Denver Creatives Fight Gentrification, Dream Up Artist-Run Spaces

Good Weather ups the ante for garage galleries and other artist-run spaces.
Good Weather ups the ante for garage galleries and other artist-run spaces. Image Credit: Good Weather (Little Rock, AR)
Denver artists caught in the crosshairs of gentrification and rampant redevelopment do have alternatives to that predicament, says Cortney Stell of the Black Cube Nomadic Museum. Artists who feel marginalized in the here and now should stop complaining and start changing, she advises, by devising new models to replace the old-school ones that aren’t working anymore. That's why she's organizing an Artist Run Spaces Symposium Wednesday, January 17, through Saturday, January 20.

Denver does have a history of success with co-ops, as well as a few more recent informal spaces like Jeromie Dorrance’s Dateline, Derrick Velasquez’s Yes Ma’am gallery in his basement and Sommer Browning’s garage venue Georgia Art Space, to name a few. But every artist-run space is fragile: For instance, Leisure Gallery, originally one of the symposium locations, closed so suddenly that Stell had to find a last-minute replacement for the event. To fight back against the loss of such spaces, Stell thinks we can diversify and do more.

“Denver has always had lots of local artists rooted in artist-run spaces for a long time. Think of the importance of Pirate in the history of the local art scene,” Stell says. “But now we have existing spaces that have had to relocate, [Rhinoceropolis] is shut down — and we now have Meow Wolf, which is a whole new kind of artist-run space.

“One good thing about all the growth here is that it’s encouraging artists to be more experimental,” she adds. “And that’s ultimately really good for the community.”

Stell and Black Cube hope to energize the artist-run space movement with the symposium, which will include presentations and a meet-and-greet with invited guests who are pioneering new solutions in other cities. They include Katherine Aungier and Siebren Versteeg of the New York-based space Regina Rex, Alex Paik of the multi-city concern Tiger Strikes Asteroid, and Haynes Riley, director of the Little Rock garage gallery Good Weather.

“The three institutions invited are all in very different moments of change themselves,” Stell notes. “Regina Rex is really interesting, and they’ve been around for a long time. Most artist-run spaces have a short trajectory, while these guys have been around longer than a decade, so they have a longer vantage point than the others.

“Tiger Strikes Asteroid is more of an independent franchise model, with outposts in places like Chicago, Pittsburgh and New York,” she explains. “They have a model where artists almost unionize; they pull together and help each other out. And all of these different locations then connect to networks in other cities.

“And Good Weather is a gallery in a garage, but it also participates in international art fairs,” Stell continues. “It gets a lot of press and is able to parlay the little things into the international radar.”

The symposium, which begins with a panel discussion, followed by two evenings of happy-hour shmoozing before wrapping up with a roundtable for Denver-specific artist-run spaces, is designed to incubate ideas through networking and discourse. “I hope the folks who run spaces in town get tapped into a broader network of support, and also become more aware of different ideas or resources,” Stell says. “I hope the broader community then understands the importance of this in the cultural ecosystem.”

What’s not-to-miss over the four-day event? Probably everything. But Stell offers some advice: “Office Hours at Sputnik is a happy hour for people to come and talk with our guests. Anyone thinking about opening a space should be proactive about introducing themselves to them.”

Black Cube’s Artist-Run Spaces Symposium, co-hosted by Art-Plant, opens with an introductory panel discussion on Wednesday, January 17, from 6 to 8 p.m. at BCHQ (Black Cube Headquarters), 2925 South Umatilla Street in Englewood. Meet the guest panelists in person during either of two Office Hours happy-hour mixers on Thursday and Friday, January 18 and 19, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Sputnik, 3 South Broadway. Finally, hash out some new ideas at the Roundtable for Denver-based Artist-Run Spaces, on Saturday. January 20, from 7 to 10 p.m. at Collective SML | k, 430 Santa Fe Drive. Learn more at Black Cube online.

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Susan Froyd started writing for Westword as the "Thrills" editor in 1992 and never quite left the fold. These days she still freelances for the paper in addition to walking her dogs, enjoying cheap ethnic food and reading voraciously. Sometimes she writes poetry.
Contact: Susan Froyd