Artist, tomato farmer, community organizer and 2008 Westword MasterMind Tracy Weil pioneered RiNo before it was RiNo, or even an an art district, putting down roots not far from the Platte River among quiet warehouses and industrial streets where artists had only recently begun to infiltrate. He built the live-work studio and distinctive exhibition tower known as Weilworks and reached out to other artists in the district, helping to hatch the idea of RiNo, eventually co-founding and realizing a united vision for the neighborhood, which he still oversees as RiNo’s creative director. In that capacity, he opened the RiNo Made store, a retail showcase for artists working in the district.
Weil went on to consult on the formation of new arts districts in his home town of Aurora and Lakewood’s 40 West. All those interests took time away from being an artist and running a funky gallery in a twisted tower stairway, but now Weil is staging a comeback with a new exhibition that showcases his love for working big and reopens the Weilworks gallery to the public. We asked Weil to answer big questions surrounding the changing district he helped found — and the rest of the Colorado Creatives questionnaire.
What (or who) is your creative muse?
For my upcoming exhibition <em>Neighborhoods</em>, my muse is the vibrant historic neighborhoods and the industrial landscape here in north Denver. With the RiNo Art District’s dramatic growth, my goal with this exhibition is to amplify the importance of respecting the energy and vitality of these long-established neighborhoods. This land has always been ever-changing, from Native tribes to early settlers, the railroad, industry, residents, small businesses and artists. Now with art as a common thread, it’s a place where Denver can foster a new urbanism and be inclusive and respectful to those who have made this area home for generations.
I hope this new work will inspire continued efforts to empower our communities and change the paradigm of cultural displacement.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
As a tomato farmer and artist, I would invite the following:
Bradley Gates, Wild Boar Farms: Bradley specializes in breeding extreme heirloom tomatoes and is based out of the Napa Valley in California. His passion for color, flavor and history is inspiring. I would invite him to bring some of his newest varieties so we can cook a fresh meal and talk agriculture.
Laurie Anderson: Artist, Performer, Pioneer: Who wouldn’t want to sit down with Laurie Anderson? I’ve been following her since the ’80s and have always been inspired by her creative and collaborative force. She’s a legend working in so many diverse mediums.
Stanton Englehart: Artist, Teacher: Stanton was one of my professors at Fort Lewis College in Durango. His guidance was one of the reasons I became an artist. He has since passed from Alzheimer’s, but I would love the chance to sit down with him again to discuss art, philosophy, people and landscapes.
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
The creative community here is extraordinary. The talent and creative ideas here rivals that of any of the larger creative hubs in the world. Artists in Colorado seem to have a pioneering spirit, reflective of the West. During the Crush event this year, we hosted seven international artists and seventy local artists in the district. The local talent here shines so bright, and continues to put us on the world stage.
The worst? I think we as artists are really hard on each other. While I see the spirit of collaboration with many local artists, I also see some not-so-great behavior. We as artists are our worst critics. You’d think art and artists would be free of internal politics, but that’s just not the case. We should be supportive and proud of our own and be uplifting rather than divisive — we are all in this together.
How about globally?
Over the past few years I’ve been working more in the street-art movement. I’ve always been a muralist, but in the past tended to focus on the gallery world. Street art in my mind has been a blessing for the artists’ community, bringing artists’ work to a larger stage. Artists are thriving creatively and financially by doing what they love to do, and that is a global lesson.
What’s your dream project?
Over the past few years I’ve really enjoyed working on a larger scale, creating murals. Dream projects include creating murals around the world. I’ve had a great time getting to know some of the artists who have visited RiNo doing Crush Walls and would love to travel the world doing monumental works in other cities.
You've been the heart and soul of RiNo since the very beginning. What improvements would you like to see in the arts district, and how do you deal with growing pains?
Live/work space first and foremost for artists and their families: We’ve been working on an Artspace project in the district and are getting close to finally realizing the project. The need is real for visual artists, musicians, performance artists and creatives.
As the district grows, we’ve worked hard to work with developers and newcomers, letting them know the importance of having artists in our communities. I always say you can’t have an arts district without artists. Second is a community art center. We've been working with Parks and Recreation and the City of Denver on taking over the buildings off of Arkins Court in the district in the new RiNo Park slated for construction early next year. This cluster of buildings near the river would make an incredible hub for creativity, river revitalization and a place to come together. Early concepts include more art studios and maker spaces.
There are growing pains in any community — RiNo alone is realizing over a billion dollars' of development happening over the next couple years. Growing pains are real, but it takes involved stakeholders, artists, residents and businesses to stay involved and be vocal in managing this exponential change. We as a community deal with growing pains together. We need to challenge each other to create positive change.
Contrary to popular belief, there are now more artists and galleries in the RiNo Art District than ever. Yes, that’s true. We started with eight locations that included four galleries and 25 studios. Currently we have 22 galleries and 190 studios along with over 400 artists working and exhibiting districtwide. Naysayers often say, “RiNo is Dead” or “There are no viable artists left.” It’s almost like they want the district to fail for some reason. I encourage people to look a little closer, get your hands dirty, participate and dig deeper.
What would the area look like if the district wasn’t in place? Believe me, arts and culture would be buried in development and change. There are so many success stories in the district — artists and small creative businesses that have grown and thrived here. Let’s tell those stories.
What's the most important thing any arts district in the metro area can do to become a viable destination?
Working with several art districts in Colorado, I’ve learned that it takes strong neighborhood champions to create a viable destination. Each district needs to find what makes them special and unique. There are artists in your area, I know it.
In RiNo, it is "where art is made" because of the high concentration of creative businesses and studio spaces. In Aurora, it’s the top-notch performing arts component and the amazing concentration of diversity that makes them special. In Lakewood, it’s Casa Bonita — and a mobilized community that is interested in having art define who they are. In RiNo and other creative districts, it’s crucial to have artists at the table not only when it comes to planning creative space, but even in urban planning and community development.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
Susan Wick has always been my favorite Colorado Creative. She works in many mediums and has always served as a mentor to me and my own work. She has an amazing following and has successfully made some of the local critics’ heads explode because they can’t define her. Her latest exhibition at RiNo Made was themed “What Is Art?” She pushes the boundaries of the norm, the studied and the more archaic views of what art is. She is a “maker of things.”
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
This coming year, I’m excited to open up my gallery space again. While I won’t be doing exhibits every month, I’ll be hosting quarterly exhibitions of my work and some guest artists from time to time. Opening in November, I’ve been working on an extra-large work that is a twenty-by-seven-foot oil painting on canvas. The more I work big, the more I love it. The gallery is open by appointment and on First Friday, November 2 (details below).
Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
I have a high respect for two local artists that I feel are on the verge of local and national success. Casey Kawaguchi is definitely a local street artist to watch. His Japanese portraits are powerful and expressive. It shows that he loves what he’s doing and is in control of his own voice. I’ve also been working with Alexandrea Pangburn at the RiNo Made store. She is an incredible painter and muralist with a love for animals, and it shows through her realist works with striking color and character.
Neighborhoods: New Work by Tracy Weil opens with a reception on Friday, November 2, from 5 to 9 p.m. at Weilworks, 3611 Chestnut Place. Afterward, the gallery will be open by appointment only; email email@example.com for information.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.