RiNo Is Not an Artistic Wasteland -- But What If the City Had a Hand in Keeping It Affordable?
A section of Brighton Boulevard in the River North district.
If you've spent any time on Brighton Boulevard in the last few years, then you know there's art happening there. A lot, actually. Since it opened almost a decade ago, Rhinoceropolis and its neighboring venue, Glob, have put hundreds of bands, performances, festivals and films before all-ages crowds in Denver. And there are dozens of other venues and gallery spaces in RiNo that continue to support the arts. But as in many other areas in this city, when the art and music isn't happening in venues that have been commodified and legitimized, they are treated as invisible. This isn't all bad, though; it works to the advantage of the venues, as DIY spaces are often run in an under-the-radar capacity.
When Denver recently put out a call asking for input on creating live/work spaces for artists in the River North area where these DIY art spaces (and many other venues that have come and gone over the years) exist, I was a little bit annoyed. I felt like the area was being treated as a "discovery" by Denver officials -- when arts enthusiasts had discovered it long ago.
See also: DIY or die: Why Denver needs under-the-radar, all-ages arts spaces
Warehouses on Brighton Boulevard.
The chatter on my Facebook was echoing similar sentiments. Artists who have been living and working in the River North district for years were feeling as though their work/existence was not acknowledged. Others didn't want the city to pump any money into the area for artists, instead asking the establishment to focus on homelessness and the larger affordable-housing crisis. Many felt that this was just going to be another failed tactic by the city to get involved with underrepresented arts communities by talking at them instead of working with them.
I get all of these grievances. When I think about the city and art and these types of calls for participation and input, all I see is a panel of "experts" talking about the local music and art scene as if it were a fictitious thing. I see money being allocated in stupid ways that don't actually help artists. I see the conversation not actually involving the people who live and work making art in Colorado.
Why? Sometimes it is because these artists are ignored. But also it is because these people don't speak up or don't bother participating in what often feels like hoop-jumping. I am one of these people; I, too, am (still but am trying not to be) cynical about the city wanting to create affordable spaces where artists and their families can work and live.
Initially, I wasn't going to take the survey because I figured it wouldn't make any difference. Besides, when I look at an area like Brighton Boulevard, I see what's coming, and it isn't something that artists without money can stand up against anyway. Progress, or gentrification, or whatever you want to call it is moving quickly through the city. It isn't just affecting artists who are trying to sustain; it is affecting everyone. Rent is out of control, people are being pushed out of their own communities, and the face of Denver is changing.
But what if the creative communities in Denver were given a real option for a more affordable space in which to live and work and create art -- and the city had a hand in providing it? The survey itself is very general, but it may be a starting point. If anything, it could be the beginning of a larger conversation around keeping Denver affordable for all low-income people, whether they're artists and musicians or not. Denver's housing crisis isn't just about artists; it's about everyone.
So I encourage everyone to take the Arts and Venues Space Matters survey. We won't know if it will make a difference, but I don't see any harm in taking ten minutes to share your opinion. It might lead the way for something bigger.
Be my voyeur (or better yet, let me stalk you) on Twitter: @cocodavies
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