Artist Kurt Redeker is looking around the shell of an old motorcycle shop. It's been a year and a half since Knew Conscious, his art gallery and members-only after-hours club, closed its last location, and he's spent every day since trying to open up again. In this gutted space, he imagines recessed lights and artwork, a wet bar in one corner and a dab bar in the other. He sees nothing but opportunity.
The new spot, at 2350 Lawrence Street, will hold up to 546 people. It's across from the Denver Rescue Mission and Triangle Park, next to a CrossFit gym and a charter school. Once he signs the five-year lease, this will become Knew Conscious's fourth address in as many years. He can't wait to move in.
"I fucking want to inspire," Redeker says. "I believe the only way you can communicate with humans is by inspiring them. You can't make them do things, but you can inspire them into their own greatness, and that's what I'm going to do."
Originally from Tarrytown, New York, Redeker followed the Grateful Dead to Telluride in 1991. He settled in Denver in August 1998, working as a graphic designer until 2008. That's when the explosion of medical marijuana dispensaries allowed him to leave his day job and make a living growing cannabis. He founded Knew Conscious in 2009 and opened his first gallery, at 2700 Walnut Street, in June 2010.
For three years, "I was just like everybody else in Colorado," he says. "I was growing weed, and I had money to create a culture around the arts."
Redeker threw fashion and gallery shows, concerts and all-night parties. The space drew huge crowds. "I wasn't selling any art," he admits. "This was still a cowtown." And like many, he considered Denver the Wild West — a city of infinite creative possibility.
"Back in the day, we were probably a little loose because we were unsure of the laws, and we were underground, and we were in RiNo," Redeker recalls.
In 2016, Redeker moved Knew Conscious into a larger space at 2041 Lawrence Street, which he subleased to the aerobatic yoga studio Circus Collective during the day. But in November 2017, the fire marshal shut the place down; the building was zoned as an automotive shop and didn't have the fire suppression system needed to run as a club. After some finagling, Knew Conscious and Circus Collective received a $50,000 grant from the city's Safe Occupancy Program to update the HVAC system, as well as an extension on the deadline to bring the space up to code.
But the two groups weren't getting along, and their squabble over the space wound up in Denver County Court. Circus Collective accused Knew Conscious of hosting "unlawful all-night parties with drugs and alcohol," and Knew Conscious filed a restraining order against Circus Collective for spying.
In June 2018, Knew Conscious packed up and moved out; soon after, Circus Collective relocated to Sunnyside. "I've learned the hard way, and I lost everything," Redeker says. "It felt like my baby was just taken from me, and that was the hardest three months, after I lost the place, that I think I ever had."
Scrambling for new digs, Redeker signed a lease with SoCo Nightlife for the old Sneekeazy spot at 1134 Broadway. This past June, he sent out a release promising that the new club would be "fucking amazing."
But days before opening, that deal fell through. He says a tipster spooked the property owner with rumors that Knew Conscious was "doing a drug party," says Redeker. (SoCo Nightlife did not respond to Westword's requests for comment.)
To find yet another space, Redeker joined forces with his cousin, Leah Hagemann, who helped raise capital for a new location. If it weren't for her support, he says, he would have given up. "Leah called me and said, 'The universe is protecting you. You have to look at it like that,'" Redeker recalls. "I said, 'You're right, I'm doing this. It's in motion. Knew Conscious is not about space. It's an idea. It's a brand now. Just because the space fell through doesn't mean it's going to go away.'"
Under the umbrella of Knew Conscious LLC, Redeker established the Knew Conscious Gallery; he also formed the nonprofit Knew Conscious Collective Inc., a 501(c)(7) Tax-Exempt Social Club. And he's basing both in the new space at 23rd and Lawrence streets that Knew Conscious is leasing from the Denver Firefighters Protective Association, a nonprofit founded in 1914 that owns three properties in the city, including the neighboring RiseUp Community School.
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Redeker, who's working with Behm Construction and Track Architecture on the buildout, hopes to open the space by the new year.
Knew Conscious will operate without a marijuana consumption license, because it is within 1,000 feet of RiseUp, and without a liquor license, because private clubs do not require them. Redeker explains that he's not selling either substance; he's not even selling tickets at the door. Only members will have access to the space.
He plans to black out the windows, and once the club opens, nobody will hear much from Knew Conscious, since its events — art shows, concerts, after-parties — will be entirely private.
"I don't want to be trying to undermine anybody or make it look like we're trying to scoot around the law," he says. "Everything that we do inside the club is private, so we don't talk about it. But we do emphasize that everything we do inside the club is legal."