Known for its two-year artist residency program, RedLine Contemporary Art Center plays additional important roles in the Denver art scene, especially when it comes to grants and social activism.
DENVER, CO—The thirteen-year-old RedLine Contemporary Art Center in the River North Art District occupies a unique space in the Denver art scene that’s neither for-profit gallery nor traditional museum. Steadily carving its own niche, RedLine has come to enjoy a solid reputation for supporting emerging artists, fostering community connections, and celebrating diversity through eclectic exhibitions.
But exhibitions are just part of RedLine’s multi-pronged endeavors, all of them noteworthy given its status as a 501(c)(3) non-profit, which can be traced back to a start-up grant from artist and philanthropist Laura Merage in 2008. A walk-through of RedLine with executive director Louise Martorano reveals the organization’s wide-ranging and socially diverse goals, which include major initiatives beyond exhibiting contemporary art. For instance, the non-profit, renowned for its artist residency program, will soon upgrade its digital capabilities thanks to a noteworthy funding award from Bloomberg Philanthropies.
“RedLine is built around the core idea that in order for artists to be successful, they need space to create,” Martorano says. “But it also exists to create a space where art, education, and community converge.”
Upcoming RedLine productions include this weekend’s 48 Hours of Socially Engaged Art & Conversation Summit: Afrofuturism + Beyond, a mash-up of art, film, music, storytelling, and book discussions on August 13 and August 14. Afrofuturism refers to a futuristic vision in which Black culture, art, and history inform a blossoming of society, and it’s been a theme throughout RedLine’s 2020-21 season.
In the fall, RedLine further explores social activism, racial justice, and inclusiveness with inVISIBLE | hyperVISIBLE, running September 10 through October 10, 2021. The title refers to contrasting but persistent stereotypes about Asian Americans as “model minorities” yet “enemy aliens.” The programming will feature works in diverse media by Asian American artists, along with artist talks, scholarly lectures, and community-building workshops.
Also on the horizon is RedLine’s participation in Desierto Mountain Time, a cross-border contemporary art collaboration organized by 516 Arts in Albuquerque.
Meanwhile, philanthropic support and membership contributions have continued to grow. Additionally, RedLine recently became one of twenty-six United States-based non-profit arts organizations to receive funds from Bloomberg Philanthropies. The money that will go toward improving RedLine’s digital technology needs.
RedLine is also in the business of administrating various grants for artists. The INSITE Fund, for instance, helps Colorado artists working in non-traditional spaces while the Art Business Accelerator Grant provides funds and curriculum to aid in artists’ entrepreneurial goals.
The non-profit has coordinated eight satellite artist studios at the new RiNo ArtPark, set to open in late September. It’s also running the Reach Studio where burgeoning artists who might be unhoused or in transition can freely work and even be part of an annual exhibition. RedLine’s neighborhood includes a handful of homeless shelters and encampments.
The Denver arts organization recently opened a pop-up gallery called S*Park at a condominium complex near its headquarters at 2350 Arapahoe Street, and the space offers a community studio where schoolchildren can create art. One-on-one mentoring between a student and artist is part of RedLine’s educational outreach.
A large part of RedLine’s response to the pandemic was creating Checking In, a platform allowing artists, performers, and others to share works-in-progress and get paired with a space willing to host the work, either inside or outside. About three dozen public and private locations participated over several months as the pandemic continued. RedLine also brainstormed a way to create income for artists by enlisting them to make hundreds of masks for homeless shelters. Emergency grants for artists were facilitated by RedLine as well.
But one of RedLine’s most admired and best-known programs is its artist residency, which every two years brings in a cadre of more than a dozen local and regional artists. The residency allows free use of one of the small studios that flank RedLine’s exhibition space as well as the ability to access that studio twenty-four hours a day.
Participants receive a two-year immersion in the ins and outs of rising from emerging artist to an established one. They work with mentors, meet curators and gallerists, up their networking game, and gain introductions to marketing and promotion opportunities, meanwhile aligning their practice with RedLine’s mission of community outreach and social activism. Because the studios have no doors, visitors are free to drop in and get a glimpse of ongoing projects.
The current resident artists run the gamut as far as media and processes—assemblage, sculpture, printmaking, sound art, performance art, and figurative oil painting, to name a few.
“RedLine can offer this back-of-house support that artists rarely have because it’s all up to them to do everything all the time,” Martorano says. “They have to be the bookkeeper, the maker, the installer, the administrator, the facilitator. So RedLine tries to address that gap in the infrastructure for artists’ careers, especially when they’re in an emerging space.” Just as important, the artist residency addresses the shortage of affordable studio space in the Denver area, she adds.
An oft-used phrase in RedLine’s communications is “positive social change through art.” In the broad scheme of the Denver art scene, the center stands out—both in a public-facing way through exhibitions and open studios and behind the scenes through grant-giving and social-justice outreach. It’s easy to argue that RedLine stands at the nexus of doing art and doing good.