The first painting I ever created was a giant blob of orange hate. It festered out of my fingertips while I was killing time. The first few strokes of that bright and exasperating orange felt so good to touch to canvas that I could very nearly feel my endocrine system leaking inside of my skin. I had truly found something remarkable: the watercolors were cheaper than a night out at the bar.
Since I was “living” with my sister’s best friend, out here in Denver, Colorado, I decided that on the ride back to nowhere at all, I should stop at the Art District on Santa Fe and take a gander at the section of the city where the rents were cheaper and crime most likely happened more often than, say, if I were near the ballpark or in proximity to the financial district.
In preface to this, I will offer something from the ADSF (Art District on Santa Fe) website:
Since 2003 membership in the Art District on Santa Fe has grown from 12 to over 60 creative industry members between Alameda and 12th avenues on and near Santa Fe Drive and Kalamath street. The rise in membership and creative activity in the Art District, a vital "Gateway to Denver" commercial corridor, has become a national model of success in community revitalization led by the creative industries. Our success has been featured in national publications such as Travel + Leisure, USA Today, CNN, Sunset Magazine and the New York Times, amongst others. One of the Art District’s "secrets of success" has been the on-going cooperation and the genuine welcoming spirit between its membership and the general public. The Art District freely opens its doors and welcomes guests from seasoned collectors, to artists, to new art lovers, to join the friendly and welcoming feel of the Art District.
The ADSF is constantly growing with complementary businesses such as architects, yoga studios, furniture and lighting stores, book stores, antique stores, radio stations, restaurants, coffee shops, and full time residents are moving into the neighborhood.
Denver’s Art District on Santa Fe has gained attention in the national press in recent years. Publications include Sunset Magazine, Desert Living, and Travel Leisure Magazine. In addition, the cities of Cleveland, Ohio, Sacramento, California and Glendale, Arizona recently contacted the ADSF to learn how to create a successful Art District in their cities. The ADSF’s continuing membership with Visit Denver has contributed to its growing cultural tourism business.
Fine and dandy. But what does this entail? Other than the result of something to fill up the white spaces on our walls, so that it doesn’t look like we are living in an insane asylum….
From Route 6 I pulled onto Santa Fe, parking between 7th and 8th. I got out of the vehicle. Opening the back door, reaching and searching in my laptop bag among local newspapers from San Francisco and Colorado Springs, watercolors, smelly socks, and old bank statements that cracked dirty jokes, I couldn’t find a pen. However, in a side compartment next to a miniature-sized bottle of green mouthwash, I did find a pocket knife. Carefully I slid that into a pocket of my jeans. Lifting up my laptop bag I finally found an orange pen on the backseat of the car. With a blue notebook underneath my armpit, I locked the car door, shut it, and looked north towards the Art District on Santa Fe.
The first thing that stood out to me was a dirty hippie hacking up his breakfast. His girlfriend came out from the alley next to a Wells Fargo, hauling her dreads and two pugs on a leash. After the hippie was done spewing his gift to the trees, he yanked a ukulele from around his shoulders and began to play parts and pieces of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. They moved on right past me like I was invisible shrapnel.
I decided then to take notes on everything I saw.
There was the Denver Art Society; an Ethiopian Restaurant; Studio J; Michael Warren Contemporary Art; Artists on Santa Fe, which included glass vases with flowers painted on them; a Del Taco De Mexico on the corner of 7th & Santa Fe; 2nd Story Studios; Kitchen Ink; a sign that read: “Nightclub For Sale”; Mai Wyn Fine Art Gallery & Studio; Point Gallery; Plan West; Chac Gallery, which had two signs up in the second floor windows reading: “We Are The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For” and “One Love”.
So, while writing in a notebook and ignoring the other people working construction, looking for handouts, hunting for new places to rent, lease, buy and own … I kept moving. Past a place for wedding photography, a salon/boutique/art gallery, a yoga studio, a real estate office, a Natural Sleep store (with organic mattresses and bedding), and a Chinese acupuncture building.
I crossed 8th Street.
On the northeast corner there was a store with a big sign that read: Antiques. Then there was a Japanese restaurant, a food store, Laundromat and a check cashing place. What more could the budding artist require? I wondered.
More: Consortium Fine Arts & Event Gallery; Wong Strauch Architects; Studio Wed Meet Plan Get Married; “El Patron” Joyeria Music y Video; Hangar 41, a gallery being renovated; John Felder’s Colorado Fine Art Nature Photography; Alpine Fine Art, with tubes of oil paints in the front window; Fabric Boss Boutique Sew Studio Knit Lounge; on the second floor, Georgia Amar Fine Art Gallery; The Denver School of Photography, which looked abandoned; a barber shop; Crossfit Elevation (gym); Arts Center (video game art); on the second floor, Open For Lease (2 more buildings For Sale); C.C. Opiela Gallery, with big canvases in the front window, full of color; CoArt Cooperative Gallery, with great canvases -- I write down the name of a painter: Margy Foertsch, her oils look like pastels….
A kid carrying a big carton of Tide in each hand comes out of the ether and asks me if I want to buy laundry detergent.
“Dirt cheap,” he says.
“No, thanks,” I respond. Some trade laundry detergent for drugs. You can color in the reasoning for that.
Still more: Wetpaint, under a big brick yellow wall; Museo De Las Americas, “Become A Member”; Coralli Photography; Lucid, “Insight & Influence," which had old cameras in their front windows; another large white building "For Sale," “Private Property No Trespassing”; RP Building, 1898, that resembled modern apartments; Architects Engineers/Ringler Associates; “An Urban Patio” -- paintings and sculptures set outside in the sun; Grace Gallery, which held a great many canvases; on the second floor, Neo Art Studios; and on the side of this building, the corner of 9th Street, there was a mural of the Denver skyline….
Across 9th Street:
Artwork Network Gallery & Event Center; Spark Gallery; a bike-share, in front of a kick boxing/martial arts gym; apartments and houses, up and down the street; 910 Arts -- Studios & Galleries / Coffee House / Event Gallery; The USA Colorado (doors open), The State Organization on Arts & Disability, “Opening Doors … Opening Minds." ....
A bum walks by, winded, wearing a Ramones t-shirt. He stumbles, unable to walk….
Knoll Gallery; Sync Gallery; Swift’s Breakfast House; Rawh, an open air gallery which looks like you could get punched in the mouth if you walked in there and said the wrong thing to the wrong person; Kashi Kari Mosaic Art; more apartments on the street; Benjy Dobrin Studios Acting Classes Career Guidance Corporate Development Presentation Training Public Speaking; Community Challenge School, “A collaborative school in West Denver enrolling grades 8-10."
Suddenly the sun comes out and I am sweating. It had been cloudy all morning.
What’s left: Metropolitan State University of Denver, Center for Visual Art -- there are a few people outside, putting on the finishing touches to their colorful mural; Vertigo Restoration Clayworks; Spark Theater; Timeo’s Theatre Bar (locked up); Epiphany Tattoo; Aztlan Theatre, which is a rundown building, with a poster of an ancient Mexican warrior on the brick; Tree of Life Art Gallery.
More apartments and houses, East and West of Santa Fe; Interstate Coffee Shop & Bar; then I notice that the same bum is resting on a wall on the other side of the street in the shade….
Then there’s a professional center, including Newsend Community Development Corp., lawyers, insurance and other coalitions. It couldn’t hurt for a young artist to have a good lawyer.
I come upon an old warehouse building. There’s a mural on the front door. Mexicans holding corn, a lady playing the flute, cacti, mountains and sunshine in the background. Across the street there’s a parking lot. A truck is sitting there. On the truck there is graffiti. It reads: “Secret Writer Society.”
Across 11th Street, where the skyline of Denver is now visible, the regular claptrap of modern suburbia takes hold.
Kreative Kitchen & Baths; 7-11 gas station; Creative Living Interior & Exterior Décor….
I turn around and head back. When I get to the car, I climb in, tossing my notebook into the passenger seat, and drive towards the heart of the city. First I stop off at a King Soopers, to buy an apple and an orange. I leave the store, cruising right onto 14th and then across Speer Boulevard. Once I’ve again found a good place to park, I get out and walk to the library, holding my notebook against my sweaty skin.
Eventually I find a public water gesyer recycled through the cracks. I wash off my apple and take a big slurpy bite.
What do I find in the heart of the city? The Art Museum, the City and County Court House, City Hall. And there are food trucks filling in the Civic Center, a park with grass and colorful flowers. There are also people walking around, talking, eating, resting. They are all smiling. And they hardly notice me, as I stop and write down the names of each of the food trucks.
I walk away. Which is the truest heart of the city?
Very few homeless people are sitting outside, under the trees, passing around a fifth of Vodka. They are laughing and smoking cigarette butts, not hurting or bothering anybody. They most likely found those cigarette butts on the ground.
For more paints, I realise, I would just have to wait and learn how to love. Or I could wait until the next "First Friday" of the month, for the Art Walk. Maybe I could intermingle with some artists and painters who know how to make it.
I reach the car, get in, and drive back to wherever I can find a little free food. Of course, anything in that realm is hardly ever open. Good thing I’d saved that orange.
Image Sourced: Santa Fe