Leon Gallery’s directors are in no rush to reopen

The art gallery in City Park West is taking its time to ease back into business after stay-at-home orders were lifted.

The Leon Gallery in City Park West offered a performance piece of music and live painting, visible through the north-facing windows. April 22, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The Leon Gallery in City Park West offered a performance piece of music and live painting, visible through the north-facing windows. April 22, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Donna Bryson. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Retail and other businesses that were shuttered during Denver’s coronavirus stay-at-home will start to ease open this weekend as the city transitions to safer-at-home.

Retail is part of their business, so Leon Gallery’s directors believe they can open. But Eric Nord and Eric Dallimore are in no rush. They’re keeping the focus on an installation series that can be viewed from outside the closed gallery and an online performance art festival they developed during the stay-at-home orders. It will be June before they start inviting art lovers back into the nonprofit art and event space at 1112 E. 17th Ave. in City Park West.

“We would just rather be safe and take our time right now rather than try to jump back into everything,” Dallimore said. “We’ve never been a typical commercial gallery space. We’re not trying to just create sales right off the bat.

“I think we’re in good company,” Dallimore added, describing friends who also are planning to wait a bit before resuming doing hair, tattoos and nails — other businesses that Mayor Michael Hancock announced could start reopening Saturday under strict guidelines.

Residents are still being asked to stay home when possible to try to stop the coronavirus. The businesses that are opening must take such steps as limiting the number of staff and customers on site to maintain the social distancing that prevents disease from spreading. Businesses also must provide hand sanitizer and wipes as much as possible.

Starting Wednesday, staff at retail and commercial businesses must wear face masks at work and everyone must wear them in specific situations, which include visiting healthcare facilities, waiting in line for and riding public transit or using a taxi or a ride-sharing service. Public and private gatherings (such as gallery openings) of more than 10 people are banned through May 26.

Dallimore said he’d be watching carefully to learn as other businesses navigate safer-at-home rules.

Nord said he expected the situation to keep changing.

“We are keeping our ear on the ground and trying to make sure we can adjust if needed,” Nord said. “A common word these days is ‘pivot.'”

Jared D.P. Anderson's sketches, prototypes for his work on a nearby wall, hang inside the Leon Gallery. April 22, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Jared D.P. Anderson's sketches, prototypes for his work on a nearby wall, hang inside the Leon Gallery. April 22, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Closed doesn’t mean Leon hasn’t been busy. Nord has been researching streaming software as he prepares for the performance art series, which begins Thursday at 7 p.m. with Phil Cordelli and Sueyeun Juliette Lee combining their poetry and movement. The pair has pre-recorded a piece that Nord will broadcast on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. The next night at 7, Nord will be in the gallery with Brenton Weyi — just the two of them and cameras — to live-stream Weyi’s performance.

Weyi “is really hoping to have some kind of interpersonal interaction with people during the broadcast,” Nord said, adding that they would be using Facebook and YouTube chat functions to connect with viewers.

In all, Nord has nine artists scheduled for six performances, the last on May 28. On June 6 through July 18, Nord and Dallimore will host a joint exhibition by multimedia artists Marsha Mack and Lindsay Smith Gustave that could kick off with a by-appointment opening if social distancing rules are still in place.

Leon has hosted the performance art series as a live event in the gallery the last two years and also has welcomed musicians. Live performances will be slow to return to normal and may forever be changed by the coronavirus shutdown, Nord said. That makes what he’s learning now about the technology of presenting art and engaging with audiences online even more important.

“It just seems like this is a tool that we’re going to have to be able to understand and utilize over the next couple of years,” Nord said.

“Hopefully Leon and other galleries will be innovating in other ways,” he said. “It’s hard to see.”

Dallimore said Leon’s artists have coped with the limitations and uncertainties of the coronavirus era and “created something absolutely remarkable for people to experience.”

“We’ve fortunately had these two concepts in play to give us our voice as a gallery,” Dallimore said, referring to the online performance art series and a series of installations that can be seen through the windows by passersby.

Jared D.P. Anderson inside the Leon Gallery. April 22, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Jared D.P. Anderson inside the Leon Gallery. April 22, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Painter Jared D.P. Anderson, who opened the window series on April 22, took the opportunity to experiment with performance art. Michael Dowling is to take over Leon’s windows to end the installation series May 20 through May 28. Dowling will sit in the gallery looking through the window to make art of or with people he will schedule to spend an hour at a time outside. He may simply draw a portrait. If the person he has scheduled is also an artist, he envisions collaborating wordlessly with him or her.

Dallimore said as word of Dowling’s plans has gotten around, other artists have contacted the gallery to say: “I want to sit for Michael. I would love for him to draw me.”

Since the coronavirus outbreak, Dowling said, “when I think about my work, I think about people interacting with it in a more solitary way.

“I’m always thinking about making things,” he added. “Now I’m thinking about making things in a more thoughtful way.”

Dowling has run an art consulting firm and thinks of himself as an artist who understands business. He said he has tried to bring his organization and other business skills to Leon’s seven-member board, which he chairs. The pandemic has meant that supporting artists and ensuring they and the public are safe have become paramount, Dowling said.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, Dowling would typically create a piece for sale every day, seven days a week. Sales of his own art have now slowed, as has his spending. He is putting in more time in the studio.

“It’s such a different way to think and so many new concepts to take on,” he said.

We’ll be following Leon throughout the pandemic.

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