RiNo Takes Care of Its Own With Emergency Micro-Grants for Artists

RiNo is home to countless Crush Walls murals, like this one by Alexandrea Pangburn and Romelle.
RiNo is home to countless Crush Walls murals, like this one by Alexandrea Pangburn and Romelle. Nikki A. Rae Photography
Some say the River North Art District is no longer a place “where art is made,” as RiNo's motto goes, but district co-founder and executive director Tracy Weil continually says that simply isn’t true: In spite of rapid development, 175 artists work in the district at such spots as the Globeville Riverfront Art Center, Walnut Workshop, Studios on Blake, Ironton, RedLine, Blue Silo Studios and the Temple. And RiNo also boasts 21 galleries and a plethora of musicians, makers and more than 100 independently owned small businesses, breweries, bars, restaurants, salons, retail shops and gyms.

During the COVID-19 crisis, the entire creative community in RiNo, including new entrepreneurs, has taken a big hit. As Weil notes, it was the perfect time to draw money for micro-grants from the district’s support fund.

click to enlarge Mockery Brewing is open for curbside delivery in RiNo. - MOCKERY BREWING
Mockery Brewing is open for curbside delivery in RiNo.
Mockery Brewing
“We already had a budget item for the fund, but we were still conceptualizing,” Weil says. “When the pandemic came on board, we thought maybe we should release those funds for this. As it was, we already had artists struggling to pay rent, and small businesses and shops were struggling, too. People were not going out as much, and our bars and restaurants — which rely on the culinary arts — also needed help.”

The district acted fast, announcing the availability of grant applications Saturday, March 21, before RiNo’s creative denizens-in-crisis could fall completely off the grid. It’s created a generous grant pool of $200,000, to be divided up in increments of $500 to $2,500 — more than the $130,000 that Denver Arts & Venues budgeted citywide for its own Imagine 2020 citywide emergency grants for artists, which top out at $1,000 per artist. The response to that call-for-grantees was so overloaded that the city has put the application process on hold in order to catch up with the deluge.

Weil notes that other grants are cropping up in Denver, including emergency funds released directly to designated local cultural groups by the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation and the Denver Metro Area Artist COVID-19 Relief Fund, which focuses on grants for artists from already underserved communities.

click to enlarge The international team TKO Crew contributed this RiNo mural during Crush Walls. - NIKKI A. RAE PHOTOGRAPHY
The international team TKO Crew contributed this RiNo mural during Crush Walls.
Nikki A. Rae Photography
“There are all these things we can do together to help the artist and small business communities,” he continues. “There are all these funding streams coming together to help people get through this. We thought about what would make a difference for our artists as a first step. If we can help them buy a couple month’s rent, that’s helpful for all of us.”

And the RiNo Art District is personalizing service to its constituents in other ways, too, by instigating a Keep RiNo Rolling online page that keeps up with how various artists and businesses are reinventing their everyday practices with streaming yoga classes, to-go food and drink delivered curbside, online shopping or, in the case of RiNo-based artist Susan Dillon, an online “Make Me an Offer Sale.”

“It’s a good place for people to let us know how they're dealing with crisis,” Weil says. And it’s also a well of information for socially-distancing customers afraid of finding a ghost town in RiNo. In a time when people helping people is a healthy practice, even at a distance, that’s something we need more of in Denver.

RiNo artists and small-business owners are invited to apply for grants online at the RiNo website. Applications submitted by April 10 will be given preference; distribution will follow thirty to forty days after grantees are accepted.
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Susan Froyd started writing for Westword as the "Thrills" editor in 1992 and never quite left the fold. These days she still freelances for the paper in addition to walking her dogs, enjoying cheap ethnic food and reading voraciously. Sometimes she writes poetry.
Contact: Susan Froyd