Esteban Peralta lives in the same La Alma/Lincoln Park neighborhood where he grew up, back when it was known simply as the Westside. He later moved to Texas, where he engaged with the pioneering artist communities in Austin and San Antonio, and observed the same kind of building boom that’s currently overtaking Denver’s RiNo district.
Now he wants to open Peralta Projects — a contemporary DIY gallery in his garage. But first he's asking his neighbors for feedback, because he’s seen what happens to frontiers pioneered by artists and newfangled small businesses, then taken over by commercial outfits...or worse.
Denizens of the neighborhood are invited to fill out an online survey through the end of April; if the neighbors respond positively, Peralta Projects will open in June with an exhibit of works by three Denver artists (Theresa Anderson, Amber Cobb and Dustin Young) and three Texas-based artists (Hector Hernandez, Cruz Ortiz and Kristy Perez). That’s a big move in an area already toned up by its proximity to Denver's Art District on Santa Fe.
“I grew up a block away from where I am now,” Peralta explains. “My mother was a victim of predatory lending and lost her home. That’s why when I moved into Texas, it was always very important to me to respect the history and the established community there, especially in historic communities.
"It’s important that their feelings are accounted for,” Peralta adds. "A lot of that is about accountability on both sides, and that’s part of what the survey is about — so the residents’ voices can be heard. It’s something I can do. It’s small, but it’s something.”
Peralta wants to honor the history and people of La Alma/Lincoln Park, linking arms with them rather than bringing change to a neighborhood where it’s not wanted. “This was a very strong community back in the ’70s,” he recalls. “We never even really thought about gentrification. But when it started happening, that’s when we realized that there are some people out there whose intentions are not about community — they’re really about money.
“My motivation is to to try and get new people who move in to think more about what it means to be part of a community,” Peralta adds. “But there’s a difference between proclaiming something and actually doing something, so I’m committed to how these results turn out.”
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So far, Peralta says, the surveys have been overwhelmingly positive, but he’s looking for as large a cross-section of voices as possible before making a final decision. “My takeaway is that people want to be respected and heard,” he continues. “Like the Ink! Coffee dispute — that was just ill-advised. The city is absent when it comes to this issue. People are trying to find a way to get the community involved, and small businesses get caught in middle of battle, so we have to figure out what to do on our own, with zero guidance from the city. People look at small businesses as the enemy, at worst. Why not put out a survey that takes twenty minutes to put together?
“My project is small,” he concludes. “My efforts are a way for other small businesses to look at their potential impact on a neighborhood. The only thing I’m committed to right now are the results of the survey. There will be no follow-through if I get an overwhelmingly negative response. The art scene can be unbearable at times when a community-oriented project would be more amenable. This is a way for the city and its people to look at the real definition of what community should be.”
If you live in the La Alma/Lincoln Park neighborhood and want to add your two cents, fill out the six-question Peralta Projects survey online at SurveyMonkey through April 30. If all goes well, the exhibit Blue Note: A Survey of Texas- and Colorado-Based Artists will open on Thursday, June 7, with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m.
Learn more about Peralta Projects online.