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Meet the 2013 MasterMinds: GroundSwell Gallery

On Saturday, Westword celebrated its ninth class of MasterMinds -- artistic adventurers who are changing the landscape of Denver. Here's our third winner:

Rebecca Peebles and Danette Montoya were two baristas with art degrees, living the artist's life, both seeking places to show their work and disappointed by the prospect of coffeehouse shows. But that was before they jumped together into a gallery of their own, just like that. MMJ dispenser GroundSwell was preparing to open a storefront at 3121 East Colfax Avenue, and Peebles and Montoya took a chance by asking if they could use a small space in the front of the shop as a gallery. "They literally just put it in our laps," Montoya remembers. "We didn't even know what was going to unfold, and it turned out to be something much bigger than what we were thinking of originally."

See also: - Meet the 2013 Westword MasterMinds - Photos: "Food Face" at Groundswell, 5/12/12 - Artist Sara Guindon on her new show, Barkley Towers

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In the year and a half since their first show at GroundSwell, Montoya and Peebles have grown it into one of the city's most interesting spaces, with a reputation for anything-goes shows. "Our biggest goal is to provide artists with the opportunity to have an exhibition with no strings attached," Peebles says. Many galleries, she notes, don't want to see experimental or unsalable works from their artists -- what she calls their "real work." And, as she herself has found, the alternatives to such traditional venues often aren't any better: "When you do need a place to exhibit, you often end up with the least-appealing space," she says.

Not so at GroundSwell. "I don't think many other galleries or curators see us as the incubator place, where you can see what the real art is before you have to make a commitment," Peebles notes. "But the artists get it, and they want to use the opportunity in that way." Montoya and Peebles still sling java when they're not hanging shows, the artist's life being what it is. But they can feel good about giving their compatriots a fair place to try out their heart's work in public, and there's always room to grow. "We can be more supportive through a stronger framework," Peebles says. "We could look into a non-profit status; we're thinking about applying for grants. Now that we have a better understanding of how it functions, we can work toward making it more of an institution."

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