Ninety-Year-Old Liquor Store on East Colfax Becomes Art Studio and Workshop | Westword


Ninety-Year-Old Liquor Store on East Colfax Becomes Art Studio and Workshop

From pints to paint.
Artist Hobo Smutt paints outside East Colfax Gallery and Studios.
Artist Hobo Smutt paints outside East Colfax Gallery and Studios. Aurora Cultural Arts District
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The building at 10201 East Colfax Avenue, once home to a liquor store that operated for nine decades, has been vacant for the past year. But it will soon be filled with artists and creators when the Aurora Cultural Arts District opens East Colfax Gallery and Studios in the space, with a grand opening on February 22.

ACAD executive director Bliss Coleman was looking for a neutral place for the Aurora community to gather and create when she came across the building, one of many vacant spots along the East Colfax corridor. With just 130 square feet, the new East Colfax Gallery and Studios will swing between studio and gallery space, using six movable walls to be mounted for exhibitions and removed for studio time and classes. There will also be a kiln for pottery and ceramics.

It took a lot of work to get the space in suitable shape, Coleman says, and despite the building's age, there wasn't anything worthy of historic preservation. There was a hole in the floor, a broken back door — nearly every corner of the building was neglected. "This place through. It was used and abused for a space to hold the alcohol, push it out the door, and really nothing more, and I don’t know if it ever in its ninety years gave back to the community as much as it took," Coleman says. "It makes me feel very torn, because nobody wants to come in and erase history...but it’s kind of a push-pull when it comes to alcohol, because it’s something we use to celebrate and come together, but then in areas like ours, it can also be a catalyst for somebody’s detriment."

click to enlarge
An ad for the liquor store in the 50's.
Aurora Cultural Arts District
Artists will now be able to use the space to create, take and teach classes, exhibit their art and learn how to price and sell their work, Coleman says. She adds that ACAD has had successful pop-up exhibitions in the past, and hopes that a permanent, stable venue will enable more artists to create and sell work. And while classes will begin at a to-be-determined price point, the goal of the gallery and workshop is to eventually have reduced-price and even free classes, making art accessible to everyone.

"We’re one of the forty art districts in the state, [and] we’re also part of the Colorado Women's Caucus for Art. When we’re looking at the world of fine art, there are a lot of gaps and disparities in art-making, especially in low-income [communities]," Coleman says. "It’s really important for us to be able to take people who usually don’t have those types of opportunities and show them the actual process of what it would be like to be in a fine-art gallery."

Coleman believes that the art space can contribute to the community more positively than the liquor store did while still remaining a historic part of the community. Class mediums will range from painting to ceramics, but any artist who wants to teach a class will have the opportunity.  "Another objective is to allow artists who want to teach a class to have the tools to do so," Coleman says. "So let's say that your thing is you want to teach stained glass; we provide the tools and the materials, and then you lend your expertise. It becomes a support system, to bring people in for the class and for the artist to get paid for their talents and sharing them."

The grand opening, which takes place from 4 to 7 p.m. and is free to attend, will showcase work from Aurora artist Hobo Smutt, who creates with recycled materials, and muralist Conner Jhoon Choi.

"Even if you’re not trying to make artwork as a career, it doesn’t matter — there’s something about taking a minute just to be able to create and be somewhere else other than your 9-to-5," Coleman says. "Sometimes in our community, people don’t always have that opportunity."
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