DENVER — Walking in to RedLine Contemporary Art Center, you’re greeted by a smiling face at the desk. As you enter, you’re surrounded by a gallery of massive multimedia works — sculptures, projections, murals, it seems they’ve had it all.
But pass by these tantalizing displays and you might find something even more unique. Tucked away in the back corner of the center is the community studio. Come on a mid-week afternoon, and you’ll often hear joyous laughter guiding you toward it.
RedLine's Reach Program
A look into RedLine Contemporary Art Center's Reach program
In this community studio, Denver residents from a variety of backgrounds and lifestyles gather, join in a shared mission: to be themselves, and to create as such.
RedLine’s Reach program started around 10 years ago. Two Metro Sate University Denver students were determined to create a space where people experiencing the trauma of homelessness or housing insecurity had a place to disconnect from their trials, if even for a moment. Somewhere where they could enjoy the freedom of creativity and community without worrying about warmth or survival, and somewhere where they were able to contribute their valuable talents.
Considering their mission, RedLine eventually became the perfect home for the students’ vision.
“RedLine Contemporary Art Center is a place where we like to believe that art and social justice intersect. And we believe where art and social justice intersects is where positive social change happens,” explained Moe Gram. Gram is RedLine’s community outreach coordinator as well as coordinator for the Reach program.
“Over time, the program has evolved quite a bit,” she explained further. “Any community partner who is supporting humans who are dealing with life circumstances, we have a space for them to be able to create artwork where the bar and barrier to entry is very, very low. People are able to focus on not life circumstances but simply community in creating artwork where it's completely free."
Reach provides art supplies, studio space, and encouragement for anyone who walks in the doors wanting to create art and take some time to heal. But according to a unanimous vote by past participants, these assets — while valuable — aren’t quite as valuable as the people involved. Nothing beats the warmth of supportive community.
“When you walk into Reach studio, you are nothing but a human. It does not matter where you've been,” Gram explained. “It doesn't matter where you're going. It doesn't matter who you think you are or who you think people think you are. You're just a human. And there's something so freeing and so magical about not having to exist as anything but exactly what you are.”
As connections between the artists grow, their bonds expand far beyond the walls of the community studio.
“There are these are people who are helping each other move from house to house. They know each other's families. They know each other's children. They they're having their own moments of congregating outside of here,” Gram shared.
New participants are welcome Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Once they arrive, they’re greeted by a studio coordinator who walks them through a brief orientation.
Former studio coordinator Gonzo helped formulate many of the ethos of the program, and is known for his sentiment that “the most important person in the room is the one walking in for the very first time.”
Inquiring artists are welcomed with warmth and attention from the coordinator and participants alike, a simple comfort many lack in their day-to-day.
“There's music playing, people are jamming out, there's materials all over the place,” Gram described. “Some people might want to stick to themselves, but some people might be feeling like they want to socialize. And so it's really kind of a place where whatever you're feeling will meet you, where you're at and you're welcome to enjoy and create as you see fit.”
After about six months of participation in Reach, participants are invited to apply for the Core Artist program. Once enrolled, Core Artists are not only provided studio space and supplies, but also career guidance, opportunities to join public exhibitions, and a chance to fully pursue their passions.
Gram says the application is relatively simple, and isn’t necessarily focused on the artwork itself. “It’s more based on an eagerness to want to understand the business side of the art world and an eagerness to understand how your creative practice can potentially become something that you are able to turn a profit or revenue from."
The Core Artist program lasts about three years. After graduating, the artists are eligible to apply for scholarship to the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design (RMCAD), or for the Core Artist Residency housed inside RedLine.
According to Gram, the confidence the artists build is palpable.
“Something that really lights up my soul is seeing artists starting to believe themselves to be artists. Because when the core artist first starts in the program, they're not fully convinced that they're a visual artist. And over time you start to catch themselves saying, ‘Oh, yes, I'm an artist and I'm a curator and I'm a designer.’ And then you start to see people really coming alive and coming into themselves.”
Core artists have displayed at places like ACLU, SAME cafe and retail stores around the city, and have even had the chance to join the ranking of 15-18 artists every two years at RedLine’s artist-in-residency program.
“Sometimes equity means exposing people to other options and opportunities that maybe they had never considered. And it's really beautiful to watch people's eyes light up when they find out that they can earn an extra 50 bucks a week just by slinging some prints or selling some paintings,” Gram mused. “Just knowing that you have the option and a different way to approach survival and to approach existing in the world.”
And the artists aren’t the only ones learning about themselves and the world around them. Gram reminisced on her time so far at the program, concluding, “Something I've learned leading this program is that people will surprise you. And who people are at first glance isn't who they are all together. I think that that's something I've always known in a very intellectual way, but I never expected to fall in love with this group of people.”
Elle Naef is a digital media producer at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at email@example.com.
RedLine’s Reach: Core Artist program eliminates many of the barriers aspiring artists face when pursuing their dreams. In turn, artists who face societal stigmas are given a place to be their true selves, and inspire others to do the same. Whether it’s developmental disabilities, traumatic life circumstances or financial issues, nothing gets between the Reach Core Artists and their dreams.