Charity Von Guinness New Executive Director of RiNo Art District | Westword

RiNo Art District Hires Charity Von Guinness as Executive Director

Co-founder Tracy Weil is moving to the board.
Charity Von Guinness is the new executive director of the RiNo Art District.
Charity Von Guinness is the new executive director of the RiNo Art District. RiNo Art District
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In 2003, the City of Denver issued its River North Plan, covering the area "northeast of downtown Denver between Park Avenue West and Interstate 70 and its interchange with Brighton Boulevard," an area "with enormous potential to create a unique community that will take its position among Denver’s great places."  The boundaries included the old Denargo Market, empty lots and industrial warehouses, as well as some studios occupied by savvy artists making use of the dilapidated storefronts and other buildings.

Chief among them were Tracy Weil and Jill Hadley Hooper, who took note of the River North plan. The pair drew a boundary of all the art locations they knew in the area, and in 2005 they formed the RiNo Art District. Since there was already a River North in Chicago, they thought the neighborhood could use a better nickname. RiNo, maybe. "We went with a standard acronym," Weil recalls. "It just took off from there.”

And how.

As it heads toward its twentieth anniversary, the RiNo Art District has grown into a major powerhouse, a 501(c)(6) nonprofit dedicated to fostering a diverse, creative community in four north Denver neighborhoods. And now it has a new executive director, Charity Von Guinness, who's stepping into the role just vacated by district co-founder and longtime executive director Weil.

Von Guinness brings almost twenty years of her own experience in "breaking down barriers through advocacy and access to the arts," she says. "As this area continues to grow and change, it will be essential to build on that legacy of collaboration to ensure artists and historic neighborhoods remain at the center."

There have been abundant changes in RiNo even since 2016, when Von Guinness first visited the area. "There was a tremendous amount of development happening," she recalls. "And an overwhelming feeling of what an incredible community this is, and how people try to help each other and take care of each other."

Six years later, the development continues. "Things are changing quickly, but they are in every city," she notes. "I need to identify the unique challenges specific to RiNo and Denver in general."

Von Guinness was chosen for the job through a nationwide search. Coming as an outsider is "a little bit of an advantage," she says. "I'm able to see things from a fresher perspective, but in order to understand, I have to be listening all the time...everyone has a voice."

Most recently, Von Guinness was director of development for Miami's longest-running alternative art space, Locust Projects. But she was already thinking about her next step. "Everything about this has been extremely intentional," she says. "Over the last year, I've been trying to decide where do I want to be. What part of the country? What are my priorities? Denver stood out...having this opportunity that really aligned with my personal purpose of providing access for everyone to the arts. Access to dream. Dreaming is a privilege."

Arts is a lot more accessible in the district these days with the opening of the Bob Ragland Branch Library and the ArtPark, which have been filled with family-friendly activities this summer. That addition fits well with Von Guinness's work as Miami director of ProjectArt, a nonprofit that partnered with Miami-Dade County libraries. "I loved working with libraries," Von Guinness says. "There was so much energy. It's an amazing community resource."

And one she plans to take full advantage of as she works to implement the district's strategic vision. "These are big ideas, not small challenges," Von Guinness observes. "It's a way of thinking abundantly, thinking of possibilities instead of obstacles.

"Looking at the skyline, things are moving rapidly," she says. "I'm really trying to implement a community sensibility where people feel like they can all come to the table; we can find solutions together. Getting this community and collaborative energy going is the most important thing. ... We're bringing everyone to the table."

And that table should be very full for the inaugural Art RiNo festival, which will take place September 5 through 11, with everything from mural painting to light installations to, yes, the Westword Music Showcase. Weil will be overseeing the fest as he works on the transition with Von Guinness, and then will move into a role on the board.

“We set out to find a visionary leader who would be a champion for the creative community, a steward for thoughtful economic development and a collaborative partner to our members, and we found that and more in Charity,” says Weil. “Her experience in arts advocacy, marketing, nonprofit development and community outreach, along with her passion for promoting equity and belonging made her the ideal candidate for this role, and I’m confident our team and the district are in great hands. I look forward to remaining a part of RiNo’s journey as both a boardmember and an artist here.”
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