RedLine Connects With Formerly Homeless Artists

By Sarah Ford | Photo by Sarah Harvey

Risa Murry’s painting is one of four murals installed on the now fenced-off Eddie Maestas Community Garden.

Eddie Maestas Park, also known as Triangle Park, is transforming. Some of the hands behind that transformation belong to those who have experienced homelessness. 

The mission of RedLine’s Reach Studio is to give the power of self-expression to Denver’s homeless artists. Before it was re-imagined as a city-controlled public garden, Triangle Park was a popular resting place for many of Denver’s homeless. Now, it is a blank slate for self-expression for several formerly homeless artists through Redline Art Gallery’s Reach Studio. Reach artists installed four murals in the park in August, working from a P.S. You Are Here grant, a Denver city initiative. 

“It’s a pathway for artists to realize what they are passionate about through art,” said Amanda Flores, community outreach coordinator for RedLine. “They have found art to be this means of expression they didn’t have otherwise.”

Reach works with artists who are currently or who have formerly experienced homelessness, providing them the tools and studio space to flourish as artists and explore self-expression, a pathway often closed to them. 

“People can get what they need to survive, but we’re trying to argue that expression is a basic human need,” says Flores. 

She works with about 12 regular artists who come to the studio, located in the RedLine Art Gallery, to work on personal pieces for an annual exhibition held in the gallery. While there, artists can work individually or participate in learning opportunities to grow and expand their abilities. 

According to Flores, her role is mostly a supportive one, checking in on various artists’ projects and ensuring they have what they need to accomplish their own visions, allowing them to define the rest for themselves. 

It’s been a boon in the lives and careers of artists like Richard Beck, known as Gonzo, who recently hosted his own solo art show after being a part of the Reach Studio since 2011. 

“Art is the gateway to a world of peace that I control. Art is my guide to achieving a calmness in my perception of life, while nothing but turmoil and turbulence surrounds me,” his profile explains. 

Flores says that, while the program focuses on the currently or formerly homeless, the work is not meant to be seen as that of “homeless artists.”

“We want art to create change and communicate change,” she said. “We want to strike a balance between a contemporary art center and also a social service.” 

The Reach Studio seeks to walk that same line. 

“We don’t want the perception of Reach to be just artists who are homeless,” she said. “They struggle with Reach being labeled just about homelessness whereas it should be about taking steps to have more agency in their lives. They’re not just homeless artists.” 

Still, many artists have chosen to use the platform as a voice for the homeless community, through the annual exhibition held at the Reach Studio, including the popular 2013 exhibition “Not Exactly: Between Home and Where I Find Myself.” 

But the program has also been an open door for the artists to the larger community, giving them opportunities to host their own shows, join other programs, and more. In 2014, the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design granted three full-year scholarships to Reach artists, who will walk away with a BA in fine arts. Flores continues to seek similar opportunities for the program. 

However, more than anything, it’s about finding a path to self-expression. That, Flores says, is the most important thing they do at Reach, and at RedLine. 

“Our main priority [at RedLine] is to break art out of what it has been for so long,” said Flores. “Art used to be for the community and for expression, and that has kind of gotten closed off.”

Anyone interested in possibly becoming a part of Reach Studio can stop by for open studio hours on the first and last Tuesday of each month from 1 - 4 p.m. ■