When we last tapped artist Sarah Rockett for the Colorado Creatives series in 2014, she was concerned with rebuilding the overwhelming sense of community she’d known in her home town of New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina blew it away to the far corners of the nation. A people person looking to bring factions together, Rockett ended up in Denver, where she went on to make connections at the defunct Ice Cube Gallery co-op and through local residencies at PlatteForum, RedLine and, lastly, the Denver Art Museum. That’s where her passion for knitting art and community together in healing ways has really taken off, in her newish role creating shared art experiences.
It’s been, as she says below, a personal evolution. Go deeper with Rockett as she tackles another round of the Colorado Creatives questionnaire.
Westword: How has your creative life grown or suffered since you last answered the CC questionnaire?
Sarah Rockett: “Evolved” is the word I would use. I’m less concerned with making things and more interested in creating experiences. During my residency at RedLine Contemporary Art Center, I created a performative free meal, Comp: Activist Art Dinner, in 2016. It was a free fine-dining experience in a parking lot and open to all. The intention was to bring together folks from many different walks of life, including our houseless neighbors and RedLine visitors, to share in the ritual of a meal.
Connecting strangers and dissolving class structure for an evening gave me more satisfaction as an artist than much had in the studio realm. Comp profoundly changed my practice. From that moment on, everything my creative process produced needed to have an impact, leave a lasting impression and make a statement.
I’ve been lucky enough to do a residency at the Denver Art Museum, talking to visitors about the urban housing crisis while embroidering sleeping bags. The DAM residency also put me in the right place at the right time to secure a full-time position with the museum. Now I spend every day developing creative experiences with other artists and some of Denver’s most brilliant minds. After taking a short break from my studio, my own projects are starting to emerge again in new and exciting ways. Being (mostly) financially secure in my day job, there is more leeway to experiment with my creative practice and re-enter a mode of discovery rather than constant production.
What’s your day job?
Working full-time to provide a platform for local creatives, aka artist programs coordinator at the Denver Art Museum. Playing within theme/concept/meaning has always been my creative happy place. In my day job, I tie together exhibitions, local artists and activities/experiences within relevant themes for several programs at the DAM: Untitled Final Fridays, Creative-in-Residence and the Collective. I’ve been thrilled to find an abundance of opportunities for artists at the museum and have been working with my team to make these opportunities more accessible to the local creative community. I work with awesome people who are all uniquely magnificent at what they do — all in service of art and artists.
As a creative, what’s your vision for a more perfect Denver?
Living wages and affordable housing. Having the financial security to know that you can pay rent or buy food goes a long way in one’s quality of life and ability to be creative.
Continue to have an open and supportive artist community: The Denver artist community is definitely a different animal. People smile at each other. Artists share their knowledge, time and connections with one another. Regardless of changing artist districts or corporations moving in, I want us to keep the unique sense of community and collaboration that Denver creatives have with each other.
It’s a challenging time for artists and creatives in the metro area who are being priced out of the city by gentrification and rising rents. What can they do about it, short of leaving?
The answer to this question used to be “Buy your space, don’t rent it.” However, creatives owning property is being undone by rising and outrageous property taxes. Scream, shout, protest, march until someone in city government listens. If Denver wants to keep art, they will have to ultimately find a way to actionably help the creative community. Subsidize artist spaces or cut property taxes. Do something that will create a real positive financial impact for local artists. Unfortunately, most people don’t miss a thing until it is already gone.
What’s your dream project?
I’m always working on a dream project. With that, I won’t be providing any spoilers.
What advice would you give a young hopeful in your field?
Allow yourself to find the best place for you in the art world. It’s an expansive domain with a plethora of niches and offshoots. There is no one “right way” to have a “successful” creative career. Today, you might think that you want to be in Art Basel. Tomorrow, you may realize that social-justice work within the arts is the thing that truly fills your soul. Whatever the right “thing” for you may be, don’t let anyone make you feel lesser for not following their way of becoming or defining yourself as an artist.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
Hands down, Suchitra Mattai. Her work is insightful, relevant, and visually stunning. I was lucky enough to be Suchitra’s studio-mate at RedLine, and it has been a pleasure to see her practice grow and evolve. She is also one of the most humble artists and a joy to work with.
What's on your agenda right now and in the coming year?
I’m having a lot of fun in the museum world. It’s a new-to-me bright shiny object with great potential. It also seems like an artist’s dream to be handed an art museum and asked to create unconventional relevant art experiences and programming that is responsive to the creative community. Artists fight so hard to make the public care about art, and I’m finally in a position to do just that (at least locally). The Collective will also be kicking off at the DAM next year. It’s a group that will create some programming for the new Creative Hub in the renovated Martin Building (previously referred to as the North Building). It will be a really interesting moment to see co-creation happening between an institution and local community members.
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Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
Some creatives I have worked with in the last year, who have truly surprised me in fantastic ways: Black Actors Guild, Ryan Foo, Terry Campbell, Genevieve Waller, Corrina Espinosa, Libi Striegl and Moe Gram. All of these folks are pushing our creative culture in wonderfully interesting ways. I am also curious to see where Ryan Wurst, Tiffany Matheson and Joshua Ware take their art practices in the next year.
Stay current with Denver Art Museum cultural programming overseen by Sarah Rockett, including Untitled Final Fridays, Creative-in-Residence and, beginning in 2020, the Collective, at the museum website.
Learn more about Sarah Rockett’s personal art practice online.