How do you get kickstarted when you're a young artist, right out of art school with nothing lining your pockets but a smudge of paint and a fierce desire to put your talent on the map? For some lucky emerging artists in Denver, it all starts with a good studio space, and close to 100 of them, interspersed with a few fashion designers, screenprinting operations, creative entrepreneurs and even a milliner, have found one at Wazee Union, a unique RiNo neighborhood space that nudges the railroad tracks off Brighton Boulevard and features 48 units renting for anywhere from $200 to $1,000 per month, all sectioned off within the warehouse's nearly 20,000 square feet.
The brainchild of real estate guys S. Brian Smith and Neil Adam, Wazee Union, which began renting spaces earlier this year, has been so successful that they're in the process of adding a kind of annex across the tracks on Walnut Street.
"No one wants to move after they've been here," Smith notes. We're 100 percent full and always have new tenants in there within a day of one leaving."
Smith and Adam say their original vision for the space was to be half studios and half businesses, but the demand for affordable artist workspaces tipped the scales. And they're very happy with the easy way things have turned out: Similar ventures such as the Third Ward in Brooklyn, Smith points out, are more commercialized and less grassroots than Wazee Union, where community is the glue that holds the whole place together. There are monthly tenant meetings at the warehouse and, as of December, public Second Saturday events, with open studios and art exhibitions in the hallway galleries.
And, of course, Wazee Union's staff has been more than supportive. "There are reasons we are unique and the place is always full," Smith says. "Most of these kids have never had their own space to work in. We give people blank walls and concrete floors, and they can do whatever they want, within reason. They can paint murals in halls. And we treat them like they matter, like they are adults. Nobody here is better than anyone else."
Wazee Union's denizens range from indie artist Scot Lefavor to professional photographer Norman Dillon, with a large cross-section wedged in between, and it works for just that reason. "People here are like-minded, and they help each other daily. This is a friendly, open community," explains resident artist Nick Hughes, who also curates the gallery shows. Following are a few of the other tenants: Nick Hughes in his studio:
Graffiti-art collaborators Travis Burns and Chaz Kraizer.
Graphic artist Markham Maes (aka Shitty Kitten) and fashion designer Natasha Lillipore share a studio at Wazee Union.
Artist Tom Scharfenberg.
Milton Croissant III of Rhinoceropolis, the king of Brighton Boulevard.
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Meet these folks and many more at the next Second Saturday event from 2 to 11 p.m. on January 8; visit Wazee Union's Facebook page for the latest.