By Derek Glanz
Raymundo Muñoz reflected on his own question as he sat in Alto Gallery at RiNo Art Park. Giant construction cranes overhead dwarf the park and colonize the flat urban landscape as far as the eye can see, with their human operators working to erect luxury living and commercial spaces.
Muñoz, a printmaker, describes a lost renaissance when he and fellow creators made use of this barren industrial neighborhood to pursue their art.
“This neighborhood used to be pretty run down, but a lot of, like, artists lived here, a lot of them had studios here,” said Muñoz, who began dedicating himself to printmaking after a bout with cancer led him to reconsider his priorities. “There were more galleries here. It was actually a very affordable, really cool place for people to hang out.”
Muñoz is willing to look forward to the future, however, and he speaks with the pragmatism of a former science major.
“The infrastructure here was terrible,” he said. “The streets were really bad, really poor lighting. There’s a plus side to all of the development. It’s cleaner, generally safer, but (the neighborhood) lost a lot of what made it a haven for a lot of artists.”
Alto Gallery operates under the nonprofit BirdSeed Collective. The gallery is geared toward showing and selling works of upand- coming artists. For many of these artists, an Alto Gallery exhibition is their first solo show.
Within the same space as Alto Gallery are several artist studios subsidized by RedLine, another nonprofit operating out of RiNo. According to Muñoz, the studios rent for approximately half the typical price of a studio in this area. Muñoz does his printmaking at this location, while his co-director and co-founder of Alto and the executive director of the Birdseed Collective, Anthony Garcia, has another studio space at Zarape Studios.
“It’s complicated, you know, and that’s the thing with development,” Muñoz said. “At times it feels at odds with some of our more DIY roots, just seeing so many people get run out by it and we come in. There are good sides to it and there are bad sides to it. We’re trying to stay positive throughout and work with as many people as we can because there’s no point in fighting; we can have win-win situations all around.”
The RiNo Art District, the nonprofit responsible for Art Park’s development, brands itself with a convivial spirit of commercialism, community, and creativity with less ambivalence than Muñoz. The district, in its own words, is “inclusive of the historical neighborhoods of Globeville, Elyria-Swansea, Five Points, and Cole.”
Moreover, its “family of organizations fund and support our community through advocacy, infrastructure improvements, artist support, community programming, and events.”
Alex Pangburn, RiNo Art District’s director of curation, observes the irony of gentrification that has played out in so many places across time: art makes a neighborhood attractive to businesses, who in turn drive out the bohemian community that made it an attractive destination.
“We are trying to keep RiNo as artistic as possible,” Pangburn said, “and to create space and really protect space for artists because, you know, unfortunately all these developers coming in, they’re pushing it out.”
Some developers, Pangburn said, “have been really great partners and (are) continuing to support artists, whether that’s through hiring them for art inside the building or outside the building. Whenever we’ve done mural festivals, we ask building owners, retail spots that have walls available to kind of donate those walls into this festival roster. And then we will put artists on walls and we don’t give the artists any sort of creative restriction.”
What Pangburn said about these collaborations sounds harmonious. But the art that appears on these surfaces, while impressive in magnitude and sometimes in composition, rarely provokes or pushes boundaries.
Who can argue with a pretty bird, a colorful evocation of serape blankets, or a celebration of indigenous heritage? But this art digs up no wounds; it ignores the smoldering conflicts among humans, and the human relationship with nature.
On the map of RiNo posted on the Art District’s website, the familiar rhinoceros with a bird on its back logo appears to be crossing over the Platte River toward Globeville.
Is RiNo Art District creating space for the arts? Or have the self-avowed defenders of the arts encouraged cooptation by the beast of development? Perhaps this bird, like so many artists who fled to West Colfax, should flee this gleaming facsimile of an industrial past rather than hitch a ride atop the forward-charging commercial monstrosity.
Please correct: Anthony Garcia is e.d. of Birdseed Collective, past resident artist at Redline, and currently has another studio space at Zarape Studios (a space operated by Birdseed Collective). Louise Martorano is e.d. of Redline. Thanks!
Thanks for the heads up Ray, I’m making the edits now. — Eric Heinz