RedLine show opens tonight which showcases the art of formerly-homeless Denver residents

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If most of the artists in Denver could make a living off their artwork, the staff of Denver's restaurants and bars would be getting a big makeover. But sustaining the homeless through art is the idea behind RedLine's Reach Studio. Tonight, pieces from the project will be on display at RedLine with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m. and will be on display Friday as well.

Last year, Michelle Kimball and Kate Young, the program managers, created the now renamed Project 2323 after meeting in a Metropolitan State College class. They held weekly art seminars in various mediums at St. Francis Center, reaching about thirty people over the summer of 2010.

"We hope to give them an alternative to becoming self-sufficient by giving them a job that's not 9-to-5," Kimball says. Being an artist doesn't end at the canvas or the spinning wheel though. There are other options like graphic design and photography too.

"There's also a lot of job skills involved in art," Young says. "It's not going to be a profitable business for everyone but the skills are skills used throughout life--things like taking criticism, learning how to work independently, being able to look at something and finish something, and acknowledging problems and find solutions."

This year, Kimball and Young are focusing their energy on a few, dedicated residents of Cornerstone Residences, an off-shoot of the St. Francis Center which provides apartments to the formerly-homeless. The show opens in a makeshift space in the entrance hall of RedLine. And due to scheduling conflicts, will only last until Saturday morning.

Young says the project still in the "beta stages" and the duo behind the project have plans to expand the show into the main gallery space, currently occupied by the Design for the Other 90% exhibit.

Seven artists will show tonight. Sevilla Stinnett creates large-canvas works as well as art on furniture. She participated in last year's Project 2323 and hopes to eventually make a living from art. She designed clothes before getting involved with RedLine, but now, she's interested in all aspects of art. She hopes to eventually become a Resident at RedLine.

"I knew I had it in me," she says. "I'm trying to get out of the hobby stage. I'm very hopeful that it will."

Just like any show, the artists hope to sell their work. "They're giving me the opportunity for my first exposure," Richard "Gonzo" Beck says. He's one of the most prolific artists in the program and began practicing art seriously about four years ago, starting while writing letters to his girl in prison. "It's easier for me to express myself through drawings than it is in words."

In order to get more supplies, he figured out when area printing presses tossed out the usable trash and began scavenging from their dumpsters. Eventually, he built relationships with the print shop owners and they know to expect him.

"There's a lot of work out there for some people to do. Art is an alternative to almost everything," Young says. "When you're operating a little differently from the norm, you need something that will allow you to be that way. And art is probably the only place where it's encouraged to be a little different."

Reach Studio's programming included a visit to the Denver Art Museum and Young says that the participating artists were especially inspired by the African and Renaissance art on display. "I think being able to see what can be produced was a point of inspiration for them to create," she says.

Mud also inspired Donna Garrett to focus more on ceramics. "The way she put it, she says it was really nice to be able to do something with her hands that wasn't about surviving day-to-day," Kimball says. "There's something about the outlet and the materials involved that's really cathartic."

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