Denver writer, artist and creative thinker Deanne Gertner directs her many talents like a laser, all in service of the local art and performance communities, and not just as an art and dance writer and critic, but also in the grassroots trenches of grant-writing and art curation in both the nonprofit and for-profit worlds. Gertner’s résumé includes past stints with the corporate art-curation outfit NINE dot ARTS, the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts and the Denver Art Museum’s CultureHaus young professionals' group; currently, she serves on the board at Lighthouse Writers Workshop when she isn’t writing anything from books and poetry to training manuals or embroidering men’s briefs with epithets tossed her way by male friends and strangers.
On the entrepreneurial side, Gertner recently initiated Hey Hue, an independent arts agency aimed at improving the business interface between artists and the public, beginning with a pop-up affordable-art gallery in a truck. How does she manage to integrate all of her breakneck initiatives and projects? Learn more as Gertner answers the 100CC questionnaire.
Deanne Gertner: Books were my first love and continue to be a huge part of my life. If I don't read in a day, it's as if something is missing, like forgetting a watch. It just feels off. Literature keeps me grounded, inspired and empathetic. Even during those times when I'm not writing or active in the arts, I feel connected — to that writer, and by extension, all of human history — through reading.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
I would love to have a dinner party with Louise Bourgeois, Yayoi Kusama and Kiki Smith. These are three of my all-time favorite artists, and I'd love to hear what they have to say to each other about art and life. I'd probably not even say anything the whole time and just try to soak in every word.
What’s the best thing about the local creative community — and the worst?
There are so many amazing things about the local creative community. One thing that is particularly unique is how collaborative and supportive artists are across genres and mediums. Denver is kind of an island. There aren't many nearby big cities, so we end up helping each other out with information, resources and ideas. I also love how art and talent continues to proliferate. Every day, I discover a new artist, writer or performer who is doing amazing work. It's impossible to keep up with all of the artistry happening in this city.
I think the worst thing is the idea of scarcity. This more than anything seems to be the underlying cause for disputes in the arts. I think it leads to a win-lose mentality and positions people against one another. If the arts in this city are going to be sustainable over time, this is something we need to come to grips with. The arts economy is diverse for a reason. We need nonprofits to help connect the community. We need for-profits to develop patrons. We need philanthropists to take risks. We need patrons to share the love. I believe there are plenty of resources to go around and that we can all succeed. It might sound Pollyanna-ish, but I really do believe that there is a place for every kind of art. It's just a matter of finding the right audience and the right fit.
To me, the best thing about the global arts community is how the Internet and social media have been able to connect us. I can discover an artist in the U.K. I never would have known about through Instagram. The exchange of ideas occurs instantaneously. It's really a miracle.
I think the worst part of the global arts community is what's happening in the greater economy — more and more stratification, with the top echelon controlling the majority of the wealth and power.
What is Hey Hue, and the inspiration behind it?
Hey Hue is an experimental arts agency created to spur artist entrepreneurism and make art collecting more accessible to the average person. The inspiration is threefold. First, I somewhat selfishly wanted to create something I wanted myself but couldn't find. Second, I saw how Jonathan Saiz has been disrupting traditional models and making art more accessible for average people and thought I could help other artists do the same. Third, I wanted to challenge myself to start my own venture and take some risks.
What advice would you give to a young artist just starting out in Denver, given the current climate?
My advice to young artists is to be as creative in how you make money as you are in your art practice. If you have a day job, have one that you can easily leave at work each day and that doesn't sap your intellectual, emotional and physical energy. Is there anything you can do to create passive income streams? Maybe you create a line of enamel pins or jewelry. Maybe you turn an ice cream cart into an art-vending cart. What other opportunities are out there for you? There are so many residencies and grants available. You can use a fiscal sponsor like Fractured Atlas to apply for nonprofit opportunities. Take measured risks and have fun. Laugh at yourself and be grateful for what you have. Don't focus on what you don't have or isn't going well. When all else fails, take ten good breaths.
I've not traveled much outside the States, so that's definitely something I want to do. I'm working on a book-length manuscript of essays exploring my estrangement with my dad right now, so I want to finish that and get the individual essays and eventually the book itself published. I want Hey Hue to continue to grow and support artists. I want to continue to place art in unusual spaces. I'm also really passionate about artists owning real estate. I think this is key to keeping talent in our city and making sure artists stay part of the community. Lastly, I would love to redevelop the Royal Palace Motel on Colorado Boulevard and Colfax into an immersive arts motel — a combination of 21C and Meow Wolf. If any developers out there are interested, let me know.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
Love it! I've lived in Denver my whole life and can't imagine living anywhere else, because this is my home. My family and best friends and roots are here.
Denver is nearly unrecognizable, from a physical perspective, compared to a decade ago. I'm constantly driving around and asking when that building went up and who are all these people. I think we're experiencing growing pains as a city right now, and I know there's a lot of backlash. But change is constant; nothing is permanent. This lesson has taken me my entire 35 years of life to learn and came to a head in a big way earlier this year. Maintaining a white-knuckle grip on how things were or how they "should be" only causes ourselves pain.
The thing we need to focus on as a city is maintaining accessibility and making sure the people who've helped build the culture and fabric of the community don't get left behind or priced out. This is a responsibility of everyone: the city government, groups like the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Denver Partnership, and for-profit companies like real estate developers.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
This question is like Sophie's Choice. But I'm going to answer with one of my favorite humans on planet earth: Jessye Ebbinghouse. She's one of the most thoughtful and creative and good-hearted people I've ever met, and I'm so excited to see what she does in the near and far future.
Finishing a book of essays, growing Hey Hue and having more fun.
Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
Again, this is a painfully difficult question to answer. But I think these artists should get noticed: Marsha Mack, George P. Perez, Wes Sam Bruce, Ajean Ryan, Floyd Tunson and Control Group Productions.
I think Lighthouse Writers Workshop is starting to get noticed locally and nationally, and I think it's going to continue in a big way over the next year thanks to support from the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation, the Denver Foundation, the NEA and the Bloomberg Foundation. Full disclosure: I'm on the board, so I'm slightly biased.
The next stop for Hey Hue’s Sex Drugs Rock & Roll pop-up gallery on wheels is at the Temple Tantrum DIY block party on September 1 and 2, at the intersection of 24th and Curtis Streets in Curtis Park. Learn more about the arts festival online.
Learn more about Deanne Gertner on her home page.