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“Before this, we were renting a glorified storage unit in Globeville with no heat, no bathroom and no running water,” says artist and musician Zach Reini. “After a winter there, we were done.” As he lounges on a couch in the sun-drenched front room of his multi-use venue Leisure, Reini describes a very different scene from the one in which he’s currently involved. He and fellow artists Josh Gondrez and Janice Schindler were using that uninhabitable Globeville space as an art studio before they stumbled upon the perfect property. Affordable studio space — like any other kind of real estate in Denver in 2015 — is hard to come by. This past January, Reini, Gondrez and Schindler, friends who have shared studios around the city since they were students at Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design, came across a Craigslist ad that seemed too good to be true. But the modest two-room storefront at 555 Santa Fe Drive proved to be within their budget, and now Leisure Gallery functions as a work space, art gallery and music venue.
First and foremost, Leisure is an artists’ studio. It supplies the space needed for Reini to construct, paint and piece together his visual work, and for Gondrez and Schindler to create their respective video and photography work. Although they graduated from RMCAD a few years ago, the three artists found that sharing a work space was both harmonious and cost-effective. But Leisure serves another purpose, too: It gives up-and-coming and underrepresented artists a place to show their work and perform.
In the interest of maintaining the space primarily for working artists, Leisure keeps a slim performance and exhibition schedule, with just one visual-arts and one music-related show a month. Through a careful selection of events, the owners hope to demonstrate that less can be more.
“Our [art] shows are very different than what everyone else is having on Santa Fe — there’s a kind of toxic abundance of oversaturated group shows,” says Reini. “It feels like [galleries] throw as much shit on the wall as they possibly can and hope that someone buys something.” The opposite is true at Leisure, where just one artist is featured on First Fridays, with only a handful of pieces on display — and the show stays up for that night only. Afterward, the gallery goes back to being an empty white box, ready for whatever comes next.
Music shows are similar, in that Leisure presents a curated bill one night per month, preferring to focus on the promotion of a single event rather than an overflowing concert calendar. Reini — who performs in Civilized, Cinderblock, Data Rainbow and Cadaver Dog — was able to transform Leisure into the kind of venue he wanted to play in. “Being in bands for so long, you learn that, while all the DIY spaces in town are really cool, each has something that you might want to change,” he says. “I won’t say ‘do better,’ because it’s about personal preference.” In addition, doing limited engagements each month means that more energy can be spent promoting a show and potentially packing the room. And a full venue is beneficial for both the performers and the gallery, as Leisure takes a fraction of the door to offset some of its rent.
Another invaluable piece of the Leisure approach to music is that the venue offers an all-ages, smoke- and alcohol-free experience.
Reini pulls open a long flat-file drawer to reveal a pile of massive black-and-white posters from past hardcore shows. “See,” he says, pointing to the bottom corner of the giant photocopy, “it says ‘No Booze.’ People still ask me what the policy is about booze, and I’m like, ‘Well, it says it right there.’”
Though Reini’s partners in the Leisure endeavor may imbibe, he doesn’t. Keeping the venue substance-free for patrons just made sense; it was one less thing to worry about. “It’s not a straight-edge thing. I’m not going to, like, X up and go to a show and hate-mosh some dude with a beer. It’s a personal thing,” says Reini. “I figured out I didn’t react well under those circumstances; I didn’t like how it made me feel. It wasn’t worth it.”
Beyond his personal preference and the fact that a booze-less, smoke-free environment makes running an unofficial venue that much easier, Reini says it also keeps the venue’s spotlight where it belongs: on art and music. “It’s nice to have a space where you can focus on the art that’s being made, whether it be drawings on the wall or a band playing,” says Reini. “That’s important, because sometimes the art is the add-on. If you go to a show at a bar, it’s clear that the main goal is to sell as much booze as possible and then have a band play. I don’t like that. Maybe the shows there are more wild and fun because people have liquid courage in them, but [at Leisure], it’s more of an experiment to see how people react without alcohol.”
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