Co-founder Amy Bradley opened the Downtown Artery in Old Town in 2013. Located in the oldest commercial building in Fort Collins (built in 1868), the space includes a gallery, cafe and bar, store, performance venue, art studios, office spaces and three Airbnb short-term rental apartments. A graduate of CSU's printmaking program, Bradley is also one of the founders of the nonprofit Fort Collins Mural Project.
Confluence Denver: Tell me about how the Downtown Artery came to be.
Amy Bradley: My father is a doctor and my mother is a nurse, yet they spawned three creatives. My younger brother is a musician and a producer, I'm a visual artist, and my older brother is a visual artist and a writer, so they were kind of forced into recognizing and appreciating creativity.
I was getting my BFA in printmaking [at CSU] when we started the business, I was a junior in college, and my father was getting an MBA at DU. He was constantly pitching me ideas and, to be quite frank, I was constantly shooting him down. Then he pitched this idea of having shared studio space. At that time, as a junior, I had such a strong printmaking community, and I was starting to recognize, once I graduate, I might not have this kind of community and these kind of opportunities.
We started formulating a business plan and looking into getting small business loans. We started on Mulberry in a home that got converted into a commercial space. There were a lot of variations from what we do now, but it was the same overall concept of a shared space.
Being a visual artist, I wanted to have shared studio spaces for predominantly visual artists. We were homeless as a business for about six months looking for the perfect space. At that point, we were looking for leasable spaces not a building to own. But I walked into this building and immediately fell in love. I just remember having this whole vision about how amazing this could be and how perfect it could be for what we wanted to do.
Q&A with Amy Bradley, Downtown Artery
CD: What's your mission with the Downtown Artery?
AB: Providing a vibrant, accepting, accessible space that celebrates creativity, and invites artists and also people who appreciate the arts. I feel there are a lot of people who don't think about setting foot into a gallery or going to shows, but having a very accessible space where people can come and experience creativity can change that.
CD: How has business been since you moved into your current building in 2013?
AB: We're not only a startup, we're an art center startup in Fort Collins, a very small city. So there are struggles of course that were to be expected. We have our eggs in a lot of baskets. Because of that, we've been able to succeed, but, certain aspects, we're struggling a lot.
We've had growing pains and we've evolved a lot and I think that's really important to be able to accept change and roll with the punches, and recognize what's working and what's not and evolve from there.
CD: What about the Fort Collins Mural Project? How did that come to be and what is it?
AB: The Mural Project officially got its 501(c)3 status at the very end of 2015. My co-founder, Lindee Zimmer, is my art director at the Downtown Artery and basically my right-hand woman. We are both extremely passionate about street art: It's so accessible, everybody benefits from it, it just beautifies and increases the vibrancy of a community. It creates a destination and therefore affects the economy, even indirectly.
We have to get permission from the owner of the building, then we put a call out for artists and they submit their concepts. Once we receive all the concepts by the deadline, the board votes anonymously. The top three designs then get presented to the building owner, and they make the decision. That's about all that they do, because we do not breach that weird line of the business user using the mural as advertising.
We've done three murals so far. We have about 10 buildings so far where we've gotten permission from the building owner. Now we're just waiting for funding. Artists are paid a minimum of $3.50 per square foot, and we pay for their supplies.
CD: What's your take on the Downtown Fort Collins Creative District? What are its strengths and needs?
AB: I think there are many strengths. One, we're such a close-knit community. It can be frustrating sometimes how few galleries there are, but there are so many music venues, and music is such a strong suit.
The same things that can be frustrating but they can also play to our benefit, because we're so close. We support each other -- a lot. And we're working hard to advocate. Everybody I know who's involved in the creative realm is so passionate and so driven, we're oftentimes on the same page, which is kind of rare.
The cons are that we're still a really small community and we have a long way to go, but it's kind of exciting. It's exciting how many possibilities there are. I feel people are really starting to recognize the importance of arts.
There's still a lot of education that needs to happen when it comes to people recognizing the importance of supporting the arts financially. Costs are skyrocketing, taxes are skyrocketing. But it's also very easy to think it's just happening here. It's not just happening here. It's like an epidemic.