Counterpath Press is more than just a press. In addition to publishing experimental poetry and prose, the 2013 Westword MasterMInd award-winner also hosts readings, performances and lectures. It serves as a gallery space for visual and audio material as well, and carries books from like-minded small presses across the country. Tim Roberts, who co-founded and co-owns the space with his wife, Julie Carr, set up shop on 613 22nd Street in 2010. One reason they chose that location was the energy given off by the nearby Mercury Cafe; Roberts says he values “the way they bring the community into that space” and calls the Merc a “force of nature.” Unfortunately, the stability enjoyed by the Mercury — which has been at that location for two decades — did not spill over to Counterpath, which threw its last event at its original location location.
Roberts always knew that relocating was inevitable. When he first rented the space at $600 a month, the owner told him that he would likely sell it to developers at some point. So last June, when Roberts saw the owner walking another man in a “nice shirt and tie through the back yard,” he says he knew: “That’s it, it’s done.”
It's a story that's becoming all too familiar in this rapidly gentrifying city. The building, which also housed the Melbourne Hostel, the bus depot Los Paisanos and a courier service, is being refurbished and converted to fit lofts, offices and a wine bar and restaurant, as well as other retail spaces. As renovations began, the new owners informed Roberts of a fourfold rent increase – from $600 a month to $2,500 — although they did say they’d like to keep the store and gallery there, if possible.
Financially, it was not possible. Roberts started looking for other options, and the new owners even hired a real-estate agent to help in the search.“They’re cool. They’re fine," Roberts says of his short-term landlords. "And their project is good. And I’m sure they’ll do something great with it.”
Roberts is reflective about the situation: How does a place like Counterpath respond culturally to transformations in the landscape — economic or otherwise? In November, he notes, Counterpath “had this show that collaborated with Los Paisanos, [and] with a local artist here, Patricia McInroy, who exhibited her photos, and did some site-specific work with the bus station.”
Anyone who’s been to an event at Counterpath has seen the customers of the depot next door, customers about to head south. McInroy interviewed some of these travelers and their families, and put the video on display in Counterpath’s windows, while inside she hung photos of the physical border between Mexico and the USA. Linking the photos to the video and the throng of would-be passengers waiting outside, the artist hoped viewers would come to see that “the border” is not just a fixed line on the ground, but extends – culturally, socially, economically – far beyond a specific set of geographic coordinates. The site-specific exhibit served to break — or at least highlight – some of those cultural differences that constitute the border.
Roberts, who is now looking at a nearby location at 21st Street and Glenarm Place, wants to carry site-specificity to a new space. “If we don’t have some kind of link to something that is happening here, it’s not as interesting,” he says, referencing his involvement with location-based art. One of the first projects that Roberts is considering after the move would involve asking artists to reconstitute and reinterpret the waste materials that come from preparing a building to become a gallery and venue. It’s a proactive look at the history and space that places such as Counterpath necessarily but often unthinkingly transform and occupy, he explains.The project would also suggest that the current move is only a hiccup in Counterpath's pursuit for interesting programming. And new books are on the way too, Roberts adds.
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Part of Counterpath’s resiliency comes from the model that Roberts set up to sustain the imprint: The book-publishing business that focuses on scholarly works provides income that allows him to pursue other interests, while the physical capital used to publish scholarly material also enables him to actually print literature that, due to its challenging nature, has a small market. Carrying books from other small national imprints on consignment bolsters his selection while doing little to add to overhead. For other organizations and individuals seeking to push and distribute art outside of the mainstream, Counterpath’s approach could serve as a template.
This template helps shield Counterpath from the tension that characterizes the relationship between economy and culture. In a city like Denver, culture is often leveraged as a selling point for developers and residents alike; it helps fuel the engine of economic development. Yet those who actually bring culture into a city, like Roberts and Carr, are hardly immune to the pressures of economic growth.
Fortunately, Counterpath has the resources and resliency needed to continue producing cultural happenings and artifacts that are not only challenging, but are also, in Roberts’s words, “critical of culture itself.”