Meow Wolf, with help from the city of Denver, recently awarded $70,000 in grants to 19 Denver art and music spaces. And with that help, the city’s creatives will improve and in some cases work to save what they’ve built.
For some, that means simply getting the boost they need to expand or offer more resources. For others, it’s a lifeline that will help them bring their DIY spaces up to code.
“A grant like this is hugely helpful. We were so, so happy to get it,” said Chris Scott, co-founder of ReCreative.
ReCreative is, in short, a 501c3 nonprofit creative reuse center. The longer explanation is that ReCreative is a retail store that takes donations of creative materials and resells them at discounts — usually around 75 percent off. Tucked inside the Point Gallery on Santa Fe Drive, they also offer a wood shop, studios for rent and a community makerspace stocked with art tools and supplies.
The $1,500 ReCreative received will go toward building out that makerspace and expanding the wood shop, along with other “environmental changes,” Scott said.
“The ultimate goal is to create a sort of art community center where people can come utilize our cool space for cheap or for free and collaborate with other artists,” he said.
“One of the things that has been really cool is to be able to give shows to people that might not be able to get a show or opening on First Friday down here, for example. We’re less interested in navigating the art world and cultivating those connections. It’s more satisfying to give somebody a show because we like their work, full stop. Accessibility is really what we’re after.”
Denver pledged $20,000 for “safe creative spaces” in January during a public forum meant to improve communication and smooth relations with an angry arts community. In March, Arts & Venues announced that it would entrust the distribution of that money to Meow Wolf, which then put another $50,000 into the grant program for Denver.
Meow Wolf, a nearly 10-year-old Santa Fe-based art collective, has found itself the patron of its peers after the massive success of beautifully trippy immersive art installation inside an old bowling alley.
“We’ve had a specific spotlight on Denver because of the relationship that we have with Denver Arts & Venues and the relationship that we have with some of the alternative spaces in Denver,” said Vince Kadlubek, CEO and co-founder of Meow Wolf. “We go way back with Rhinoceropolis. We both started around the same time. A native of Santa Fe is one of the founders of Rhinoceropolis, friends of ours. So because of that we felt more connected. We felt more involved than in other situations across the country.”
The applications were made available nationwide, and 106 spaces and organizations in 21 states have received grants, too. Those funds total $215,000.
The list of things the money can be used for includes safety and infrastructure improvements, code compliance needs, construction plans/permit review, rezoning, materials and equipment, consulting and trade resources to support the above efforts. It cannot be used for housing support, residential improvements or personal items.
Back in May, Aaron Saye of DIY music venue Seventh Circle told Westword, “At this point, we’ll just be saving most of it to have on hand for the future. We currently have no specific plans regarding what to use it for, other than some small repairs to the sound system and the building itself that have recently become necessary.”
Not all Denver recipients were willing to go public, but the partial list includes Fusion Factory, Fitch Foundation, Moon Magnet Collective, Denver Art Society, Seventh Circle, Inca Church, Clown Cake, Pandemic Collective and ReCreative Denver.
While Rhinoceropolis and Glob — the adjoined venues whose shuttering in the wake of Oakland’s Ghost Ship fire set all this off — are not on that list, Meow Wolf said in January that it would give $20,000 to the DIY spaces as well as artist advocacy group Amplify Arts. This was before applications for the DIY & Alternative Creative Spaces Grant were closed, but Meow Wolf said on its website that “a more immediate need in Santa Fe’s homie-city, Denver, became very apparent.”
After conducting surprise inspections and closing some DIY art spaces, Denver extended an opportunity to the tenants and landlords of these spaces to come forward with a kind of amnesty for work done without permits and an expedited process for coming into code compliance. Artists said that to take advantage of this program, what they’ll really need is money. While Meow Wolf is not part of the city program, the money the group is providing could help some spaces come into compliance. A working group is looking for additional funds.
It’s not a surprise that many venues remain tight-lipped about their status. The Ghost Ship fire and the scrutiny from city officials that followed yanked many of them out from underground, where some have quietly operated for up to a decade. Now, saying too much in public could jeopardize their ability to stay open.
Representatives from most of the publicly listed venues, as well as Rhino and Glob, have not responded to requests for comment. One person who did respond said they don’t want to discuss details of how they’re using the grant money until their lease is secured.
Meow Wolf specified during the grant application process that preference would be given to spaces and organizations that “identify as ‘DIY’ or ‘alternative’ and maintain a limited budget stream” and that “demonstrate additional funding from land owner or additional partnerships.”
For nonprofits like ReCreative and Pandemic Collective — a horror theater company — things have to be more above-board, though they’re hardly less DIY.
“We are a theater company that I would like to think aligns pretty well with Meow Wolf. We like to do immersive work, and we like to do location-specific events,” said Rhea Amos, artistic director for Pandemic. “Everything that they were looking for in the DIY fund is totally what we do. We are so DIY it’s wild.”
The 3-year-old nonprofit has hopped from space to space for each production, but come December it’ll have a home in a warehouse at 21st and Market streets.
“We just kind of started getting wind in our sails when the Denver market really kind of exploded. So finding space for the last two and a half years has been difficult, especially with the cost of living going up and spaces dwindling,” Amos said. “Everything is so fragile and up in the air with this wild economy and especially with the work that we do.”
Amos found out about the Meow Wolf grant on application deadline day and cleared her schedule to get it in under the wire. It paid off, and Pandemic now has $2,000 in grant money that they’ll use to rent out rehearsal and performances spaces and to kickstart their education programs.
The continued success of Pandemic means continued work for the artists involved — not just performers and writers, but local artists in all mediums who have something to contribute. The same goes for ReCreative, which exists to serve any and all Denver artists who need help.
“Something that I think about all the time is how difficult it is in Denver to create art,” Amos said. “I think a lot of artists can agree it’s become a little hostile. Anyone who is able to fund and sustain their art is pretty remarkable.”