Leon Gallery has been a team effort since it opened on East 17th Avenue in 2011, but Westword MasterMind Eric Dallimore has served as its curatorial guiding light from the beginning. Working with others to create a gentle and public gallery space that not only takes artistic chances but gives its artists the opportunity to express themselves freely, often going against the grain of more commercial venues, Dallimore helped shape Leon as a gathering place that welcomes collectors without guile. It’s been quite a learning curve, but now he’s ready to say goodbye to the gallery and move on to bigger things.
He’s grateful for the lessons he’s learned and the confidence he’s gained as a gallerist. Along the way, though, Dallimore found that he was making less of his own art and expending all of his energy and resources mounting shows. Meanwhile, he saw a growing need in the world for direct action against social injustice and global environmental concerns. He wanted to do more.
“We stand by our mission to push contemporary art forward,” Dallimore says. “But to survive, we also need to make a profit. When you have to spend personal money and take other jobs just to be able to support the gallery, over time it wears you down. Critic Jerry Saltz said that the art world is an ‘all-volunteer army.’ And he’s right, sadly. Running a gallery is rich in purpose, but it has a dark underbelly.”
Last summer, Dallimore took some time away from the gallery to think things through. “I got a job as an arborist with Swingle,” he explains. “It was great — I got to be outdoors, and the work was super-simple.” He found the peaceful sojourn of physical, mindless work energizing and contemplative. “I could let my mind wander, and I began to rethink things.” Inspired by the seriousness of his girlfriend’s work as a social anthropologist, he grew hyper-aware of a personal disconnect between his work maneuvering the art world — not a bad thing entirely, as it involved helping artists in tangible ways — and doing what felt like more important work, bringing humanitarian support to the larger world in crisis.
Dallimore decided he’d return to his native state of Louisiana to be near family while pursuing a master's degree in political science at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. “My dream is to learn how to work in government to pass humanitarian legislation,” he says, adding that his ultimate goal is to work in the field overseas, helping people directly.
Denver’s been good to Dallimore, and he hopes to eventually return here. But in the meantime, he has some ideas about how the city could better serve its artist community. “We don’t need a soccer mom, a firefighter and a city council member deciding what makes good public art," he says. "We need artists and experts making those decisions.”
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He's also advocating for change in the structure of public-art budgeting for overpriced and oversized projects. “Why not take fifty and give each of them $100,000 yearly — just to be artists? Like the Japanese, we could support masters in different disciplines and watch what they create, so public funds are not pigeonholed solely into creating monolithic statues," he explains. And on the gallery front, he continues to advocate for accessible spaces. “The most important people in the gallery world are the collectors,” he notes. “If someone was interested in creating a magazine that celebrates collectors, I would like to be part of that campaign.”
He’s also confident that he’s leaving Leon in good hands, under the watch of co-owners Eric Nord, a career arts administrator with the gallery since 2014, and newcomer Allison Bartholomew, an art consultant and event planner. “Eric has a storied career," says Dallimore. “He understands that world, but he’s also one of us. He gets it — gets our honest approach. I’m confident he’ll keep that entity alive and grow Leon from a comfortable gallery to one with national notice.
“He’s Leon’s stage-two rocket into space," Dallimore adds appreciatively. "I’m the Space X that returns safely to the ground for reuse.”
The current show at Leon, Jonathan Saiz’s The Deep End, which closes January 7, is Dallimore’s last as a curator; the gallery will celebrate him, as well as the exhibit that's closing, at a party and reception from 6 to 10 p.m. Thursday, January 5. Visit Leon Gallery online for more information.