Art News

Denver Putting $300,000 Into Safe Creative Spaces Fund

John Catdog playing at Rhinoceropolis, before it was shuttered after the Ghost Ship fire.
Ken Hamblin III
John Catdog playing at Rhinoceropolis, before it was shuttered after the Ghost Ship fire.
A year and a few days after the Ghost Ship fire burned down an Oakland warehouse, killing 36 people, Denver Arts & Venues today announced that it is launching the Safe Creative Spaces Fund, through which participants in the Safe Occupancy Program can apply for $300,000 in need-based grants.

The Safe Occupancy Program is the byproduct of seven months of negotiations between the city and Amplify Arts Denver, an organization that formed in the wake of the Ghost Ship fire and the city's closure of legendary DIY spaces Rhinoceropolis and Glob. That group has largely fizzled out, divided on whether to work with city agencies and officials.

Under the Safe Occupancy Program, venues that report themselves to the city, allow inspectors in and are deemed not life-threatening to operate are allowed to stay open under certain city-mandated conditions while the space's operators bring their buildings up to code.

Since the program passed Denver City Council in July, Denver Arts & Venues has been asking people — particularly artists — to come aboveground and allow safety inspectors into their buildings, promising to work collaboratively to reopen spaces and avoid pushing artists out of Denver. The response from artists has been underwhelming, particularly from operators of underground spaces, who would prefer to keep the city away and operate quietly.

click to enlarge GRACe is one of the venues eligible to apply for a new city fund for safe spaces. - WESTWORD
GRACe is one of the venues eligible to apply for a new city fund for safe spaces.
One particular problem has kept many in the creative community from applying: If safety issues are found under the program, creatives won't have the money for needed remodeling and repairs. So why go to the city and risk being shut down?

The $300,000 that will be awarded to groups working under the Safe Occupancy Program is the city's answer to that criticism, and the latest attempt to convince those who may be living in unsafe spaces to work with officials on safety compliance.

“We are committed to cultivating, sustaining and promoting our diverse artistic and creative industry, including ensuring that our artists have a safe, affordable space where they can live and work,” says Mayor Michael Hancock in a December 5 statement announcing the funding. “The Safe Occupancy Program and the Safe Creative Spaces Fund are designed to support our creative professionals with resources to get these live/work spaces up to code, keep them affordable and avoid further displacements.”

So far, three groups have come forward for the Safe Occupancy Program: GRACe, a complex in RiNo that houses space for more than eighty artists; 999 Vallejo, which houses multiple arts projects; and 2041 Lawrence Street, home to the Knew Collective, a multi-use creative space.

Dozens of other venue operators have been hesitant to work with the city, watching as the people behind Rhinoceroplis and Glob saw their places shuttered, then became mired in months of slow negotiations with officials (all outside of the Safe Occupancy Program). A year after those venues were shut down, they're still not open — in one part because the spaces' operators have struggled to get their act together despite receiving thousands of dollars in funding that they used to hire legal counsel and an architect, and in another part, because city departments have dragged their feet, says John Golter, Glob's operator. 

When it comes to the new fund, Golter is optimistic. "Oh boy. It’s not a historic number, but Jesus, they’re putting their money where their mouth was," he says, speaking to city officials' claims that they didn't want to displace artists.

Golter hopes to be given the chance to apply for the funds, even though Glob is not part of the Safe Occupancy Program, which formed after his space was shut down.

The $300,000 of funding from Arts & Venues will be administered December 12, 2017, through January 17, 2020, according to the city's statement announcing the plan.

RedLine, a nonprofit arts organization that hosted early Amplify Arts meetings, will work with the city to administer the funds; there will be an information session on the fund at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, December 12, at RedLine, 2350 Arapahoe Street. Applications for the funds will be accepted at beginning that day.