot more professional now than in the beginning; then we were just a bunch of people who called themselves artists. Everybody involved with Pirate now is truly a great artist in his or her own right."
These days, Pirate's faithful don't have to be rebels. Everything's become quite democratic, Recchia notes. Rather than simply tying scarves around their heads and jumping aboard, prospective members must go through a screening process as associates before applying for regular member spots. And since Pirate is dedicated to exhibiting three-week, one-person shows by each member annually, those slots, limited to fourteen or fifteen artists, aren't always available.
Much of Pirate's success can be traced back to the tireless diligence of founder Phil Bender, a celebrated local artist in his own right, not to mention one of the great and durable characters of Denver's underground art scene. "Phil is the glue that holds the whole thing together," Recchia says of the one-man gallery director/handyman/ arbitrator/publicist/ installationist who's been on the front line from the very beginning. "He doesn't dictate. We vote on everything. But there's something about Phil, his personality, that keeps it going. A lot of the co-ops have other kinds of problems -- internal power struggles, that sort of thing. But Phil keeps the whole thing together. He delegates everything, makes it work."
That said, the probability of a 25th-anniversary show at Pirate next year is a given. "Denver has a reputation in other cities as having a strong art scene," Recchia says. "I've seen so many galleries come and go; the commercial galleries can't hang on. But a co-op doesn't have to earn money like all the others. I think co-ops like Pirate are the heartbeat of that scene."