MasterMind: Illiterate/Adam Gildar

I was probably one of your top-five worst interns," confesses Adam Gildar. And he could be right, which means there's absolutely no favoritism involved in this MasterMind award. "I was obsessed with Illiterate at the time and trying to put out another issue." This was back when Gildar was a student, trying to publish another round of the arts and literary magazine that had gotten its start as a student publication at the University of Colorado. The group got the issue out in 2008, but in the process realized that the community of artists captured by Illiterate needed the support of a physical space. And once Gildar found the space — at 82 South Broadway, in an artsy area that was exploding with creativity — "then the question became what we do with the space, and an art gallery seemed to be a very doable thing," he recalls.

"It's really been somewhat learn-as-you-go," admits Gildar. The Illiterate crew — including partners Joe Wall and Sander Lindeke, along with a number of other supporters — wanted to cater to "a community of young artists who didn't have a place to show outside of coffee shops," he elaborates, artists who might have been intimidated in their previous attempts to show at a gallery. "We took the mission of the publication and put it into a physical, tangible format, showcasing emerging art. We have a lot of pride in where we're from."

And although Gildar grew up in Scottsdale, he's definitely talking about Denver. He found a lot of inspiration in this city, not just from people making art, but people making good suggestions about how Illiterate could facilitate the making of art. Photographer Mark Sink, in particular, was a "patron saint," Gildar says, a "real cheerleader for us in a way I don't think I deserve.... He's older than the rest of us, but younger than the rest of us in a lot of ways." It was Sink who suggested that Illiterate go for non-profit status, and just last Thursday, after a year of research and documentation, the publishing portion and educational programs were accepted by the Colorado Non-Profit Development Center, which will make sure Illiterate stays compliant with all the non-profit rules. "They take care of everything but the programming," says Gildar.

Which is good, because he has his hands full with Illiterate's ambitious programming — both on the page and on the walls. The gallery is currently showing two street artists, Jaime Molina and Mike Gallegos, who branched out into making objects; they'll offer a class in "Creating Characters" at Illiterate on February 19. "We've done a show every month, so it's been a lot. Our upcoming show is really exciting," Gildar says, then adds, "but every show is the one I'm most excited about." The idea for "The Big Picture," which involves photos submitted from around the world that will be turned into giant Xerox prints that will spill out of the gallery and into the city, also got its start with Sink, who has turned March into a month dedicated to photography in Colorado.

Illiterate's art programs are always on the move. The group has started an artist-residency program, in which an artist can work on a show for up to six months in the basement space beneath the gallery. Ravi Zupa, a previous MasterMind winner, is the resident mentor. "He's really inspiring," Gildar says. "He actually lives off his art." And not only does every artist showing at the gallery offer a workshop, but Dr. Sketchy's art class fills the space every third Sunday. Illiterate has started a comics series, too, with local comics artists — including Noah Van Sciver, whose 4 Questions is featured every week in Backbeat — coming in to talk, and there are also plans for more film nights. "These educational programs pull people in, and they're open to just about anyone who is interested," Gildar says.

People are so interested in everything going on at Illiterate that it's been tough to put out another issue of Illiterate. But the dialogue never stops on "It's the hub of what we do, the most consistent way to feel part of this art community," Gildar says. "We create the format, and users create the content; there's a democratic appeal to curating a publication." Someday, he may even get around to printing another hard copy of that publication. But in the meantime, with Illiterate, Gildar has already proven the most likely unlikely Westword intern to succeed.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun