Building Bridges

It's appropriate, says Judy Anderson, that the PlatteForum arts and education project stands at the base of the Millennium Bridge. According to the artist and executive director, the nine-month-old initiative is all about connections.

"It's a working collaboration with the community," Anderson explains. "Arts. Education. Youth. Everything we do is tied to kids."

As part of its outreach, the institution will host a reception on Thursday, July 3, for Tory Read and Debra Goldman and their show Moving Water: Meditations and Investigations. The photographers, who are designated "artists of merit," will be working with students. Read will be joining children in the RiverReach Youth Initiative, helping them produce books about river experiences.

That is but one aspect of PlatteForum, 1610 Little Raven Street, on the plaza of the Riverfront Park project, which overlooks the South Platte River to the north and the Union Station railyards to the south. The outreach facility opened in October 2002, funded in part by the Riverfront Park Community Foundation, with a simple goal: To bring working artists together with underserved youths who might not otherwise be exposed to painting, photography, film, sculpture, poetry or dance. From the beginning, Anderson declares, the non-profit organization set out to provide "something teachers want, something students need, and something the school system can integrate into its curriculum." And the demand for such a program, she quickly discovered, was huge.

"Funding cuts have decimated everything," she says. "Art education in the elementary schools is practically nonexistent."

To help fill the gaps, PlatteForum formed partnerships with such institutions as Denver Public Schools, the Colorado Ballet, the Colorado Alliance for Arts Education and the Denver Film Society. It launched collaborations with organizations including Higher Ground, Girls Inc., Metro Volunteers and Art Streets. And it held artist workshops in north Denver schools, exhibited shows with students and professional artists and hosted community events.

PlatteForum also made available its sleek office, which features a 950-square-foot gallery, an 850-square-foot workshop area, a private office, a kitchenette and a storage area. The space, located among Riverfront Park's markets and boutiques, functions as an educational forum, an artistic showcase and a community resource center. And its location between downtown and north Denver offers an ideal link between communities that might not normally interact.

But above all, PlatteForum hopes to provide young people with opportunities to work closely with established artists to experience the process of making art.

Jim Trevino, principal of Horace Mann Middle School, says PlatteForum is off to a great start. The on-campus workshops have been "excellent," he says.

In mid-August, PlatteForum staffers hope to take such partnerships to the next level by offering residencies to competitive artists (all mediums welcome). Under that program, which is a hybrid of others from around the country, artists will work with kids at the PlatteForum studio-gallery instead of visiting schools.

"It's rare to have a non-profit group targeting schools that are challenged economically," she says. "You just don't find groups with an agenda of making things more available for students and teachers."

Anderson hopes this fertile patch on the steps of the Millennium Bridge will set students from Denver's poorest neighborhoods on a life journey of inspiration, expression and community involvement.

"We want to be the spark, the launchpad, the springboard," Anderson says. "This is only the start."