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In Oakland's Shadow, ArtSpace Looks To Cast Light Over Colorado Artists

Stacy Nick
Holly Kirkman paints while her husband, Derek, practices his upright bass as part of the duo The Storm Mountain Boys.

Most apartment dwellers wouldn’t be too keen on getting a front row seat to a neighbor’s band practice. But at the Loveland ArtSpace, musician Derek Kirkman’s playing is welcome.

“Luckily the amazing neighbors we have here, most of them actually really like music and like when music is being played in the building,” Kirkman said during one of ArtSpace’s weekly open studio sessions.

This month a deadly fire ripped through an unofficial artists’ compound in Oakland, California. The tragedy spurred evictions of residents from a popular do-it-yourself arts hub in Denver’s River North (RiNo) Arts District. Both have renewed conversation about the need for more affordable – and safe – housing for the creative community.

ArtSpace is a nationwide program that rehabs former warehouses, hotels and, in Loveland’s case, grain elevators, into affordable housing for artists.

“Having this flex space gallery that we have here with fairly professional soundproofing in here and everything, it’s provided us a particularly excellent space to rehearse and play small parties and things like that,” Kirkman said. “So we’ve got a really nice big open space for that and playing the upright bass, that’s kind of essential for me.”

Kirkman has lived here just over year with his wife, Holly, who is a painter. Both were moved by the 36 lives lost in Oakland.

“ArtSpace has afforded us the security, but not just that, the community,” an emotional Holly Kirkman said. “And so, the fact that we come together to work together and to live together and share all the scary places we have lived and have tried to get through to be artists in this economy so that things like Ghost Ship don’t happen… But I can understand why they would feel the need to be together in spaces like this, and risk their safety.”

Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC
Residents at Loveland ArtSpace have a weekly open studio session where artists can work in a communal setting.

That’s the problem with some DIY spaces. Two weeks ago in Denver, residents at the DIY arts hub Rhinoceropolis were evicted over fire code violations. While the cause of the fire at Oakland’s Ghost Ship is still being determined, the investigation’s current focus is on the warehouse’s electrical system.

ArtSpace is regulated by the Loveland Housing Authority, ensuring it’s safe and also affordable. Rent is based on a sliding scale, with studios going as low as $325 a month, and residents can’t get priced out of their apartments just because the neighborhood is suddenly trendy.

Filmmaker Caryn Sanchez lives down the hall from Kirkman. While she enjoys the perks of newer, more regulated housing, like ArtSpace, Sanchez sees the allure of the DIY scene.

“As artists, no matter what you do we all dream of having that giant, big, raw loft somewhere in a warehouse district where you can pretty much just do whatever you want and be able to create your art and just live in the chaos that happens when you’re in the middle of the creative process,” she said. “But a lot of times those spaces aren’t very carefully regulated or are not necessarily designed for habitation.”

The tragedy in Oakland may have made Derek Kirkman more aware of the safety features at Loveland’s Artspace facility, but he also still appreciates the way it allows him to focus on his art.

“For us, it’s really nice to know that we’re in a safe space that does have a great fire suppression systems and nobody’s going to lose everything if there’s a fire in one part of the building. So we’ve got a nice, safe building which I know we’re all thankful for and wish that that opportunity could be afforded to a lot more people.”

In Colorado, it soon it will be. ArtSpace is working to open new housing in several areas across the state, including the RiNo Arts District in Denver where a 90-unit building is already being planned.

Stacy was KUNC's arts and culture reporter from 2015 to 2021.
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