What Does "Community" Really Mean? Wrenching Tales from Titwrench.
Titwrench 2015: A community created in real time.
Courtesy of QBala.
As a writer who covers local issues in art, social justice and city growth, I use the word "community" on a regular basis to describe both tangible settings and loose associations between people. This past weekend, as I made hundreds of laps around DIY space Dryer Plug Studios, where I was helping to throw Titwrench, an annual music and art festival, I saw many communities materialize under one roof. The gathering reminded me that as much as a community can be about a geographical place where people have rooted themselves, it can also describe the feeling of unconditional support that arises when humans look out for each other.
In a city with a population that is growing at an average of 4,000 people per month, communities in Denver are not only expanding quickly, they are changing. I write about Denver's growth often and because of this, I've become a sounding board for people looking to share their stories and frustrations with the city. At Titwrench, I spoke with an artist who is also an elementary school teacher, and expressed distress for her beloved Northside neighborhood. Depending on your perspective, the exponential rise both in population and development in this part of Denver could be seen as really great or devastating. But for her, the big issue was the serious loss of community she was experiencing in the neighborhood where she'd grown up. As a teacher at an elementary school with a predominantly low-income student base, she shared that she has been watching as families of her young students are evicted from their homes because of rising rents and shipped off to other parts of the metro area that they can still afford — far from her school.
Parents are coming to this teacher in tears because they are having to uproot their families from the community that has served and supported them, leaving behind not only the community found at their child's school, but the neighborhood where they once lived. It made me think so much about what it means to have the safety net of familiarity. Being able to survive in Denver these days isn't just about affordable rent: It's about keeping people in the place where they have invested in other humans around them. Families who have spent their lives on the Northside aren't just leaving the comfort of a geographical location when they are forced out of their homes — they are losing the neighbors, businesses, social services and jobs that have helped them live their best lives in a once-affordable city.
As I continued my walk around the Titwrench grounds, making sure each vendor had what they needed and checking in with every performer to see if they ready for their set, I thought about my interaction with that teacher. She was part of this community we create each year for the festival — a kind of consistent but temporary community built on the idea that everyone deserves a chance to showcase their art, regardless of where they come from. At each annual Titwrench, I see people come out of the woodwork who I don't cross paths with any other time of the year. They come to our gathering because they know it is a welcoming place that supports them as individuals, whether they are musicians, artists, vendors or festival-goers.
The festival wouldn't work without the people who make it a reality — because we are a Do-It-Yourself effort, Titwrench is run by the human power of volunteers. So much of what we do is based on affordability; our festival doesn't cost much to operate because we rely on a network of people, venues and organizations to make us go. We also survive because Denver is still a relatively affordable place for artists to live and visit for extended periods of time — we bring in musicians and artists from across the country to perform each year, and we also find them safe places to stay for free, so they can experience the Mile High City in full. It's just part of our philosophy as a collective.
If Denver is becoming unaffordable for the everyday people who make it a great city, how can we continue to ask these same people to support small endeavors like Titwrench? Our music festival is fueled in part by money collected, yes. But it also exists because there is a community made up of people from all walks of life who support us. Our community stretches across many communities. How do we preserve communities across Denver while experiencing the kind of growth that benefits some but not others?
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