As many of you know, the Art District on Santa Fe is in the heart of a major transformation. What was once a pretty tough neighborhood became the Art District on Santa Fe, but the members are not resting until the district becomes a premier art destination. Currently, thousands of people descend on the district for the monthly First Friday Art Walks, but we want to see people flock to Sante Fe drive every day. We want people to come to the district the other 353 days of the year.
The first step in turning the Art District on Santa Fe into a premier destination is simply put, to make the place look better. Many people don’t realize how far the neighborhood has come since its inception, but there is still a ways to go. Next to the chic galleries and boutiques are abandoned, boarded up buildings, the pedestrian area we imagine is still a busy highway, and when driving through, many people still don’t realize that they are in an art area.
Over the past few months, the Art District has seen the construction of blue LED lights, extra signage, and colored bump-outs, all to help signify to passers-by that they are in a special art district. Thanks to the efforts of many, if not all of the members, the Art District on Santa Fe has been getting tons of press, both local and national, and awareness of the district beyond First Fridays is seriously building.
This is all part of a larger effort to transform the district into a pedestrian-friendly outdoor mall. Jack Pappalardo, president of the Art District, put together a study with Denver’s Public Works and Community Planning departments to work with the neighborhood to make the area more pedestrian and bicycle friendly. The Art District is advocating for wider sidewalks and a parking structure to make the area more enjoyable and usable for both locals and visitors. One piece of good news that came out of the first planning meeting was that the Denver Housing Authority will pay for a new bicycle station in the Art District to tie-in with DHA’s planned bicycle location at the new housing project at 10th and Osage.
Enter the Design 4 Collective. Their focus was not the major, political issues facing the district, but instead, they simply wanted to do their part to green-ify the neighborhood. They thought of planting trees in the bump-outs along the sides of Santa Fe Drive. Working with people from the Art District, the Maintenance District, and Museo de las Americas, Design 4 Collective planted some nice trees, plants, and flowers in a few of the bump-outs along the street. When the flowers bloom, they’re seriously going to look great.
The Art District is so unique and special because it’s an entire neighborhood full of people working together to achieve the same goals. When asked why she came to the Art District, Carrie Lombardi, founder of Madison House Publicity, responded, “I had to know that I would have the opportunity to get to know my neighbors and be a part of something bigger. I didn’t want to just go into an office building and not know anybody, and just work there for 5 years and have nothing change.“ The neighborhood is full of some seriously special people who are definitely not in it just for themselves. Like Carrie said, it’s about being a part of something bigger.
I can’t tell you what motivates the members of the Art District, but it’s something big. These galleries could have set up shop in one of Denver’s other art districts, but instead chose to come down to Santa Fe Drive and help build the neighborhood up from a pretty bad place. Maybe it’s just the entrepreneurial spirit of doing something on your own, or maybe it’s the genuine need to help improve a rough area of Denver. Whatever it is, the community spirit throughout the Art District on Santa Fe is not only powerful, but it’s infectious.
If you have only come down to the Art District for a First Friday event, I encourage you to come back on an “off-night.” Meet the artists, meet the gallery owners, and hear what they have to say. Who knows, you may be inspired to do some pretty big stuff too…