Oh, RiNo. Remember when you were just a kid? When the galleries and studios were sort of, like, hey, let’s put on a show? We still remember, when Brighton Boulevard was still gritty and industrial, demonstrating to Denver residents that there were still plenty of places that made things – including art.
The River North Art District has grown up – and out. It has flexible boundaries stretching into various neighborhoods that now sport apartment buildings, brewpubs, distilleries, and lots and lots of restaurants and murals. It is a wonderland of entertainment.
And, there is still art, but RiNo now has a business improvement district and a general improvement district and initiatives that work to convince developers to build worthy buildings – and sometimes that works. RiNo’s first open studio-open door tour, in early 2006, attracted some 1,000 visitors, curious and hungry for the real thing.
This past week, the parents of RiNo were honored by a support group at the Denver Art Museum. The Contemporary Alliance, now with a new name but a 40-year history, gave the DAM “key” award to Jill Hadley Hooper and Tracy Weil. There were other “parents” involved in the building of RiNo, but Hooper and Weil were passionate about nurturing the arts in RiNo, back when land was cheap and the neighborhood still had an edge. (Pictured above: Tracy Weil (at left) and Jill Hadley Hooper.
The redevelopment of an old taxi dispatch center, by Mickey Zeppelin, turned into a building for design and arts studios, and then grew to include apartments and lots of amenities, from offices to a food hall.
Weil said that development in the area began in 2007, but the real estate bust in 2008 brought things to a halt. Since then, however, growth has boomed. And though Brighton Boulevard still seems to be under construction, it sure seems wider, though sidewalks seem skimpy in spots.
As for Hooper and Weil, they are still busy making art. Hooper, who was gallery director at Ironton Studios and Gallery (now a distillery) and is a noted painter and illustrator, now has work in Goodwin Fine Art. Weil, who established Weilworks – part gallery, part work space, and part residence, is opening a show there of his work on Nov. 2.
By now, everyone knows the line about how artists move into a neighborhood with cheap rents, and then the rest of the world wants in, making it too expensive for artists. We went though that in lower downtown, and last year Highlands’ galleries felt the same burn. Pirate, Edge and Next moved to Lakewood, though the Bug Theatre is still operating on Navajo Street. It still irks me to see the “Navajo Art District” sign on West 38th Avenue, since the district pretty much flew the coop.
Santa Fe Drive also is going through changes, though there is a push to protect that stretch of galleries, studios and arts-related enterprises (though CHAC needed to move farther south for more gentle rent). Here’s a link to a story on how the La Alma/Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association is working to help shape development (including a proposed eight-story residential and retail building):