Off Limits

Sour grapes

The Grand Junction Convention and Visitors Bureau may not know it yet, but 2.33 million Democrats could be headed their way.

"After poring over voting tallies from every county in every state, I found 2.33 million marginalized Democrats in need of rescuing," writes Amy Jenniges in the Stranger, the Seattle weekly edited by Dan Savage, sex-advice god. "That's the number of people who voted for Kerry in counties that overwhelmingly -- by 70 percent or more -- picked Bush. We need the Kerry voters trapped in rural red counties to move to Grand Junction by 2008. Rent a U-Haul and get going. Concentrating marginalized Democrats, and creating just one more urban hub in our country -- Grand Junction! -- will create one more solid blue state."

Having grown up in Grand Junction, we here at Off Limits have just one question: What the fuck? Why would anyone choose to move to a place that during the summer more closely resembles a lunar landscape than colorful Colorado? Legend has it that the Utes considered the Grand Valley, of which GJ is the epicenter, so cursed they wouldn't even walk through it. Not one step.

Take a good look, Democrats: This is your promised 
land.
Take a good look, Democrats: This is your promised land.

No good reason, admits Jenniges. She's never even visited the retiree haven at the intersection of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers that's proud to boast two Wal-Marts for a population of 45,000 (or a whopping 122,000, if you count all of Mesa County). "Choosing Grand Junction was kind of random. I wanted something in Colorado, since it's literally in the middle of the U.S., it's a swing state, and it's a good mix of Dem and Republican," Jenniges says. "I couldn't put all of those stranded Democrats in Texas -- that would be mean! As for the specific town, I liked the name, it's on a major interstate, it's not too close to other towns -- so there's room to grow -- and it's relatively unknown. Their tourism website cinched it: It looks like a beautiful place people would like to live in, myself included."

Despite the liberal come-hither photos, Grand Junction might not be so welcoming in reality. "If all those Democrats came here, I would feel that this area would be getting way too big too fast, and I'd have to find me a smaller place to live," says Barbara Brewer, Mesa County public trustee and chairwoman of the county Republican Party. "I think someone in Seattle has way too much time on her hands. And the fact this is coming from Seattle -- need we say more?"

Just this: It's a good thing the valley is now covered with vineyards instead of fruit orchards. Them 2.33 million Democrats are going to need more than a few glasses of shiraz during the occupation attempt.

The party's over: For the past three years, Michelle Barnes's friends have known exactly where to find her on Tuesday nights: the Funky Buddha Lounge.

In 2001, the obscenely energetic artist began hosting Exhibition Tuesday, a marriage of high art and bar culture that took over the candlelit interior of the Funky Buddha on Lincoln Street one night a week. Nearly 300 painters, designers and illustrators, most of them local, have since had their moment on the venue's walls, and some evenings drew hundreds of fans.

"Originally the idea was to get some like-minded people together, even if it was just four or five, and eventually grow the circle," Barnes says. "But it's grown to the point where I'm hearing from people who've just arrived from New York or L.A. or Europe, and they heard it about it there."

Figuring three years is a pretty good run for any party, Barnes had planned to discontinue the night at the end of December; all of the hosting and hanging of paintings was cutting into her own career as an illustrator and educator. (Barnes's work is featured in a retrospective of illustrations from the New York Times now showing at a Manhattan gallery.) But last week, Funky Buddha owner Regas Christou, who'd sponsored the weekly exhibition and supplied its patrons with free champagne, beat her to it, telling Barnes that the expenses were outweighing the value of the event and that the party was over at the end of November. And so Barnes hosted her last gathering this past Tuesday.

"Regas is a businessman, and I respect that, and he had to make a decision based on what made sense from a business point of view," says Barnes. "The bar venue was very unique in a lot of ways, because it was a social thing, and people could come in and sit down and really look at the art -- unlike a gallery, where you kind of wander in and out in fifteen minutes. But it's a different world from the academic or the gallery world. It can change on you."

Her e-mail box is flooded with panicked messages from art lovers who want to know what's next, Barnes says. She may launch a monthly artists' salon and will continue hyping interesting events through Artvite, her newsletter of goings-on in the Denver art world. But she's ready to hand the hostess role to someone else.

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