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a woman stands in front of a window with a large stained-glass sun
Brenda Gurule, executive director of the Chicano Humanities and Arts Council in Lakewood. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

Brenda Gurule is tired of moving. When she took over as executive director of the Chicano Humanities and Arts Council in early 2020, the organization had just settled into a new space in the Art District on Santa Fe, about a mile south of its previous location in Denver. 

Then the pandemic hit, property prices continued rising, and CHAC was forced out of that space, too. For two years they floated without a brick-and-mortar, before landing in Lakewood’s 40 West Arts District last summer. Now they’re packing up and moving back to Santa Fe Drive. 

The organization hopes to settle into its new gallery at 834 Santa Fe Drive by October. The building, a gift by Kyle Schneider who inherited it from his artist mother, Katherine “Kat” Payge, is just one block north of CHAC’s original Santa Fe location.

Payge’s properties

Finding a permanent space was a major goal for CHAC, which was founded in 1978 as one of the state’s earliest Chicano and Latino arts nonprofits. They had been looking for properties since well before the pandemic, hoping for a stable space to show their artists and run programming out of. But the longer the search dragged on, the longer-term the goal became. 

CHAC had considered buying its original building, but could not commit. While the nonprofit thought about it from 2017 to 2019, the building tripled in price. By the time the pandemic hit in March 2020, Gurule said, CHAC couldn’t afford rent, let alone purchase a building.

“We were just hoping something would happen. Sheesh, quite honestly I don’t know how we got this good fortune. Prayed? Manifested?” she said, laughing.

CHAC’s future home is a squat, brick-red stucco building sandwiched between a bridal shop and a fine arts gallery in the heart of Denver’s Art District on Santa Fe. It’s across the street from the fuchsia-colored Museo de las Americas, another stronghold of Latin American culture in Denver, and within eyesight of at least half a dozen other galleries.

Gurule had never heard of Schneider when he contacted CHAC about the building. “All I knew is that someone reached out about a donation, that could mean anything,” she said, but she agreed to meet him at the building. “We thought maybe he had an affordable space to donate, or a space to rent for a couple of years, but nope. It’s truly a gift.” 

Gurule said Schneider cited some news stories about the organization’s recent moves. “He just told me he did some research, and I didn’t push it,” Gurule said. 

Schneider’s mother bought the building in 2017 for $1.3 million according to Denver property records. Payge was a painter and general supporter of the art scene in Denver. Her first foray into arts-related properties was with the purchase of a building a half-block north of the future CHAC site, a broad corner lot at 900 Santa Fe.

“Kat bought the building with the goal of saving the arts district on Santa Fe,” said Carrie MaKenna, founder of D’art gallery which moved into the corner building when Payge took it over. She kept their rents “freakishly low,” according to MaKenna, and poured money into the back half of the building to create affordable artist studios.  

Before Payge, the corner lot was owned by another patron of the arts, sculptor Lawrence Argent, who kept his own studio space behind the galleries. Argent’s whimsical public installations include “I See What You Mean,” the giant blue bear peering into the windows of the Denver Convention Center.

When Argent died in 2017, the building went to his sons, who immediately moved to sell it. The tenants, Core Gallery and Spark, worried about their future there, since Argent had kept it affordable for them. Core moved to the 40 West District and was replaced by D’art, while Spark held its ground. Lucky for Spark and D’art, Payge had every intention of keeping it arts-centered.

After Payge died in late 2021, the building sold for $970,000 to a real estate investor. “He’s not a bad guy, just a businessman,” MaKenna said. The studios behind the galleries have already been vacated and replaced by a roofing company. MaKenna, through the Colorado Women’s Art Center & Museum, an organization that she co-founded, is campaigning to buy the property and continue its legacy as an arts hub. 

Payge’s other building, 834 Santa Fe, was inherited by her son, who handed it over to CHAC.

The designated arts districts

Metro Denver currently has six designated arts districts. There’s the Art District on Santa Fe, RiNo, the Golden Triangle, and Westwood Creative District, along with 40 West Arts in Lakewood and Aurora Cultural Arts District in Aurora. A seventh district, the Navajo Street Arts District, dissolved in 2018 when the majority of its gallery tenants were pushed out by high property values.

Santa Fe is a vibrant, predominantly Latino corridor on Denver’s southwest side. It has been a nonprofit arts district for 20 years, and along with Trinidad Arts District was the first Colorado Creative District designated by the office of economic development and international trade in 2011.

Getting the state-administered designation comes with economic perks. Newly designated districts are granted $10,000 in cash funds, and receive ongoing support through collaborations with the Colorado tourism office, access to program funding, and camaraderie with other Colorado creative districts. The program currently has 29 districts around the state and must re-apply for designation every five years.

But the designation can’t do anything about rising rents. “It’s been a huge issue for a majority of the program,” said Christy Costello, interim director of Colorado Creative Industries. Costello said the program has been able to set up affordable housing programs in rural areas — they have developed 71 artist housing units in Trinidad and Ridgway — but that rising commercial property values are out of their control. 

“There have been a few galleries, like CHAC, that got priced out and have been able to relocate to other creative districts,” Costello said. “That’s not the ideal scenario, we’d rather be able to help them where they’re at, but it’s at least nice to move to a community that’s vibrant and has some infrastructure.”

One door closes, another opens

The 40 West Arts District on Colfax, just west of the Denver border in Lakewood, isn’t immediately charismatic in the way that the Santa Fe district is. The pressure on Colfax is to drive fast and avoid potholes, not scan for a parking spot to get out and walk around. 

At a glance, the 40 West headquarters look like just another tan building, floating like an island in one of West Colfax’s many strip malls. But look a bit harder and more than a half-dozen art spaces are revealed, tucked between the Planet Fitness and Dollar Tree and, in the northwest corner of the parking lot, the bubblegum pink beacon of Casa Bonita. 

In the past decade, 40 West has helped over 50 art galleries and organizations open in the district, a roughly 20-block stretch of Colfax marked by small blue “Colorado Creative District” signs, according to 40 West executive director Liz Black. Black has been with the organization for almost 10 years. 

Black said the city of Lakewood recognizes that creative industries are integral to a community’s overall economic health, so the local business improvement district — the Lakewood West Colfax BID — works closely with 40 West. While 40 West can offer a network of artists and organizations to tap into, the BID can help with things like lease incentives for galleries, or microgrants for renovation or beautification projects.

One thing that stands out to Black about the 40 West district is that it started with, and still relies on, community input to inform its decisions. A major part of that community, 48% according to Black, identifies as Hispanic. CHAC was the first organization that offered programming to that community, by that community. 

For that reason among others, she’s bummed to see them go. “But I get it,” she added. “CHAC was donated a building, and we’re here for their success, vitality, longevity. Whether they’re in our district, on Santa Fe, or somewhere else in Colorado, we’re fully supportive of them.”

CHAC will move its gallery, but keep an office in the 40 West district, and continue to offer programming. But Gurule said she’s trying not to focus on what they’re leaving behind. She wants to focus on the future. 

The gallery is hoping to open in October, in conjunction with the Art District on Santa Fe’s annual Dia de los Muertos celebration.

“We got caught up in gentrification and we got caught up in COVID. So it’s just kind of unfortunate, the way things happened,” Gurule said. “But guess what? We survived.”

Arts & Culture Reporter


Parker Yamasaki covers arts and culture at The Colorado Sun as a Poynter-Koch Media and Journalism Fellow and former Dow Jones News Fund intern. She has freelanced for the Chicago Reader, Newcity Chicago, and DARIA, among other publications, and had a short stint as a culture editor at Iceland's only English-written newspaper at the time, The Reykjavík Grapevine. Parker was born and raised in California and has lived all over the Southwest.

Topic expertise: Arts and culture

Education: A Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies and a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from the University of California, Santa Cruz. A Master of Arts in Arts Journalism from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Professional membership: Asian American Journalists Association


LinkedIn: Parker Yamasaki
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