Art News

Why Esteban Peralta's DIY Gallery Is Leaving Denver for Austin

Esteban Peralta at home in La Alma/Lincoln Park.
Esteban Peralta at home in La Alma/Lincoln Park. Tiffany Ruby
When Esteban Peralta considered opening a DIY garage gallery in his La Alma/Lincoln Park home at 747 Elati Street, he asked his neighbors for permission. After they gave him their full support, Peralta Projects gallery was born.

A year later, the Denver-born artist and curator is heading back to Austin, where his career first flourished and his two grown sons live. He says he wants to establish roots there with his three-year-old daughter.

Sadly, Peralta Projects, which has become one of Denver's best arts spaces, with some of the most rigorous curation in the region, is no more. But he isn't completely abandoning Denver.

"I started Peralta Projects knowing that I would take it one year at a time, and I'll continue with that idea," he explains via email. "Peralta Projects will no longer have a fixed Denver presence, but I'd like to partner with spaces here and maybe continue with pop-up shows. I will most likely take a year to settle back into my life in Austin and then re-evaluate Peralta Projects as a fixed space, but I've already started conversations about pop-up shows that I'm hoping will happen very soon in Austin."

click to enlarge Esteban Peralta is the owner of Peralta Projects. - JAKE COX
Esteban Peralta is the owner of Peralta Projects.
Jake Cox
Meanwhile, he has plenty to say about the state of Denver's arts world and city officials working to turn the town into a "world-class" art environment while doing relatively little to, in his words, "maintain an art ecosystem."

"I think there is a lot of focus right now on the 'creative economy' and 'art markets' and the 'global creativity economy platform' (a term I stole from a certain artist 'collective' CEO), and that has been frustrating, and it has muted a lot of the amazing things that I have witnessed by the people who really love this town and work very hard to maintain Denver's very strong cultural identity," Peralta says.

"I echo a lot of what Dan Landes had to say when he decided to pull up stakes and move to Mexico, particularly when he said, 'You look like a crybaby lamenting the loss of something that wasn’t strong enough to survive.'"

Artists in Denver already feel the city is unfriendly to them, Peralta added, and the base of arts collectors willing to take risks on lesser-known independent spaces and artists needs to grow.

"The problem I have with art audiences, in general, is that they're lazy," he says. "This isn't just a Denver problem, but it's particularly evident here. People love things that are marketed and neatly packaged and easily consumable. Things that are easy to Instagram."

While many artists bemoan steep rent and too little arts funding, Peralta takes a different tack: "Artists are always gonna find a way to make their work, whether you offer them affordable rent or not, so I don't worry so much about that. Artists adapt very well to things. I find it kind of amusing that philistines with lots of cash like to follow creatives around city neighborhoods and unwittingly chase them out."

Late last year, Peralta and poet Sommer Browning made waves with a gentle jab at the Santa Fe arts giant Meow Wolf, which is opening a Denver outpost in 2020, when they created a bumper sticker that reads "CASA BONITA IS BETTER THAN MEOW WOLF." Fans of the immersive arts corporation condemned them for being naysayers rather than getting involved with the global creativity economy platform, as so many local artists have.

But Peralta never wanted to. And as he tells it, being critical is a sign of his commitment to Denver.

"I love this fucking town, man," he says. "I will continue to be a critical advocate for this town, because I love it so much. I think we need more people in the established art community here to start being public with some articulate and thoughtful critique about what is happening here. We don't get anywhere as creatives and a creative community by toeing the line."
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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris