Art News

The Circus Collective's Gallery Is Much More Than a Sideshow

Derek Carpenter helped transform the former auto-repair shop into the Circus Collective with this mural.
Derek Carpenter helped transform the former auto-repair shop into the Circus Collective with this mural. The Circus Collective
Can a circus save the world? If you ask the aerial entrepreneurs inside the rainbow-hued building at 2041 Lawrence Street, the answer is a resounding yes.

“We believe the circus can change the world," says Ariana "Air" Gradow, co-founder of The Circus Collective. "When people start doing circus arts ... moving their body in an acrobatic and unique way, they find the human potential is much more than they thought.”

Originally from Aspen, Gradow tried out a corporate career in Silicon Valley, planning events for Google and IBM, before she realized she didn't want that life. “I just decided at what point in your life do you want to follow your dream and go for it? And there was just this gut feeling that I wasn’t really happy,” Gradow recalls. When she was accepted into Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance Studio in Boulder, she gave two weeks' notice and never looked back.

click to enlarge Peter Holben and Ariana Gradow perform a signature stunt. - RUBIERA PHOTOGRAPHY
Peter Holben and Ariana Gradow perform a signature stunt.
Rubiera Photography
Accountant by day, unicyclist by night, Peter Holben had always wanted to be his own boss so that he could combine his passions. After he and Gradow met at an acrobatics class, they decided to partner and form the Circus Collective, which started as a yoga and aerial studio in 2017 and quickly grew into a community art space. But that's just the beginning: Holben wants to take his show on the road.

“I want more locations like this in all my favorite places in the world,” explains Holben. “I’ve been to 28 countries, and I want to keep that track up — and in all my favorite places, I want a business reason to go.”

The Circus Collective holds a variety of daily yoga and aerial classes. - THE CIRCUS COLLECTIVE
The Circus Collective holds a variety of daily yoga and aerial classes.
The Circus Collective
Right now, they're focusing on the Circus Collective's home in RiNo, where they recently added a full-on art gallery that's much more than a sideshow.

“From the gallery-world perspective, every time you do a gallery opening, you want to get some kind of crazy event or something else in," says art director Michael Meyer, who is also active on the board of the Denver Art Society. "Everybody brings in music, but it's like this place has the ability to turn any kind of gallery opening straight up into a gala-like huge function with performance arts going.”

While the setting, with silks on the ceiling and art on every wall, is awe-inspiring, converting the former auto-repair shop in RiNo into a movement space and gallery wasn't easy...and it wasn't cheap. Seven months into the paperwork for getting their official Certificate of Occupancy through the city, the collective launched a Kickstarter, aiming to raise $10,000 to help with the costs.

The Circus Collective expanded from running classes to hosting a permanent art gallery. - THE CIRCUS COLLECTIVE
The Circus Collective expanded from running classes to hosting a permanent art gallery.
The Circus Collective
Donors can have a toilet or water cooler officially dedicated to them as the group rebuilds the HVAC system. The Circus Collective was also awarded a $50,000 grant through Denver Arts & Venues and RedLine Contemporary Art for the some of the other upgrades.

Meyer thinks the greatest improvement was the front mural — a glowing rainbow wash by local muralist Derek Carpenter.

“The biggest thing about the arts is you can have the greatest art on the wall, but you have to get the people in,” Meyer says. “I used to know this building as an auto-mechanic shop... . The first time I came down here, I’m looking for the address, and I’m like, 'Where is it?' And then I randomly walked through the door and stepped in, and here’s this gorgeous gallery, people doing all kinds of crazy stuff right when I walked in.”

click to enlarge Don Callarman's "Self Portrait of Someone Else." - AMANDA PAMPURO
Don Callarman's "Self Portrait of Someone Else."
Amanda Pampuro
A fine example of that crazy stuff: On Friday, November 16, the Circus Collective will host an eightieth birthday party in honor of bohemian artist Don Callarman. Purple State with members of Elephant Revival will be performing, along with Arthur Lee Land and the Dylan Miles Experience; there will also be tie-dye stilt walkers and body painting.

But the main event is the collection of more than seventy pieces by Callarman, all created since 2000. Among the works are Callarman's iconic commemorations of great concerts at Quixote's True Blue, meticulous collages and incredible 3-D works that require rose-colored glasses. And don't miss the "Dead Masters" series spoofing iconic paintings by Norman Rockwell, Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh.

"Somebody asked me if I’ve been painting all my life, and I had to tell them not yet,” Callarman jokes, adding that the trick to a long and happy life is “mostly to not worry too much about anything. I guess that’s basically it. I don’t let anything get to me too much.”

Meet Callarman, see his art and learn more about his philosophy at the November 16 birthday bash; use the discount code "Behappy" to get $5 off tickets at The Circus Collective will also host a student showcase on December 15, and holds ecstatic dance sessions at 10 a.m. every Sunday.

Yes, the circus is back in town.

Don Callarman's 80th Birthday Bash and Art Exhibit, 7 p.m. until ? Friday, November 16, The Circus Collective, 2041 Lawrence Street. Tickets are $20 at the door, $15 in advance.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Amanda Pampuro cut her teeth reporting for the Mariana’s Variety and is now the Denver correspondent for Courthouse News. When she’s not freelancing or writing fiction, she enjoys making slightly-burnt baked goods.
Contact: Amanda Pampuro