Through her And Art Space consultancy, Leah Brenner Clack has become the go-to Boulderite for matching walls with muralists, but her enthusiasm for decorative street art goes beyond the boundaries of consulting. Brenner Clack works double time as an advocate and community-builder who matches students with mural-making opportunities and brings neighbors together in beautification projects, all while serving as a public-art liaison with the City of Boulder.
Brenner Clack says she’s come a long way since we first showcased her as a Colorado Creative in 2015; learn more about her journey as she revisits the questionnaire.
Westword: How has your creative life grown or suffered since you last answered the CC questionnaire?
Leah Brenner Clack: My creative life has grown so much since the last interview. I no longer work in the retail gallery world, which is sort of a huge relief. I now work independently in public art as a curator, community organizer, arts advocate and creative consultant. Most of the work I do falls under my And Art Space umbrella project that I founded in 2015. I also co-founded a neighborhood arts organization, Arts Martin Acres, in 2016. I have more time to do my own creative work, which has been completely inspiring and transformative.
As a creative, what’s your vision for a more perfect Denver/Boulder (or Colorado)?
The first time I did this questionnaire, Boulder didn’t have a city public-art program, and I listed that as something I thought we needed. Since then, there has been a lot of hard work by the Boulder Office of Arts and Culture, including creating a new position of public-art administrator and an official public-art program. I want to take a long minute to give props to Mandy Vink, the public art administrator who is a professional civic hustler. I have so much respect for her thoughtful navigation through all the different civic and community processes to champion for the Boulder arts. I don’t envy her position and am so grateful for the progress she’s helped make in Boulder.
And even though there’s progress, we still have work to do. We need way more grant funding for artists in Boulder (and across Colorado). I’m serving as a grants panelist for the Boulder Arts Commission this year, and even two grants into 2019, it’s mind-blowing how much fantastic creative work is being made in Boulder that needs financial support to thrive. My hope is that more grant money is allocated not only from Boulder City Council but also from more foundations, organizations and companies to support a healthy arts ecosystem in Colorado.
It’s a challenging time for artists and creatives in the metro area, who are being priced out of the city by gentrification and rising rents. What can they do about it, short of leaving?
It’s so challenging. I often think about bailing out to a small Colorado mountain town where I can have space to make lots of beautiful things and live a simple life with my husband and dogs. Boulder has been an expensive place to live for quite a while. It’s different than the rapid gentrification we’ve seen happen in Denver, and both are equally difficult. The cost of housing and studio space is a major issue for artists, and though there are “affordable housing programs,” they are extremely competitive.
Support co-housing models or any occupancy ordinance that might support creative housing options. Talk to city council. I think we need to stop being so centered on profits and property values and instead take value in supporting a diverse, welcoming community. I love Boulder, and the things I don’t like about it, I want to try to change. Let’s be a supportive community; let’s get together and figure out how we can make creative spaces work financially. Let’s get creative on how to integrate more artists into more aspects of our city in a sustainable way.
Murals are everywhere these days. Where do you envision the large-scale medium going from here?
Murals have exploded over the last five years, right? Artists are taking more risks and responding to architecture in innovative ways, creating mind-blowing murals with 3D effects, incorporating sculptural elements in really interesting ways, going super tiny instead of super huge, and using media and technology to create or collaborate with painters. All of this is extremely exciting to me, and I can’t wait to see it continue to evolve. I see even more integrated approaches with art and architecture, and more experimentation with experiential and immersive projects.
What’s your dream project?
I’m granted a large functional building in Boulder and create a hub that supports artist studios, collaborative space, performance space, teen and kids programming, and a safe place to gather, create art and support each other. The space is open to everyone and is a community resource. I don’t have to struggle to figure out how to pay the bills, and we all get to co-create a diverse, conscious, socially active art community.
What advice would you give a young hopeful in your field?
Figure out what you want to do and take the first step — the momentum will start. You don’t have to have it all figured out. Make strong connections. Ask for forgiveness, not permission.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
My favorite Colorado Creatives are the ones hustling for creative progress and supporting a vibrant arts community. Addrienne Amato and Kelly Cope of the Boulder Creative Collective work tirelessly and are visionary in their models for supporting artists in Boulder. Armando Silva is bursting with artistic vision and actively creating community in Greeley and across Colorado. Anthony Garcia Sr. has been an inspiration for years now, supporting the arts and his local community through a mind-blowing amount of projects in Denver, like Birdseed Collective, Alto Gallery and the new Globeville community center.
What's on your agenda right now and in the coming year?
I’m currently consulting with Boulder Housing Partners on the integration of multiple public-art installations for a new mixed-use development in Boulder coming in 2020. I’m honored to work with an organization that has taken the initiative to actively engage with artists in the early stages of development in order to integrate public art in a thoughtful and considered way.
Last month I launched a street-art workshop series with Boulder High School’s National Arts Honor Students. I’ve been envisioning this project in some form for a couple of years, and I’m so grateful that Open Studios, Boulder was able to financially support this project so we could make it happen. “Art on the Streets” is a series of workshops with three different local street artists who lead students to create work in response to social issues. Our first workshop was lead by Edica Pacha, and the students created a wheat-paste collage responding to diversity and inclusion (currently up at Alfalfa’s Market on Broadway in Boulder). Our second workshop, begun in April by Patrick Maxcy, will result in a mural on the Boulder Creek Path.
I’m also working on a street art exhibition at the library’s Canyon Gallery this fall that will include not only street art in the gallery, but also mural installations around the city, as well as an artist panel discussion, DIY workshops and collaborative events with other artists. Street Wise will take place in October/November 2019. If any organizations and businesses would like to get involved as partners and sponsors, please get in touch!
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Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
I admire the work and drive of women hustling and doing spectacular work in Colorado, including Gemma Danielle, Lindee Zimmer, Marisa Aragon Ware and Edica Pacha. I hope they continue to get more of the attention they deserve. I have been Internet crushing on (Psychedelicious Lex)ie Baker and Katy Zimmerman. My tattoo artist Joel Long, who is the hardest-working professional ever and whose artwork I will wear with pride until I die. And last but not least, Sam Parker, an amazing multifaceted artist who definitely deserves to get noticed this year.