At West Second Avenue and Santa Fe Drive, the new AWE art collective is a little off the traditional First Friday Art Walk grid. But the path to the renovated warehouse—through the back alley entrance—reveals this to be Denver’s expanding art underground.
The 1,400-square-foot space is home to 15 resident artists, from fashion designers to furniture makers and professional photographers. Co-founders Brittany Ouzts and Stephanie Auld discovered the building—an abandoned marijuana growhouse with only a teal-colored refrigerator in a corner—just a month ago. “We spent 20-hour days pulling down the drop ceiling, repainting, and scouting Craiglist for lighting and furniture,” Auld says.
The space still has an industrial feel, with high concrete ceilings and a garage door. It’s now accented with pink chandeliers, a gold toilet, and racks of vintage fur coats. When I visited earlier this week, street artist Ashley Schmidt was painting a man’s face on the wall. Despite the fine oil paintings, the vibe suggests you could spray-paint and roller skate through this gallery.
Unlike most of the conventional art spaces on Santa Fe, AWE is a collective with no set curator or hanging fees. All the pieces displayed at the opening show are less than $400, and at least half of the artists have never shown their work outside their living rooms. “This place isn’t a stuffy, pressured environment. Everyone in the community is welcome here; it’s a place for people to create and feel comfortable,” Auld explains.
As a former mentor for at-risk youth, part of Auld's vision for the collective is creating a community space for teens: “Kids want to spray-paint shit. They can come here and do it where it’s safe.”
Future plans also include making AWE a gathering spot for lectures, dance parties, the LGBT community, and street-art classes. The grand opening is this Friday, with a full gallery show, DJ NoahStyles, live graffiti painting, free beer, and a respite from the crowds on Santa Fe’s main drag.