Stain’d Is Making Its Mark in the Denver Art Community

Co-founders of Stain'd, Noah Kaplan and Delia LaJeunesse.
Co-founders of Stain'd, Noah Kaplan and Delia LaJeunesse. Photograph by Nick Brown
Writer and artist Delia LaJeunesse has a hard time saying no to creative projects, a trait that has helped her build the arts nonprofit Stain'd. Co-founded with Noah Kaplan, the project started as a publishing house; it has since turned into group organizing gatherings where Denver artists and musicians can have difficult conversations — along with a host of other activities.

For example, this month Stain’d is putting on a Friday, March 16, open mic at Whittier Cafe, a poetry workshop on March 18 led by poet Molly Davidson, and a dreamwork workshop with Nourishing Energy Acupuncture on March 25.

We spoke with LaJeunesse about her vision for Stain’d, the art community of Denver, and why you shouldn’t submit a Twilight-themed essay for the third edition of the magazine, which is all about “Blood.” 

click to enlarge Delia LaJeunesse - PHOTOGRAPH BY NOAH KAPLAN
Delia LaJeunesse
Photograph by Noah Kaplan
Westword: What is Stain’d?

Delia LaJeunesse: Legally, our name is Stain’d. But we are Stain’d Arts, Stain’d Magazine, Stain’d Publishing— all of it. The vision is to create platforms for artists to engage in difficult conversations and topics, to walk into gray space, to challenge held beliefs — and we do that through the publication of art and literature, through hosting workshops and a variety of community events.

Where did you and Noah Kaplan come up with the idea for Stain’d?

I ran a little feminist zine in college called Coin-op, and it sort of morphed from that. I was very much focused on the feminist side of things [with Coin-Op] and less concerned with craft. Not to stay that we stepped away from feminism in any way, but [Stain’d] lets more nuance in. I came together with the co-founder Noah Kaplan with an idea of starting a publishing house. ... It has spiraled, hopefully not out of control [laughs].

click to enlarge Noah Kaplan - PHOTOGRAPH BY DELIA LAJEUNESSE
Noah Kaplan
Photograph by Delia LaJeunesse
Did you always envision something beyond the publication?

No. It’s been unfurling. The idea of publishing anything was a big project when we first got started with it. We are starting to build our support, but it’s been slow. It’s been two and a half years of: How do we get people to feel like it’s their project, that they want to be a part of and to work for? But the enthusiasm, the envisioning and the ideas have not been a struggle. I really love it. It is my favorite thing.

We just filed with the IRS for nonprofit status, so we formed a community advisory board — people who have been contributing to Stain’d, who we do collaborations with or who have expertise in the art or nonprofit world. We also have a patron page now, and there’s a level where you can become a community adviser.

How has the community of Denver helped foster the scene for Stain’d?

There are a lot of hungry people who show up to these events and who submit, and their energy has pushed this all forward. If we didn’t have so many people participating in whatever capacity, I would have burned out.

How do your passions align with this work?

Oh, man, in every way. This is 100 percent passion. I primarily identify as a writer, but also as a visual artist. I feel via Stain’d, we have been able to have these really honest and in-depth conversations about topics, which is hard to get in other parts of life but is so magical when it happens, when you can have a subtle dialogue about something difficult.

click to enlarge Poet Jah Blessed at Stain'd Open Mic. - PHOTOGRAPH BY DELIA LAJEUNESSE
Poet Jah Blessed at Stain'd Open Mic.
Photograph by Delia LaJeunesse
What is Stain’d Arts doing currently?

We are about to release the second volume of our publication, which is centering on “Shame.” We are [publishing] a poetry anthology this summer, and we run an open mic once a month with facilitation by Danny Mazur of Soul Stories. With Soul Stories, we just finished up our first storytelling event, and Stain’d is working on publishing an art book surrounding that event. We also run a weekly creative-writing critique group and have about two workshops a month. And we are always taking submissions for our online content.

Can you tell us a little bit about the open mic at Whittier Cafe? How did this event get started?

My partner in all of this used to run an open mic in Fort Collins, and it felt like this special space. I mean, all open mics feel special in a weird way because it’s a space where people can try things out, and it felt like a great way to engage with people in the community.

The first one was in November, and we’ve asked Danny, who is also on the community advisory board, to facilitate the event. Somewhere in the planning process, we decided to have a featured artist at the end of each open mic to highlight talent in the community. It feels important to celebrate...we have had musicians and poets almost exclusively featured, but ranging in talent.

click to enlarge Kid Astronaut at a Stain'd open mic. - PHOTOGRAPH BY DELIA LAJEUNESSE
Kid Astronaut at a Stain'd open mic.
Photograph by Delia LaJeunesse
For Stain’d Magazine, where do the themes originate from?

The first theme was “Masculinity." It was decided in 2017, which felt extremely pertinent given the political climate and all of that shit. From there we did a survey of people who financially contributed to the magazine [and asked] them to throw out an idea for the next theme, and Noah and I picked what seemed interesting, expansive — a topic that can be really narrowed and broad.

Our submission is now open through the end of June, and the subject is “Blood” [laughs] – so whatever that means to you. And we take submissions in anything that can be printed: poetry, prose, nonfiction, fiction, paintings, drawings, photography. We haven’t had cartoons yet, but that would be cool. It’s taking a topic and finding a way to represent it in a way that is unfamiliar or unusual. Just no Twilight shit. I’m not saying no to vampires, but keep it to a minimum.

Who do you think your audience is for Stain’d?

I think it’s more specific than I want to admit. I think there are people who it doesn’t work for. I think you have to be down with being a little uncomfortable.

It’s largely positive feedback, particularly regarding the publication. But I think some people are confused by it: You pick up the magazine with the title "Masculinity," and you may have assumptions about what is in there...and it ends up being work to understand what your presumptions were going in. I get why it’s off-putting.

Stain'd Open Mic at Whittier Cafe, 7 p.m. Friday, March 16, 1710 East 25th Avenue; Poetry Workshop, 1 p.m. Sunday, March 18, Coffee at the Point, 710 East 26th Avenue; Dream Work Workshop, 3 p.m. Sunday, March 25, Nourishing Energy Acupuncture, 2845 Wyandot Street, Apartment B.
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Taylor Heussner has been writing for Westword since January 2018. She received her bachelor's degree in creative writing from Colorado State University and writes for myriad literary magazines. When she's not attending concerts, you can find Taylor searching for music, writing poetry or petting the neighborhood dogs.
Contact: Taylor Heussner