The State of DIY in Denver

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TENSION MOUNTS BETWEEN CITY AND LOCAL ARTISTS

Over 10 years ago, the RiNo district in Denver was born home to two places that any perfectly insane person would dare venture to, that being the beloved DIY venue Rhinoceropolis (aka Rhino) and its sister Glob. The spaces were home to shows from Denver DIY classics like  Health to No Age, and Dan Deacon to Tacocat, and their annual art and music festival, Fantasia. By creating this open space, Rhino has been a significant force in the cultivation of artists and musicians in Denver and Colorado.

On Dec. 8th, 2016 the residents of Rhino were evicted from their space on a cold winter evening, due to an abrupt inspection from the Denver Fire Department, and was subsequently deemed in a public statement “unsafe” for habitation.

Travis Egedy, publicly known under his stage name Pictureplane, has been a seminal figure in the Denver DIY scene and Rhinoceropolis.

“I was friends with the four guys that initially started it. I was at the first party that ever happened there, before any of the rooms were ever built, so I was there from the very beginning. I moved in a year later,” Egedy said.

The aftermath of the tragic Ghost Ship fires in Oakland, CA has spurred a lot of pain for those directly affected and has unfortunately impacted surrounding areas as well.

“Everyone in underground music and art was effected by that,” Egedy said about the Oakland fires. “It was all of us in that warehouse that night, it could have been anyone of my friends, anyone in this community. It’s brought so much attention to ‘DIY’ from people that don’t understand what that is, or why people choose to live in a warehouse and have shows in places like that.”

The residents in the gentrified River North area had responded to this tragedy by filing complaints against the artist haven which caused the inspection. The venue was shut down due to many code violations and hazardous structures that were deemed unsafe.

Rhinoceropolis and Glob are zoned in a commercial zone, and what is permitted in different zone properties is governed by the city, not necessarily what the space is suited for. Both spaces being in large warehouses where in Rhino’s case, lofts and rooms were built for the curators and owners to live. Glob also holds their shows in the bottom of their warehouse but upstairs harbors its tenants in a more residential environment.

“It’s hard to describe how huge of an impact Rhinoceropolis has had on my life. I feel like I was born there artistically. It really was a paradise when I lived there. [We] had total freedom to create anything we wanted, a real art mansion. I witnessed some of the greatest shows of my life there,” Egedy said.

The Denver Fire Department stated in their press release of the circumstance: “An inspection of 3553 Brighton Blvd. on Thursday night revealed numerous serious code violations. The fire hazards identified create a hazardous environment including extension cords used for permanent wiring, wrapping paper on the walls and plastic on the ceiling.”

Many in the artist communtiy do not believe the impromptu inspections and subsequent evictions were spurred from sincere care for the safety of this artist community, but that there seemed to be more sinister motives. Many DIY venues across the U.S. are being subjected to similar treatment.

There’s a palpable tension between city authorities and the artists that inhabit those cities including the Bell Foundry, a venue in Baltimore and Flux Capacitor in Colorado Springs. The RiNo Art District community leadership issued a statement expressing their own concerns for the circumstances of Rhino and its residents eviction: “…the eviction…was a knee-jerk response to the tragedy at Ghost Ship that occurred…While we support any effort to ensure that people are safe and protected in such spaces, we feel this rash move to evict people on a cold winter evening without reaching out to us, or other partners, to identify a solution or strategy, was a misstep.”

DIY spaces in these small, unique communities are imperative for many of these cities, perhaps now more than ever.

“The DIY scene is profoundly important, it is about community and it’s where artists can experiment and really create and find out who they really are as artists!” Egedy said, “Great ideas and great art comes out of having that space.”

In a statement that the long time leader of Rhino, John Gross, released to Spin magazine he confidently talks about being able to renew the space as up-to-code and re-open their doors as soon as possible.

With the current state of the country, music, art and writing are key methods to combat existing oppression. During the Reagan administration some of the most influential punk rock music arose from the depths, during the Bush era sharp and witty writing arose to criticize those values. Now, during the future of the Trump administration, society needs these places to harbor and cultivate a safe environment for artists, musicians, and writers to be able to critique current society.

“If you were an American punk rocker at the cusp of the 1980s, you had a well-defined shit list: hippies, jocks, parents, and anyone else insufficiently pissed off with the general concept of existence.” Vice’s Tony Rettman says, “Then, on January 20, 1981, the American punk scene found both a solid adversary and catalyst when Ronald Reagan, the former California governor and movie star who was basically a 1950s cartoon of a conservative. For the next eight years, his right-wing rhetoric and policies inspired the clumpy mixture of hatred and contempt that would fuel the American hardcore punk scene for a decade.”

Rhino and Glob have acted as  near-epicenters of Denver’s underground art and music scene. All events are staffed by the residents and volunteers who offer a donation-based entry fees and access to individuals of all ages. This environment has been a sanctuary for those who do not conform to the norm, offering a safe haven for those in the LGBTQ community, and those who have grown up with these places for so long it simply feels like home.

“It makes me so mad and I am honestly really scared and worried that people will never understand how important DIY spaces are for cities that are trying to shut them down,” Egedy said. “I will fight for these spaces, they are everything for me.”

Photo: Sarai Nissan

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