At the roots of any healthy cultural ecosystem, there’s DIY.
Denver’s own scene has been around since long before the boom, long operating unbothered in the city’s basements and otherwise unneeded warehouses, in some cases housing artists and in all cases acting as safe spaces for young people and incubators for artists who grow into bigger venues locally and nationally. In December 2016, when a fire at Oakland’s Ghost Ship space killed 36 people, that changed. Cities across the country feared their own Ghost Ship fire, and in Denver, inspectors showed up just days later at the doors of venues Rhinoceropolis and Glob to shut down the venues and evict the artists living there.
Two years later, Rhino and Glob have the go-ahead to reopen, but the shape of Denver DIY is different.
But what exactly does it look like? On Feb. 5, we’re going to sit down with RedLine Contemporary Art Center’s Louise Martorano, Glob’s John Golter and Denver Arts & Venues’ Lisa Gedgaudas to talk about it. And before we do that, we’ll watch a movie with our friends at GoodCinema. They’re showing “Goodnight Brooklyn, The Story of Death By Audio,” a film following the final days of the Brooklyn DIY venue after they learned they would be forced out to make way for new Vice Media offices.
It’s all happening from 6 to 9 p.m. Feb. 5 at Alamo Drafthouse, 4255 W. Colfax Ave. General admission is $15 — or you can get a ticket and become a Denverite member for $45.
Here, for a little optional homework, is a timeline of events:
Dec. 8, 2016:
At least five people had to move out of a building on Brighton Boulevard after the Denver Fire Department made an unannounced inspection, and reports on social media indicate they were artists who lived — at least some of the time — in the DIY arts space Rhinoceropolis.
Denver Fire said unannounced inspections to ensure the safety of Denver buildings are par for the course. But following the Oakland Ghost Ship fire, it seems that Denver has revisited at least one artist space in River North.
Before the inspection of Rhinoceropolis, Denver Fire spokeswoman Melissa Taylor said Thursday that the city operates in a different context from Oakland because recreational and medicinal marijuana grow operations occupy warehouse spaces.
“We don’t have abandoned warehouses, we don’t have warehouses that are really affordable places to set up an operation like that,” Taylor said. “I can confidently say that we don’t have any — that we’re aware of -situations where people are living in a warehouse situation like that.”
Dec. 9, 2016
There’s still a lot we don’t know about Denver’s decision to conduct a surprise inspection at Rhinoceropolis and its sister DIY arts space GLOB and evict the people living there, but Denver Fire has released a list of the violations that inspectors found there.
According to Denver Fire, those hazards included extension cords used for permanent wiring and wrapping paper on the walls and plastic on the ceiling.
The fire department said the building — 3551 Brighton Boulevard and 3553 Brighton — is not permitted for residential use and doesn’t have smoke detectors or sprinkler systems, as would be required, nor does it have a properly working furnace.
Asked if the city is investigating other DIY arts spaces, Denver Fire spokeswoman Melissa Taylor said at a press conference Friday that inspectors are looking at structures for safety, not what’s going on inside them.
Dec. 12, 2016
What DIY spaces like Denver’s Rhinoceropolis and Glob do that others don’t — and what their options are now
Places like Rhinoceropolis, Glob, Ghost Ship and the Bell Foundry are vital to the health of their cities’ arts scenes.
“People need to realize that it’s part of something bigger than itself,” said Isa Jones, a former Denver music journalist and the current arts and the entertainment coordinator for the Jackson Hole News & Guide. “Evicting five kids doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it has ripple effects through the community.”
To understand why, you need to know how a DIY art space works. They act as homes, studios and performance venues for local, usually young musicians and other artists. Sometimes they’re in warehouses, sometimes they’re just in regular houses. They take donations during shows to help pay rent, and they hold day jobs. They don’t typically sell alcohol (though people can BYOB) and all ages are welcome.
So if the five artists evicted from Rhino and Glob are out of a place to live, that means they’re also out of a place to create. Young artists generally don’t have the funds for both an apartment and studio space. They often barely have the funds for one of those things.
And it’s not just those five people who lose an important space. If Rhino and Glob aren’t hosting shows, that means new and experimental acts — both local and touring — are losing a place to play. Playing shows is the best way for a new band to grow and earn fans, and it’s much harder to get booked at a “legit” venue if a band hasn’t had a chance to grow that audience — especially for bands that are bending rules and genres.
Dec. 14, 2016
Denver Fire knew in 2015: Records describe Rhinoceropolis as “an abandoned warehouse with people living in it”
According to records of fire department inspections at Rhino and Glob over the past five years, every inspection ended with no violations. Except one.
On Nov. 3, 2015, an inspector recorded one count of a violation described as FPBPLZ and noted, “This is an abandoned warehouse with people living in it.”
The inspection form, like all of the other inspection forms, says, “If any violations have been found, this shall serve as your final notice.”
The next inspection came on July 22, 2016. The form says no violations were noted.
Dec. 19, 2016
In threads peppered with Pepe the Frog images and allusions to Hitler’s SS, anonymous users of the 4chan forum called on people to “report violations and keep unwitting leftists from getting themselves killed.”
Other threads refer to the fire at Oakland’s Ghost Ship as an opportunity to “crush the radical left.”
“MAGA my brothers and happy hunting!” wrote one user.
Dec. 20, 2016
Denver Fire Department spokeswoman Melissa Taylor confirmed that inspectors visited the space in River North today.
She said anywhere from 8 to 11 people were living there and they have not been displaced, though people familiar with the space say it was fewer. Code violations did not amount to an eviction, and they were given smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and “basic life safety information.”
Jan. 12, 2017
Aaron Saye, who operates the space, told Lyndsey Bartlett that “Denver Fire called (on January 9) and said that they had received an anonymous complaint from someone who was concerned, after the Oakland fire, that Seventh Circle might fall prey to a similar fate.”
Jan. 19, 2017
Representatives from Denver Fire, Arts & Venues and Community Planning and Development addressed hundreds of people during the forum for safe creative spaces Wednesday night at the McNichols Building.
It was largely information we’ve heard before, but for three things:
-Denver Arts & Venues has committed $20,000 to be put toward safe creative spaces and supporting artists.
-Minneapolis-based nonprofit developer Artspace has begun to plan 100 units of artist housing in Denver.
-RiNo Art District is pushing the city to let the district keep two buildings that will eventually become part of RiNo Park and use them as permanent, affordable creative space.
Meow Wolf — an elaborate, well-known and successful DIY space in Santa Fe — said in a statement on its website that it opened applications to receive grants from a $100,000 DIY fund on Jan. 1.
“But since then, a more immediate need in Santa Fe’s homie-city, Denver, became very apparent.”
March 9, 2017
Applications for Meow Wolf’s grant money are open through March 31, and the $20,000 from Arts & Venues will be given to applicants who meet Meow Wolf’s criteria. They will also have to “demonstrate they have a physical address and creative/community gathering space in the City and County of Denver” and “have permission and demonstrate partnership with land owner,” according to the Arts & Venues announcement.
It also says preference will be given to spaces that “identify as ‘DIY’ or ‘alternative’ and maintain a limited budget stream” and that “demonstrate additional funding from land owner or additional partnerships.
June 19, 2017
To help keep the local art community in the city, Denver wants to change the laws on the books, city officials said today. But for this proposed solution to work, unpermitted DIY art spaces would have to come forward and collaborate with the city.
Enter the “conditional certificate of occupancy,” a tool that could make Denver the first city in the country to grant legal status to DIY art spaces that don’t have the proper city permits.
Here’s how it would work. For the next two years, unpermitted spaces could come out of the shadows, get a city inspection, and get a conditional certificate of occupancy to bring the building up to code if there are no serious life-safety concerns.
July 17, 2017
Denver artists will get more time to bring their spaces into compliance, but what they really need is money
Denver City Council approved an ordinance Monday that will give people living in DIY arts spaces and other unpermitted buildings a way to legalize their buildings without losing their housing in the process. And in a concession to artists who feared eviction and other unintended consequences of coming forward, the city will give people more time to come forward and more time to complete the work.
But this victory is tempered by the question of where poor artists will get tens of thousands of dollars to renovate spaces they don’t own and have no right to stay in after they do that work.
Aug. 7, 2017
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.
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.
Dec. 5, 2017
Now the city is putting $300,000 on the table, this time with administrative help from the RedLine nonprofit contemporary art center. According to a news release, RedLine will “facilitate support between artists and art businesses.”
Bree Davies, an advocate for the DIY community, said the RedLine partnership is key. The gallery hosted the first community meeting organized by Amplify Arts, and local artists trust the organization and its executive director, Louise Martorano.
There was a feeling that coming forward to participate would mean “creating a registry of ourselves that could be used later on,” she said. Without financial support, artists can’t complete the program, then they’re left on a list of unpermitted spaces with no way of getting up to code.
Jan. 8, 2018
“After Ghost Ship, I saw DIY going two ways,” said Bree Davies, an advocate for the DIY community. “With such a profound stopping point in motion, it was either going to go way underground or way above ground, and it did both. Meow Wolf is a direct manifestation. … They took a thing that we had been doing as a community for decades and found a way to commodify it.”
“You cannot replicate a DIY space in a legal setting. You can’t. Art has to start somewhere. Young people have to have the ability to access that stuff, and it can’t be at the bars.”
May 14, 2018
‘No matter what, DIY is going to exist,’ so Denver officials and artists are looking for creative solutions
“The DIY community is absolutely desperate for show space and any creative collaborative space for people to just join together, whether it’s for shows or rehearsal space,” Bounds said. “I don’t know if you’ve heard this, but it’s been a lot of kids opening up their houses trying to have shows and the buildings just structurally collapsing under them.
“No matter what, DIY is going to exist and it’s going to happen, so it’s going to get less safe and more underground if we don’t have somebody responsible trying to run it.”
Jan 10, 2019
That’s according to John Golter, the operator of Glob, who has led efforts to remodel both places, including negotiating with city agencies and working countless hours to bring the warehouses up to code.
Golter says Rhinceropolis will reopen as a music venue, though people won’t be allowed to live there. Glob will reopen as a private space.