“You don’t have to see the shed, I normally wouldn’t get excited by a shed,” says Tim Roberts, co-owner of Counterpath Press, a Westword MasterMind, as he jiggles the key in the lock anyway. Inside are boxes of books: experimental poetry, performance manuscripts, transcripts. Roberts opens a box and digs out several volumes, leafing through their pages, barely giving me a chance to glimpse the contents before he moves on to the next book. There is a lot to see in the new space: Last January Counterpath had its last event at 613 22nd Avenue, the home it had to leave because of redevelopment pressures; after a long hunt for a new space, the arts press, gallery and performance venue has relocated to 7935 East 14th Avenue. As he conducts a tour of this new place, Roberts talks about getting to know a new neighborhood, upcoming programming and the relationship between art-making and gentrification — all with fast, flowing sentences that reveal the enthusiasm he has for Counterpath's new home.
The shed, the books — everything seems to excite Roberts. He points to the stumps of two metal pipes embedded in the ground outside. “Don cut these down,” he says, referring to Don Johnson, a new neighbor hired by Roberts to help with the renovations, which started last July. Johnson’s presence is very real throughout the tour: He is the one who repaired the door to the back, sealed a hole in the wall, and tore down the old shed. “He’s here more than I am,” say Roberts.
Johnson is not the only person Roberts has befriended in his new neighborhood. For the first Counterpath event at the new spot, he invited any and everyone to submit artworks, depositing hundreds, if not thousands, of postcards in mailboxes around the area to solicit pieces. This Open Opening, as Roberts called the show, reflected his overall effort to stage exhibits and performances that directly engage with the community. Counterpath is “looking at community, not trying to impose a notion of what community is or what we want it to be, but trying to get a read on what is going on,” he says, adding that he hopes to stage “different kind of features that are directly involved” with the area.
In this spirit, Roberts is considering an exhibit that displays old photos and home movies coming from and focusing on people in the neighborhood, which straddles the border between Denver and Aurora. He also hopes to collaborate with a woman who approached him about using the space as a reception for her upcoming wedding. Roberts was reluctant at first, but “we said she could use it for free, if we could have Counterpath involved,” he says, suggesting that he organize a performance art interaction with the wedding. The couple agreed, and Roberts will soon send out a request for proposals from artists interested in the idea. Roberts has also teamed up with Robin Tafoya, formerly of Feed Denver, to establish a community garden.
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All of these projects, and the garden in particular, highlight how Counterpath’s new physical environs will help sustain its interests in social engagement, following a model similar to those of RedLine and PlatteForum, where people can activities coalesce around both art and community-building, rather than community-destroying. “We know how a new art space can mean the uptick of rent prices in the neighborhood, which is boring,” says Roberts.
Why use the word "boring" when gentrification is impacting people in so many different ways? “The process of gentrification is only boring in that it's so predictable and happens with such inevitability," he explains. "It seems to happen again and again, following the same patterns of undeveloped areas being inhabited by 'artists' who see potential there, along with affordability, then creating a scene or visible livability that others with more resources are attracted to. The more people move in, the more value goes up (yawn). It's painful, yep, but not unpredictable. How many upscale neighborhoods, starting perhaps with Soho in NYC, used to be bohemian enclaves?”
Gentrification is boring, then, in a narrative sense. Constant talk about gentrification and the arts creates a dulling of sensation, a feeling of inevitability. By staging performance-art weddings and community-garden installations, Roberts hopes that Counterpath can combat this sense of gentrification's inevitable effects, and instead produce alternative possibilities. “If there's one urgent need we have as an arts venue," he notes, "it's to confront this reality [of gentrification] head on, as much as possible, through our programming.”
The next Counterpath event is a reading by poets Janice Lee, Sueyeun Juliette Lee and Katie Jean Shingle at 7 p.m. Saturday, January 16, Visit Counterpath's website for more information.