Art News

PlatteForum's Big Year

PlatteForum staffers (from left, back row): Michael Gadlin, Sigri Strand, Zaia Sever, Kendall Kultgen, Axel Leonhardt. Front row: Destany Rodriguez, Kevin Sandoval-Torres.
PlatteForum staffers (from left, back row): Michael Gadlin, Sigri Strand, Zaia Sever, Kendall Kultgen, Axel Leonhardt. Front row: Destany Rodriguez, Kevin Sandoval-Torres. Sigri Strand
PlatteForum will celebrate its twentieth birthday under new leadership and with two brand-new spaces.

Michael Gadlin became the executive director of the arts nonprofit in September, after serving on PlatteForum’s board for seven years. “In ’09 I got a residency at PlatteForum under the founder, Judy Anderson,” Gadlin recalls. “It’s this real circle, being the head now after having been an artist at PlatteForum and being on the board. We’re celebrating our twentieth anniversary this year, so the pressure’s on.”

He’s already made huge progress: Three months into his tenure, he secured the largest grant PlatteForum had ever received — $275,000 through Caring for Denver, a nonprofit foundation that provides funds for programs addressing mental health. He's also bolstered the high school internship program, ArtLab, so that it can support more students.

ArtLab is one of PlatteForum’s “great services,” Gadlin explains. The program provides students, often from Title 1 schools, the opportunity to study as interns under the nonprofit’s resident artists. About thirty interns are accepted every year, and 95 percent of them graduate from high school.

“The internships are for all of high school; we see them through graduation,” Gadlin notes. “We have higher graduation rates because our program is super involved, and they get a lot of exposure to different arts and processes and material. And growing in other ways, because we have more services now than we ever had: We have a mental health program and a food pantry; we provide RTD passes and transportation.”

Gadlin can empathize with the interns. He grew up as a low-income biracial kid in Denver; when he attended East High School, there were few opportunities for less privileged students to access an arts education and other resources. “I’m so passionate about [the internship program],” he says. “I came from a one-parent family, raised by my mom. I had arts around me my whole life; I didn’t grow up with money and a lot of advantages other people do."

But he was "lucky," he adds: He got into the Pratt Institute of Design in New York and went on to art residencies around the globe. "I had a lot of belief in what I was up to and spent time in New York for undergrad and came back and taught. … This was an opportunity to do something that’s bigger than myself and give back."

PlatteForum recognized the importance of the program from the start, back when it first opened in a storefront on Platte Street in 2002. “The kids we serve come from BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities, and it was important to my predecessor that the head reflect at least some of that,” Gadlin continues. “There’s not a lot of BIPOC who are running things like this at this level. I’m the first person of color to run it. Although I don’t identify as LGBTQ+, I grew up around it — I’m a ’70s kid. My mom taught me to fight for equal rights and civil rights, and everyone we hung around looked like what I’m doing now. That was my flavor, growing up a biracial kid in the ’70s.”

Gadlin says that ArtLab is the embodiment of PlatteForum's mission: “Using the arts as a bridge, we connect youth and artists with resources to reach their full potential,” according to its website.

“The mission of PlatteForum is our top priority,” Gadlin adds. “It’s about caring for the teens we serve, whoever they may be, and giving them the opportunity to have the same confidence and outlook that those of us who were privileged enough to have a lot of support have. It’s really being a service to them, to open up new doors and opportunities. And they’re paid.”

He touts his team as a reflection of the mission, as well: Three of the part-time members were ArtLab interns. “We're, like, art misfits,” Gadlin says of the staff. “We all come from interesting backgrounds — we so reflect what PlatteForum is about. And I’m so proud of us: We’re learning along the way, and we don’t do everything right, but we do the right things right. And it’s going to be hard to fail when you have the right people around you.”

Other former interns are now on the PlatteForum board. One came into the ArtLab program as a freshman and stuck with it until she graduated, with a full scholarship to a private art school. “She continues to be involved,” Gadlin says. “She’s a voting member of the board.”

PlatteForum was so successful that after a decade, it moved into the Temple creative arts space, at 2400 Curtis Street. But during the pandemic, just as Gadlin was transitioning to his new position, the nonprofit decided it was time to save money, and moved into a smaller space at 2700 Arapahoe Street. “This new office space is a third of the size of what we used to have at Temple,” Gadlin notes. “I realized quickly we didn’t have space for our ArtLab interns or for our resident artists’ studio space and gallery.”

He credits PlatteForum curator and engagement director Sigri Strand with finding additional space in the former home of the short-lived ArtHyve, at 3575 Ringsby Court. “We looked at the space, and when it became available, we jumped on it so quickly,” Gadlin says. “We knew we needed to expand to do what we do. Now the artists have a dedicated gallery that we control, and a studio.”

The new gallery space has a funky, triangular shape, with big windows that can be pulled up almost like a garage door, which Gadlin sees as insurance against the return of pandemic shutdowns. “We could open this garage up and have outdoor showings," he says. "People could participate in the arts without walking in. This spot couldn’t be cooler. It’s such a gift.”

The first show in the new space, which opens on May 27, will highlight the work of Annette Isham, a multimedia artist who works primarily in videography. “She does videos of her within a landscape, and then reimagines the landscape as these surreal video movements,” Gadlin says. After that, PlatteForum will showcase an artist from Spain, Raquel Meyers. Both artists have residencies with the group.

The artists that PlatteForum chooses for its residencies — up to six a year — come from all backgrounds and work in a variety of mediums, but always have a social justice component to their art or experience. Artist residencies last six to eight weeks, and the residents work with ArtLab interns during that time.

Gadlin sees a bright future for PlatteForum. He wants to get the nonprofit to a million-dollar budget by the end of the year, and since it's currently at $750,000 for the first time in its history, that goal seems achievable. “We have to operate with some capital: We pay high school interns because they need it and they deserve it, and we pay artists,” he says. “Not every residency pays, but we pay artists pretty well and provide a show stipend, so we don’t expect them to use that initial money for their work. … I’m all about getting artists paid.”

And interns getting paid. “With this new big grant, we’ll have the capacity to have more kids in the program. We hope to pace ourselves and add ten a year,” he says.

“We’re trying to lift up other artists,” Gadlin concludes. “We’re driven to support the arts. … We want art to say something, and we want to say it with you."

Imitation Simulation (Annette Isham exhibition) opening reception, 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, May 27, at 3575 Ringsby Court, #103. Learn more at platteforum.org.
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Emily Ferguson is Westword's Culture Editor, covering Denver's flourishing arts and music scene. Before landing this position, she worked as an editor at local and national political publications and held some odd jobs suited to her odd personality, including selling grilled cheese sandwiches at music festivals and performing with fire. Emily also writes on the arts for the Wall Street Journal and is an oil painter in her free time.
Contact: Emily Ferguson