D3 Arts Is a True Treasure of Westwood, Maintaining the Neighborhood's Roots and Mexican Heritage | Westword

D3 Arts Is a True Treasure of Westwood, Maintaining the Neighborhood's Roots and Mexican Heritage

The unique blend of activities D3 Arts provides is intended to focus on community health, cultural identity and artistic expression.
Skaters shred at D3's Sorry Mom deck release party.
Skaters shred at D3's Sorry Mom deck release party. John Flathman
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Santiago Jaramillo wasn't even a teenager when his skateboard started echoing on the Westwood streets. Now a community elder and the executive director of nonprofit D3 Arts, at one time he was just a boy with a board.

"I got into skateboarding when I was about nine years old," he remembers. "My neighbor, who was my best friend growing up, his brother Eduardo got into BMX and punk rock, and that's how I got into that stuff, because everything he did, we did." The young friends soon shifted from BMX to skateboarding, and a lifelong passion for rolling through the neighborhood was born. Decades later, Jaramillo's enthusiasm for it remains undimmed.

"We just got into it. I don't know, I just love it to death — I always have. It's probably my favorite thing ever," he says with a boyish laugh. Being young and Mexican-American and on wheels in the 1980s was frequently hazardous. "It was hell!" he exclaims. "It was not fun over here, man; we were probably the first skaters in Westwood. Blood, sweat and tears for skateboarding. It was rough. I got jumped — we had to fight all the time. People were always throwing stuff at us and trying to run us over and, you know, I was a weirdo with a mohawk."

Although violent static was a daily distraction, Jaramillo was also immersed in a culture and camaraderie that inspired artistic development and creativity. Westwood "used to be 90 percent Mexican or Mexican-American," he notes. "I also think at the time it had the highest proportion of youth in the city, and, you know, skateboarding's very DIY, so me and my buddies just started making art. And that's kind of what we always wanted to do: have a space to do art and skateboard and make music."

Today that vision is a reality at D3 Arts, which Jaramillo leads along with his daughter, program coordinator Lala Jaramillo, who is responsible for booking music and painting. It takes its name from the third district of Denver, which encompasses Westwood, Barnum and Villa Park. Jaramillo began by organizing Aztec dance events thirteen years ago to provide an outlet for himself and fellow dancer Mandy Medrano. They began to host dances, ceremonies and other art and music events, and named their project Morrison Road Action Committee in 2011. After partnering with Anne Lane and José Esparza from the development nonprofit BuCu West, the project began to obtain grants and funding. Its name changed to D3 eleven years ago, and the group went through various locations before moving into its current space at 3632 Morrison Road three years ago.

D3 Arts frequently hosts local bands, skate jams with Sorry Mom Skate Company and Last Friday art openings; it also acts as a space for a variety of recovery meetings and cultural events, such as its annual celebrations of Frida Kahlo and the traditional Mexican festival Mikailhuitl. Everything runs out of its small gallery and event space, which is perched on the north side of Westwood, surrounded by carnicerias and body shops. The unique blend of activities D3 Arts provides is intended to focus on community health, cultural identity and artistic expression, values that Jaramillo believes are still relevant and even vital for Westwood kids.

"Times have changed," he says. "I think today people don't get picked on as badly [as we did], but punk rock and skateboarding still have that element, and I think it will always be there. There's some scary shit that can go down — people drinking and doing drugs. ... I mean, that was my story. For me, this space is a place to provide that safety. It's important that people can know when they come here, we want to encourage creativity but also be like, 'Hey, this is always going to be a safe space for you.'"

Equally important is an emphasis on the complexity and discovery of Mexican-American identity, elements that have been a personal catalyst for Jaramillo and integral to his development as an artist and community organizer. "I got introduced to a teacher, Cuauhtemoc Mosqueda [Temok] — he's an official capitán [Aztec dance teacher] from Mexico City — about 28 years ago. Just meeting him and the things I've learned from him, especially about our Indigenous roots, it changed my life," he reflects. "It really changed the way I see myself in this world and what I want to do in my life and how I do it. It changed me. It's a huge part of why I'm trying to put Aztec symbols on everything. I want people to see, here around the community: 'This is who you are, you're from here, you're Indigenous,' because most Mexicans are Indigenous people."
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Aztec murals at D3 Arts by Lala and Santiago Jaramillo.
John Flathman

Aztec murals are a primary feature of the interior of D3 Arts, painted by Jaramillo and Lala, who has followed in her father's footsteps as an artist and community voice.

"My dad is one of my biggest influences because he showed us all art, period," she says. "Growing up, my house was always full of different paints, canvas, tattoo stuff; basically every creative medium you can find was in our back room. He had me singing songs off Pinkerton [by Weezer] at the age of four, and he has a tattoo of one of the first drawings I had ever done from around the same age; I asked him what color he wanted his guts."

She describes a household buzzing with artists. "My brothers Ray and Santi have been huge influences. Seeing them paint and watching Santi establish his career as a tattooer was the coolest thing ever as a kid and teenager," Lala recalls. "Ray was an amazing graffiti artist; I remember being completely obsessed with his street art and graffiti books. I used to sneak their old drawings so I could see how they were painting and try and mirror it. We were all kind of weirdo punk kids."

Raised in the same home her great-grandfather bought in Westwood when he brought their family to Denver forty years ago, Lala keenly appreciates both the vibrancy of the community and its need for creative outlets. "In this neighborhood especially — growing up, there wasn't anything over here," she explains. "There weren't any really safe parks or community centers or just general resources for kids to go and create and get whatever they need to get out. So that's kind of why we stayed over here: Westwood has a really special place in all of our hearts. I love this neighborhood. I know everyone on my block."

Lala's programming work is integral to providing artistic opportunities for her neighbors. "I get art in here, I get the music in here, and I get kids to come in here and volunteer and help us get stuff done," she says. "D3 started with wanting to help each other and make art. Art is a very healing tool for a lot of people, I think it's a very direct window into your soul and everything that you're going through. Getting it out onto paper —  or getting it out into music, or whatever art people choose to do — is necessary in a lot of cases, I would say."

D3's upcoming musical draw is a Goth Night on Friday, April 14, with five DJs and several vendors. There will be live shows every weekend throughout April. It's just one of the wide range of activities the nonprofit offers that, coupled with the recovery efforts in an alcohol- and drug-free space, makes D3 unique. "I think art and sobriety kind of go hand in hand," Lala says. "When you're getting sober, you need outlets, you need something to do. This is a sober and safe space, and there's not a whole lot of that, I think, within DIY scenes and music communities. We want to be a safe space for all the little freaks and weirdos of the universe."

The elder Jaramillo is proud of everything D3 has accomplished, but he also predicts a day when the neighborhood will have to fight to protect itself from developers. "One of the issues we're faced with here that I'm hoping we can get more attention to is gentrification," he says. "It's gut-wrenching to know that our neighborhood could disappear. It'd be a shame to lose all the culture that's here. We want people to see what we're about; that tears down racial divides, it helps stop discrimination. We want people to come to Westwood and see what Mexican-American culture is about, even back to our Indigenous roots. But c'mon — don't come buy our neighborhood out and kick us out. It hurts my heart to think that this could be gone."

Spilt Milk: Goth Night with DJs and vendors, 7 p.m. Friday, April 14, D3 Arts, 3632 Morrison Road. Tickets are $10.
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