Their names may not often make headlines, but their power as catalysts for transformational work is indisputable. Meet six individuals who are crafting innovative solutions to our community’s most pressing social, educational, cultural, and civic needs.
Photographer, sculptor, philanthropist, Founder, RedLine
Laura Merage’s art studio looks like a cross between a carnival fun house and a storage garage. Bronze casts, fabric dolls, self-portraits, and a contemporary lipstick exhibition are strewn about the room in various stages of completion. It’s one of the larger studios in RedLine, a cavernous 20,000-square-foot nonprofit gallery space that was formerly a warehouse for vacuum cleaner parts in the Curtis Park neighborhood.
In 2008, Merage, now 53, and her husband, David—co-founder of the company that invented Hot Pockets—invested $3.5 million to buy and renovate the building with a specific goal in mind: “Art, community, and education coming together under one roof,” Merage says. “All three components have to be present for a healthy existence. I thought about ways to have an organization that bridged schools, galleries, communities, and museums—so we can all be healthier.”
Today, RedLine is funded by outside agencies, grants, and individuals, as well as the philanthropic David and Laura Merage Foundation. The space has become a creative hub that demystifies the process of making art: From painters and paper sculptors to leather workers and performers, RedLine’s “resident artists” secure studio space for up to two years through a competitive application process—with the understanding that their studios are open to public viewing, even while they work. The artists receive mentorship from both in-house and visiting professional artists from around the globe who are exhibiting their work at RedLine.
Each artist is required to devote several hours a week to community outreach, such as creative workshops. It’s all part of Merage’s goal to make art accessible to everyone, especially students—a desire that comes from her own background: At just 15, having grown up in Iran with limited education, she immigrated to the United States in search of better schooling and eventually earned her master’s degree in art at New York University. RedLine’s programs reflect her dedication to early education. Through an initiative called EPIC (Educational Partnership Initiative for the Creative) Arts, for example, the artists work with Denver Public Schools to give students an artistic outlet, sometimes even exhibiting their projects in the RedLine gallery. “When kids see their art on those white walls,” Merage says, “their backs are straighter, their eyes are shining. They speak so eloquently about their work.”
Merage chose the Curtis Park area—a tired-looking grid on the periphery of downtown Denver—for its potential as an up-and-coming community. She believes RedLine will help both the resident artists and the neighborhood itself develop their respective identities, and hopes others will come from afar to see this corner of the city she wants to transform. Several galleries have already opened nearby. “I see RedLine being the epicenter of the transformation of this neighborhood into an arts destination,” she says. “I envision people saying, ‘I heard about this neighborhood in Denver; we should take our vacation there’—and RedLine being the catalyst for that. It’ll happen in the next 10 years.”