We named Mark Sink an essential Colorado Creative in February 2013, and interviewed him again for a cover story three years later. So it’s only fitting that Sink, one of Denver's most enduring artist community builders — leads off our new Colorado Creatives Redux series, which revisits past Colorado Creative subjects.
Sink, who pioneered artist-run spaces and scenes in Denver decades ago, remains young at heart, and continues to encourage new artists who're working off the grid. He’s the soul of Denver’s Month of Photography, a biennial citywide exhibition extravaganza, which returns for another round next spring, as well as his own side project, the Big Picture, an international photography exchange and wheat-pasted street-art project. Above all, Sink, a professional photographer who palled around with the glitterati of Warhol’s New York in the ’80s, approaches life with a rare and big open heart, and that’s what makes him such a special figure in the Denver art community, as well as the ideal person to kick off CC Redux.
Here are his answers to a set of questions old and new.
Westword: How has your creative life grown or suffered since you last answered the CC questionnaire?
Mark Sink: In life, you always have to run up the down escalator. It’s been an extra steep run recently. My biggest project at hand is raising our baby daughter, Poppy (now three). It’s the most rewarding and hardest creative project I have ever attempted.
It's been a few years of surreal tragedy — where do you start? Trump? We unexpectedly lost a close artist friend, Colin Ward, and art photographer Denis Roussel. Both have left big empty holes in our art community. My beloved dog and sidekick, Utah, passed away last month. He was a big part of my life at every turn and socially in the art community. He had a spark and jump of excitement, always motivating me for everyday tasks and always giving emotional support during hard times. I sorely miss him.
As a creative, what’s your vision for a more perfect Denver (or Colorado)?
I went to an inspiring gathering recently for Meow Wolf. It was a room full of creatives from all walks of life, a beautifully diverse group working together — developers and community planners like Dana Crawford and community activists and artists and just plain simple folk, all hand in hand. It really filled my heart. I needed that.
Sometimes in this scary, divided and challenging time, I wonder what art is all about. It’s a little bit of an existential crisis I'm having in general. And here is a room full of such great and diverse local and international people, working together with a goal of sharing art with a business model that pays forward back into the local community. That's a cool vision, and a great model for our future.
It’s a challenging time for artists 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?
I wish I had some good answers. Gentrification and rising rents have been going on for decades, and it’s now reaching critical mass, affecting creatives and just regular working-class people everywhere. For me, it’s been a long, depressing fight since the early ’90s. The survivors are the ones who bought something early and cheap or have gathered together cooperatively. Some of my favorite models are Rhinoceropolis and Glob, with group communal support through many different mediums, like music, art performances and art shows, festivals, tattooing and website design.
I am not too worried about millennials. They are shapeshifters and trendsetters doing all sorts of great new business models with Instagram, crowdsourcing and pop-ups. Combined with Venmo or Square, this makes support even easier for anyone. Members of the young creative community support each other at many levels. It's the old-guard business models — the brick-and-mortar and traditional publishing institutions — that I worry about the most.
What’s your dream project?
A photographic/multimedia art center. I am optimistic there is an angel out there that wants to be a Peggy Guggenheim of Denver. If you close your eyes and squeeze your hands and wish and wish and let that spread into a groundswell action, it could happen. Dreams do come true. I've seen it happen over and over.
Personally, I have always wanted home and community off the grid, with giant gardens and surplus energy and food to give away to the community around you.
What advice would you give a young hopeful in your field?
Don't get in debt, please, please. If you go to school, learn a trade like solar installation, welding or woodworking— trade school good; art school, um, well. I am kind of down on a profit-driven educational system/society that allows kids to easily borrow 60 to 80K for a bachelor’s degree in fine art, that then tosses them out into the world with no trade skills to make a living while building an art career. It's not a way to start life. It’s wrong at many levels.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
I have had the pleasure to work with an inspiring young creative group on South Broadway called Massif. It’s a cooperative team with a focus in fashion that encompasses producing art, photography, film and clothing designers and hair and makeup. They’re an amazing ethnically diverse group of creatives working together toward the same goals. They produce world-class projects that hold up to any great city. The space was hand-built from scratch, and a labor of love by the multi-talented founder, Hunter Helmstetter, and his talented carpenter uncle, Greg Burkey, together with Chu Ming Min Luftig, Kevin Alexander and Luciano Sandoval.
A recent saddening update came up as I was typing this: The tsunami of gentrification has hit them. It is so heartbreaking, just after they finished building out a beautiful state-of-the-art multimedia creative center. Now they have to leave and start over somewhere new. Deep sigh. They'll be fine, but it's extremely gut-wrenching.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
We are meeting monthly in my back yard once again with our idea and planning sessions for Month of Photography (MoP) 2019, my labor of love — that, and The Big Picture. Some really exciting programs and exhibits are in the works. Director Samantha Johnson of the Colorado Photographic Art Center, RedLine Contemporary Art Center and my executive assistant, Dasha Baulina, are my support heroes keeping me in line and helping to make MoP a success. As for highlights, I always recommend the portfolio reviews, which circle back to a question about advice for young hopefuls in my field. Reviews are where many levels of discovery always happen.
I acquired a derelict abandoned building a ways out in the little quiet township of Derby in Commerce City. It’s my cycle of life, starting with unwanted old buildings and bringing them back to life to make and share art. It took a few years of sweat, blisters and sore backs, but it’s finished, and it’s beautiful! I am slowly moving my art collection and eclectic hoarding in and preparing to affordably rent most of it out to other creatives. A few months ago we founded the Derby Art District with Jeanie King and Terri Bell. Jeanie just finished an amazing affordable studio complex around the corner called Magnolia Street Art Space. There goes the neighborhood — which is actually a touchy subject that I am struggling with these days, the reality of the gentrification cycle.
At our old commercial photo studio in town, rent went way up. To keep it affordable, we broke it up into a communal creative space shared by a half-dozen young artists. We will name the new collaborative soon. I am excited by this change.
Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
My big hope is that people in their teens and early twenties will not get discouraged by the tide against them. I hope they keep on gathering and building new spaces and building communities of support for each other in innovative ways. These are extremely important incubators for our future. Denver's great art scene depends on this more than I think many realize. Ones on my radar doing great art and community work are JuiceBox, Alto Gallery and the Birdseed Collective, Maude House, Dateline, 808 Projects, Recreative Denver and TANK Studios, just to name a few. Several new ones are about to open. And many great new spaces are staying on the lowdown off the city radar. Smart.
Women. We all know a great fulcrum in history is happening now. I believe women are going to save the world. It’s a bright spot in these politically and environmentally dark times. I have always been blown away by all the talented, creative woman in our region, but more than ever now there is a groundswell of extremely energized talent on move. I wanted to mention some of my life-changing heroes and moments, from music teachers in elementary school and art professors in college to my first job in the art world and my gallery representatives today. I started this list, and then the gate broke open. There are so many people I’ve worked with whose talents I highly admire. Now it's all rushing over me how many hundreds have been longtime supporters and inspiration for of my projects and art — like you, Susan, and of course my wife, Kristen, is beyond amazing and inspiring.
I spent hours culling out several hundred important females — mind-boggling, and for each one I have an inspiring story to tell. It’s overwhelming, like a birthday on Facebook. You all know who you are. I am so grateful and thankful.
Magnolia Street Art Space and Mark Sink’s Derby Studio Project join forces this weekend for Art in the Derby, a family-friendly open house and celebration of the new Derby Art District in Commerce City. Enjoy art displays and vendors, a Derby history exhibit, make-and-take crafts and open studios on Saturday, October 6, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free; learn more online.