Local art entrepreneurs profiled by CU Denver Live!


Many individuals have the dream of being their own boss and setting their own hours, and the students at CU Denver Live! put together a panel of local entrepreneurs to show CU Denver students that this goal is certainly attainable.

On March 6, the Tivoli Turnhalle welcomed three local entrepreneurs that are also involved in the arts. The panelists included Ru Johnson of Roux Black and The Know by The Denver Post, Robert Castro of Ultra5280, Dave Ratner of Creative Law Network, and Ian Kleinman of Catering by The Inventing Room.

This event aimed to allow students to get involved with networking sessions on campus and to learn about the panelists’ own successes and failures.

Robert Castro is a photographer, writer, and Editor in Chief for Ultra5280. His inspiration to create the Denver-based music, lifestyle, and film publication came from his deep love of music and his inability to actually play an instrument.

“I had a passion for music,” Castro said. “I didn’t have a background in writing or anything like that; I graduated from Metro with a Sports Industry and Operations degree, so I am pretty much doing the same thing, just with music.”

Castro wasn’t the only panelist who changed course late in their career. “I’m a recovering band manager,” Ratner said jokingly. Ratner started out from a similar vein as Castro, as he maintains a passion for music without having ever touched an instrument.

“I managed bands for a while, I toured with bands for a while, and I just noticed that a lot of these bands would have legal issues,” Ratner said. “There really weren’t too many lawyers in Colorado that knew how to deal with the arts, so I basically quit and went to law school.”

Ratner is the creator of Creative Law Network, a rare kind of law firm that is grounded with its genuine passion for helping creative people and businesses maneuver the confusing realm of contracts, negotiations, and business law.

Ru Johnson is a writer for The Denver Post’s entertainment blog The Know and creator of a creative consulting group that helps individuals and businesses expand their consumer demographic in Denver called Roux Black.

“I was writing at Westword newspaper, which is sort of how my platform for covering music in this city began,” Johnson said. “Throughout that coverage, I realized there were a lot of opportunities for hip-hop artists to elevate their platform on a more professional level. In a way, I wasn’t really able to advocate on their behalf as a journalist because it was mostly my job to experience what was happening and write about it versus trying to enhance the experience.”

Like the previous panelists, Johnson also started this company from her love of music, specifically Denver’s hip-hop scene. Her desire to enhance the Denver music experience and to also build a legitimate platform for hip hop artists in Denver was her main drive to create her own creative consulting firm.

“We work with people, places, and things to expand their consumer demographic,” Johnson says. “That is a really long way to say that we make things cool.”

Roux Black works with companies, clothing brands, musicians, and even dispensaries to help them engage with their consumer groups on a higher level than average, through throwing parties, public relations, and the like.

Ian Kleinman is a unique “inventor.” Inspired by the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory—specifically the scene where Violet turns the color violet—Kleinman chose to create his own Wonka-esque inventing room. The Inventing Room is a catering company that brings entertainment value to individuals’ food experiences by melding culinary craft and science to create magic.

“We pride ourselves on people actually remembering our event,” Kleinman said.

The Inventing Room is a truly whimsical experience. A brief demonstration was given to the attendees in which Kleinman immersed a bag of Cheetos into liquid nitrogen, so when little bites were taken from the snack, smoke would loom from the attendees’ mouths.

The Entrepreneurship in Arts panel certainly gives any ambitious students hope for their own passions and dreams. Although each panelist expressed their struggles and, at times, an affectionate disdain for their companies, the overall milieu was that they love what they do.

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