Music News

Denver Entrepreneur Skye Barker Maa Sells Neighborhood Music School

Skye Barker Maa outside Neighborhood Music School at Stanley Marketplace.
Skye Barker Maa outside Neighborhood Music School at Stanley Marketplace. Katrina Leibee
For designer, entrepreneur and mom Skye Barker Maa, when her kids are interested in something, she doesn't just enroll them in a class or program. When her three-year-old son showed an aptitude for music and she couldn't find a school that would take a student so young, she opened Neighborhood Music and Theatre in her house. When her daughter was interested in sewing and she couldn't find a program that worked with her daughter's schedule, she opened Factory Fashion, a fashion design school that operates in Stanley Marketplace.

As soon as Maa gets an idea, "I’m grotesquely charging toward it in a completely bravado-stricken way," she says. If she can't find a business that already meets the needs of the community, she creates one. "As a classic entrepreneur, I'm like, 'Well, we’re gonna fix that,'" she adds.

Maa opened Neighborhood Music in her basement in 2012. Lacking music experience but having a knack for business, she hired teachers and grew the school until her basement was the musical home to about 55 students and seven teachers.

The school expanded to 10255 East 25th Avenue in Aurora in 2015 and then moved to Stanley Marketplace in 2018. Maa quickly realized, however, that the school was outgrowing the space and that her employees were looking for more opportunities to teach different arts. She kept the music school at Stanley and opened her own arts collective and black-box theater space, Factory Five Five, at the 25th Avenue location.

That space provides every artistic program imaginable, and it was the original home of Factory Fashion. At Factory Five Five, you can sign up for classes in theater and film, shoe painting, how to make dog fashion and more.

And Maa didn't stop with the music school and arts collective. She also opened an aviation-themed bar, Sky Bar, at the Stanley in 2022 and moved Factory Fashion to the top floor of the marketplace as it grew. It's a fashion school by day and a bar and event venue by night. Currently, Maa is designing her own fashion line and has started a local clothing production business called Small Batch.
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Skye Barker Maa at Sky Bar in Stanley Marketplace.
Katrina Leibee
Unlike many other businesses, Neighborhood Music actually saw unprecedented growth during the pandemic. With kids at home having few activities to do and musicians having their gigs canceled, the school experienced an increase in teachers and students wanting to do virtual lessons.

Although the school has been thriving, Maa recently made the decision to sell Neighborhood Music. "I think, ultimately, I had done everything I wanted to with it, and it was time for a new generation...if it was going to live on," Maa says. "The original nugget of why I was there has evolved, so it felt like a good time."

Ensemble Music Schools, the owner of multiple music schools nationwide, bought the music school, and Maa had just turned in her keys the day before we spoke with her. Neighborhood Music School is only its second location in Colorado, its first being Dana V Music in Louisville. Jeff Homer, founder of Ensemble Music Schools, reached out to Maa about buying her school before she even thought about selling.

"We sent Skye a letter in the mail in 2020; we were fortunate that when some of her other business interests started to take off, she remembered us," Homer says. "She reached out to us earlier in 2022."

Homer says that Ensemble doesn't have plans to drastically change anything about how Neighborhood Music operates right now. "This is really core to our mission, which is to those students that are there. They can be confident that Neighborhood Music will be in Stanley Marketplace," Homer says. "We also have a really strong commitment to continuity, so we’re keeping all of the staff, [and] all the teachers will be staying."

Ensemble's focus will be on marketing the school to serve even more students. The school currently has about 400 students, and Ensemble is hoping to bring that number up to 1,000.

Maa is confident that Ensemble will maintain the integrity of the school. "I couldn't have possibly left it in better hands," she says.

While Maa is sad to be leaving, she can't help but get giddy when talking about her future creative endeavors. She will be premiering her first clothing line, SKYEAIRE, at Denver Fashion Week. It is aquatic-themed, meaning it is "genuinely inspired by the ocean," she jokes. "I can’t even contain my childlike excitement about the fact that we’re in production for a line."

The line will be couture and very fashion-forward. "I’m going to wake up Monday morning and wear it, because I don’t have any rules and I wear eccentric stuff every day," she says. "I think the average person isn’t going to wake up and wear this to a business meeting, but I sure as hell will."

On top of designing her own line, Maa has also started Small Batch, her own clothing production company, currently operating out of Factory Five Five. Small Batch gives designers the opportunity to have their clothing manufactured in small batches, rather than paying big production companies to make way more product that necessary.

Maa says the best part is that the company gives anybody the opportunity to have a job there, no matter their experience or background. "You can have no experience in sewing and we will train you up to couture if you stay with us. We have been reaching out to refugee centers and re-entry communities and saying, 'Hey, we have a livable wage with benefits in a training environment. Come work for us,'" Maa says. "We have translators, we have child care, we’re trying to put transportation in place. We’re trying to create an opportunity for someone who just came to the country to have a career."

A lot of the employees have been with Neighborhood Music since the beginning, and she says it is difficult leaving those who have been with her for so long. "One person specifically had been with me since 2012 and still is there, and he called, and he and I barely made it through the call. There was nothing to say; we got on the phone together, and we were completely silent," she says about longtime employee Peder Sill. "That person has been with me through everything."

Sill came to Denver to study piano in 2011 and found that one of the only ways to make a living as a musician was through teaching. "That was back when the business was in her basement, and it was a really cozy place; there was a lot of love flowing in," Sill says. "It's been something that's given me the stability and structure to be able to live in Denver."

Through his eleven years working for Maa, it has been fun to watch her grow, Sill says, and he is excited to see her pursue other endeavors. "Skye's been extremely impressive in how she's built this business up," he adds. "I'm really proud of her for continuing to take her steps."

Maa and Ensemble Music will host an open-to-the-publix celebration of the new ownership from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday, August 11, at Factory Fashion, 2501 Dallas Street, Suite 200, in Aurora.
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Katrina Leibee, a recent graduate of Colorado State University, is an editorial fellow at Westword, covering politics, business and culture.
Contact: Katrina Leibee