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A Golden Opportunity for the Golden Triangle

Photo by Kara Pearson Gwinn.


The Golden Triangle Creative District has some seriously enviable assets. By leveraging such anchors as the Denver Art Museum, the plan involves catalyzing the neighborhood for working artists.

Across West 12th Avenue from the Denver Art Museum's Frederic C. Hamilton Building sit two prosaic-looking parking lots on either side of Acoma Street. The lots' entryway signs describes the aspects of the city that motorists are likely there to access: "Culture, Civic, Museums, Government" reads one, and "Civic Center, Arts, Museums" reads the other. In addition to the art museum, Denver's City and County Building sits nearby, as well.
 
While the lots presently offer all-day parking, there are plans afoot to transform the land into something much more valuable.
 
According to the Golden Triangle Neighborhood Plan, adopted in November 2014, those parking lots are among several "underutilized parcels" that could undergo "catalytic development" in the years ahead.
 
The plan explains that "places to work, shop and gather are the primary missing ingredients" in the Golden Triangle -- which on the City and County of Denver's official map is still called the "Civic Center" neighborhood, and basically runs along West Colfax Avenue from Speer Boulevard to Broadway at its northern edge, and down the perpendicular-running Speer Boulevard to Broadway to the south, making the neighborhood somewhat triangular-shaped.
 
Instead of parking lots, future structures containing "mixed-use housing, office and commercial development" could play host to "consulates, international companies, world-class educational institutions." Acoma Street, itself, could become part of an "Arts and Culture Trail" that will lead people away from downtown to bask in the district's cultural offerings, along a street that's been partially transformed into a greenway where young creatives can lounge and network outdoors. "From small-scale artists to fledgling theater companies to new cutting-edge galleries and museums, arts and culture drive the Golden Triangle," the plan predicts. It indicates that the long-dormant landmark, the Evans School, could see "creative reuse" as a "space for arts and culture programming."

The long-vacant Evans School could emerge as an artist-friendly space. Photo by Kara Pearson Gwinn.


In order to help activate that plan -- and to showcase what's already abundantly present in terms of the arts and culture -- neighborhood interests sought out, and received in June 2016, recognition from Colorado Creative Industries as a Colorado Certified Creative District. The result is the Golden Triangle Creative District, which follows in the wake of two previously certified districts in Denver: the Art District on Santa Fe Arts and the RiNo Art District.
 
The certification of the Golden Triangle as a state-recognized creative district seems a no-brainer. After all, as Leslie Horna, executive director of the recently formed Golden Triangle Partnership, notes, "We're home to Colorado's most iconic arts and cultural institutions."
 
There's a wealth of them. Art devotees or collectors visiting Denver can stay overnight at The ART, a hotel at 12th Avenue and Broadway, opened in 2015, with works by Luiz Jiménez, Tracey Emin and Sol LeWitt, among other notables, on the walls.
 
In the morning, they can visit the venerable Denver Art Museum with its bold mixture of modern, western, and indigenous American art; the unique Clyfford Still Museum, celebrating its fifth year as a showcase for the influential, late, abstract painter's collected work; and, coming in 2018, the relocated Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, with its vast collection of design objects, as well as paintings and sculptures by noted Colorado artists, including the late Vance Kirkland himself.
 
In the afternoon, they can browse galleries which play host to works by important regional and national artists: among them, William Havu Gallery, Walker Fine ArtSandra Phillips Gallery, and Goodwin Fine Art, as well as the Native American Trading Company, open since 1983 and specializing in Indian arts, and the Colorado Photographic Arts Center, a 54-year-old institution which recently returned to the Golden Triangle from RiNo after a absence of more than 40 years.
 
If the visitors are history buffs, they can learn about the state's heritage at the History Colorado Center or the Byers-Evans House Museum (which played a prominent role in the history of art in Denver, prior to the opening of the Denver Art Museum).
 
Guests can even take in art exhibits at the city-run McNichols Civic Center Building, where Denver Arts & Venues has an office, as well as the Denver Public Library (which, over the past year or so, has held exhibits devoted to painter Herndon Davis, photographer Kim Allen and art related to the Holocaust).
 
After a day of fine art explorations, visitors can attend a play at the Curious Theatre Company, celebrating its 20th year in 2017; it's located in the old Swedish Evangelical Free Church, which dates back to the late 1880s. And, speaking of old churches, there's late-night dancing at The Church nightclub on Broadway (once St. Mark's Episcopal Church). Or if they're in town during its movie night, visitors will be able to watch a film outdoors, after sunset, in Civic Center Park, programmed by the Civic Center Conservancy.
 
But for all the changes to come -- which include more high-rise residential and hotel developments -- there's still something lacking, especially when compared with other creative districts. Perhaps due to some of the highest rents in Denver being concentrated in the area, the neighborhood has relatively few working visual artists.

Curious Theatre Company was established in 1997. Photo by Kara Pearson Gwinn.

One voice, one vision
 
In order for the Golden Triangle to attain creative district status, a meeting of the minds had to take place. In other words, sometimes competing interests had to coalesce. Neighborhood stakeholders belonging to organizations like the Golden Triangle Museum District, representing museums and galleries, and to the Golden Triangle Association, representing businesses, developers, and neighborhood interests, banded together last year to form a new group, the Golden Triangle Partnership (GTP).
 
"It just made the most sense to converge, and it was the city of Denver that really recommended that," says Bobbi Walker, who owns the gallery Walker Fine Art and serves as a GTP board member. Horna, the GTP's first executive director, says the city indicated that "the community needs one voice, one vision" in order to, for instance, receive targeted grants benefiting the arts in the neighborhood.
 
While undergoing that process of grouping together, the neighborhood's application for creative district status was approved by Colorado Creative Industries in June 2016.
 
Most people have welcomed the merger, as well as the neighborhood's creative district status. James Davis, who has run James Davis Designs in the district for the past two and a half years, has called the newfound support from Horna and the GTP "astounding."
 
Chip Walton of the Curious Theatre, which has been operating since 1997 (its motto is "no guts, no story"), says of the arts district designation, "It can't do anything but help all the cultural organizations that are in this neighborhood. The more visibility the neighborhood has, the more recognition from the general public as a destination for cultural consumers -- I think that's a win-win for everyone."
 
Horna agrees that the creative district designation will elevate awareness for the neighborhood. And not just among tourists, but with new Denver residents, as well, who might not be familiar with the Golden Triangle or what's there to access. "Part of it, through our events and branding and marketing, is just communicating all the depth and breadth and services and events and amenities and locations that are here," says Horna.
 
Kristy Bassuener of the Denver Art Museum adds that the new designation will "help the Golden Triangle build a brand as a creative oasis in the city."


 
One of the first orders of business will be to install wayfinding beacons to create that brand awareness for the district, and to point out its cultural attractions. It's the sort of signage that the Golden Triangle design business Noble Erickson has created, for instance, on Capitol Hill outside the Molly Brown House and outside the Triangle's Byers-Evans House (Denver Story Trek) and for other towns and parks throughout the state and country. GTP board member Jackie Noble has designed a logo for the new district, for use on its print material.
 
As an example of the district working together, Davis -- whose commercial woodworking has been installed within, for instance, Renegade Brewing Company, and who sells wooden earrings, planters, and art panels out of his workspace -- cites the upcoming Final Friday events, running from June through September.
 
At one time, several Golden Triangle businesses participated in First Friday events. But artist Katharine McGuinness, who has been creating abstract monotype artwork at her studio on West 11th Avenue in the district since 1998, says that a relative newcomer on the arts scene with more galleries, visibility, and attendance outshined the Golden Triangle's First Fridays: "It was eclipsed by [the Art District on] Santa Fe."
 
The upcoming Final Friday events reflect a symbiosis between galleries and museums within the Golden Triangle.
 
Sandra Phillips calls the coming of the Kirkland Museum "a coup for the neighborhood." Phillips, an art professor who moved her gallery from the Art District on Santa Fe, says that the Golden Triangle has "sizzle." She adds, "This is a wonderful neighborhood for creative businesses and visitors."
 
William Havu of the William Havu Gallery calls Kirkland Museum director Hugh Grant "a supporter of ours, [who] has bought a lot of art from us." Havu had a gallery in Aspen until recession hit hard in the late '70s and, then, in the Ballpark neighborhood in Denver before rents went through the roof in the late '90s. Havu bought his own building in the Golden Triangle in 1998, which accompanied a loft project.

"I'm really happy with how it's all [turning out]," Havu says of the neighborhood. "It's taken a long time. As opposed to LoDo, it's residential: it's not office, it's not sports facilities and bars. Right now, there's a renaissance in building. . . . There is not a piece of ground in the Golden Triangle that is not spoken for."

William Havu Gallery is one of the Golden Triangle's standout galleries. Photo by Kara Pearson Gwinn.


Call the Kirkland Museum part of the building boom. Renée Albiston of the Kirkland Museum says of the institution's upcoming move into the Golden Triangle, "We have been embraced with open arms." Citing Sandra Phillips and William Havu's art spaces, Albiston adds, "We have great partnerships with the galleries within the Golden Triangle."
 
Not only will the Kirland's new building, due to open in early 2018, allow the museum to display 65 percent more of its extensive collection, Albiston predicts that the museum will be able attract more visitors by being within the Golden Triangle, as opposed to its previous Capitol Hill location. She says the Golden Triangle will afford people "one-stop shopping for three of the most important, fine art collections in Denver" -- the Denver Art Museum, the Clyfford Still Museum and the Kirkland Museum.
 
Auto legacy and bail bonds
 
Along Broadway, it's still possible to still see remnants of that period in the early 20th century when the area was known as "Automobile Row." For example, on one building between East 11th and 12th avenues, the brand names of Studebaker and Franklin still prominently appear.
 
But in addition to being a onetime hub for car sales, the neighborhood also contains courthouses and the city's detention center, as well as the Denver CARES detox facility.
 
"It's just kind of been the jail district," says Austin Matthews of Recollect Records, which contains albums and music-related art at 13th Avenue and Delaware Street. Matthews' shop is located near a strip `of bail bonds shops. Given that a few of the buildings that formerly housed bail bonds businesses directly across the street on West 13th Avenue will soon be replaced with, reportedly, a high-rise apartment building, Matthews says, "It'll be interesting to see what happens, man."

Bail bonds businesses are a byproduct of being near the city's jail. Photo by Gregory Daurer.
 
James Davis, whose woodworking business resides near the Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse and the remaining bail bond outlets, finds the neighborhood safe. Still, he's fortified his front door with steel, just as a precaution.

As more city workers have been relocated to the courthouse or the Webb Building across East Colfax, at least one restaurant business has felt the impact. Scott Diamond, who owns one of the city's earliest brewpubs, Pints Pub (which is also home to "the largest collection of single malt scotches in the world," according to Diamond), says customers have decreased -- despite new residential high-rises towering nearby overhead.
 
But Diamond remains optimistic: "My greatest hope is that the continued growth of residential will make it more of a neighborhood. When I first built this [business] 23 year ago, my little joke was 'I'm building a neighborhood pub. Hopefully, they'll build a neighborhood around me for my pub.' And I'm [still] kind of waiting. I haven't seen the residential translate to business for us."
 
Room for creatives
 
According to a 2014 estimate, there were just over 2,100 inhabitants living within the 45-block Golden Triangle area. Due to new residential towers on the horizon, that number is set to roughly double: Another 2,000 to 3,000 residents will be added within the next couple of years, according to Horna.
 
But how many of those residents are presently artists? An informal survey of players within the Golden Triangle came up blank when asked to name one who actually resides there.

Perhaps the rent situation has something to do with that. According to rental site Zumper, a median one-bedroom rental in the Golden Triangle runs $2,300 -- the most expensive rent in Denver. In comparison, rent in Capitol Hill averaged $1,250, Cherry Creek's is $1,850 and LoDo had the second-highest in the city at $1,890.

The Kirkland Museum is under construction and slated to open in 2018. Photo by Kara Pearson Gwinn.
 
Despite rising costs, a number of creative businesses call the Golden Triangle home.
 
Sacred Thistle is an oasis of plants and wood on Acoma Street, selling jewelry, scents, and religious objects. Creating arrangements out of "unusual plants," co-owner Sydney Peterson says the shop specializes in designs incorporating the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi -- "embracing the imperfect."
 
Legwork Studio creates commercial animations and interactive reels for clients like Nike, Coca-Cola, the New York Times, and Allstate. It's even worked with the Denver Art Museum to produce an interactive feature, during an exhibition on dance at the museum.
 
Galvanize and Shift Workspaces offer coworking spaces -- and their own built-in social scenes, complete with bars. Galvanize offers a coding school and venture fund as well.
 
A once-gnarly motel at 11th Avenue and Broadway has been transformed into the sleek complex, The Metlo. Featuring at least six hair salons, a consumer can also obtain hair extensions, B12 injections, chemical peels, scar reduction treatments, and Rolfing therapy, as well as place to grab a cup of coffee or purchase boutique pet treats. The building's rooftop deck has also played host to private cannabis industry get-togethers, among other events.

The Metlo opened in a former motel on Broadway in 2014. Photo by Kara Pearson Gwinn.

Julie Gill runs Broche Ballet on The Metlo's ground level, where she'll teach ballet to anyone from kids to professional athletes. "My goal is to make ballet accessible to everyone, and to show the power of ballet for many walks of life," says Gill, who also rents out her space to other dance or yoga instructors for their own classes.
 
But, in terms of making the Golden Triangle Creative District more affordable for painters or sculptors or print-makers, is there any ballet-like flexibility?
 
Some arts districts -- including those in Trinidad and Loveland -- are incorporating Artspace buildings, where artists can simultaneously work and live at affordable rates. When asked if the Golden Triangle Creative District would be considering something similar, Horna replies, "I think we would be open to that. We haven't entered any discussions, at this point, and haven't had a significant demand."
 
Horna acknowledges, "We're more of an area to showcase and sell art."
 
And with proposed new galleries and museums on the horizon -- joining some of the grandest art institutions in the city already located there -- the Golden Triangle will continue to stand out in that regard.
 
However, as artist Katharine McGuinness says, "I would hope that there's room for the creatives in that creative district."

Artist Katharine McGuinness creates abstract monotypes in the Golden Triangle. Photo by Kara Pearson Gwinn.

Photos by Kara Pearson Gwinn and Gregory Daurer.

Graphic design by Matt Megyesi.

This story is part of a series about Colorado's Certified Creative Districts. Support for this series is provided by Colorado Creative Industries.
Q&A with Bobbi Walker, Walker Fine Art
Q&A with Bobbi Walker, Walker Fine Art
Bobbi Walker opened her lauded Walker Fine Art in the Golden Triangle in 2002. She presently serves on the board of the Golden Triangle Partnership, assisting the Golden Triangle Creative District in its quest to attain greater viability and visibility. Prior to opening her gallery, the MBA graduate sold computer software for 15 years. But Walker's overriding passion is clearly art: She's offered consultations on collecting and curating, and helped artists reach a larger national audience.
 
Does art enrich life in Denver? Walker firmly believes that to be the case.
 
Confluence Denver: What drew you to the Golden Triangle, in terms of locating your gallery here?
 
Bobbi Walker: The price per square footage in Cherry Creek and LoDo was cost-prohibitive to a brand new startup, as I was 15 years ago. The Golden Triangle had an active neighborhood group, the Golden Triangle Association, and they had some concentration of retail, but also a healthy concentration of inhabitants.
 
I needed to ramp up quickly. I didn't have an investor or funds that were going to sustain me to wait for an area such as Riverfront Park to grow into a viable neighborhood. And the Golden Triangle was already established.
 
CD: How has the neighborhood changed in the 15 years you've been here?
 
BW: There's so much more to do. If someone were to come down from the Denver Art Museum and walk around, they can go to retail stores like Sacred Thistle and they can go to a restaurant for lunch. They can visit five exhibition-level galleries that are showcasing mid-career artists. There's a lot more to do. It's become so much more of an exciting place to walk around.


 
CD: Do you think the economics have changed so much that new galleries are not going to be able to relocate here?
 
BW: I think it's more about available properties. We have a high percentage of surface parking lots. And they're being replaced by high-rises. If the high-rises don't include a retail component, then there won't be empty retail space for a gallery to move into. So, I don't think it's as much a cost-prohibitive situation as a question of will the development include retail.
 
CD: Why do you feel that art is important?
 
BW: I think art is healing. I think we're all going through times of polarity right now. The more we that can come together into common place and share commentary and talk to each other -- instead of remaining in opposition -- the faster we're going to come together as a nation and as a community.
 
I think we're also being isolated by the digital revolution, where people will sit side by side and look at their texts and their phones instead of talking to each other. Art provides a forum for conversation and community. So, I don't think the brick-and-mortar gallery is going to go away. More than just allowing artists to make a living doing what they do, galleries serve the community as well.