The Coloradan—a hip new condominium complex near Union Station—made news in 2018 by designating 10 percent of its residences as affordable housing. Now, developer East West Partners has unveiled another way in which the project aims to be more inclusive: Union Hall, an 1,800-square-foot, arts-centric event space (think art gallery plus performance venue) designed with community programming in mind.
“People who buy condos downtown want to connect with the bigger community,” says Chris Frampton, East West Partners’ CEO. “We always knew we were going to do something to connect the residents to the community down here, and ideally, we wanted to bring Denver itself into the building.”
Local arts consultancy and curatorial firm NINE dot ARTS, led by CEO and co-founder Martha Weidmann (who is also Union Hall’s executive director), helped the developer fine-tune its plans for the space, in part by querying the local arts community about the challenges of maintaining an arts-and-culture space in a rapidly developing downtown.
After meeting with hundreds of people in the arts community, the Union Hall team identified three key goals for the project: inclusivity, impact, and innovation. Union Hall looked for ways to include artists who are often under-represented by traditional venues. “Aside from the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, there are no nonprofit cultural spaces downtown,” Weidmann says. “And you have to play at a certain level to get in there. We asked ourselves, ‘How can this be a launchpad for emerging artists?’”
The solution: Union Hall welcomes artist submissions on an ongoing basis via its website, and schedules programming year-round, with the goal of offering a wide variety of exhibitions and curated collections from community members. The inaugural exhibition celebrates the works of New York City–based visual artist Deborah Brown, who is known for portraying female protagonists in a variety of natural surroundings. Associated cultural programming includes a grand opening reception with the artist, free guest lectures, and even a dog-training session—a nod to Brown’s frequent depiction of canines in her paintings.
To boost Union Hall’s impact on the community, the nonprofit offers an onsite “cultural concierge,” a digital interface and well-versed desk attendant that help visitors and locals navigate the Mile High City’s cultural landscape with a calendar of events and timely recommendations.
“When we met with the head of RTD, we found out that 150,000 riders come through Union Station every day,” Weidmann says. “We thought about the impact we could make for visitors and residents who aren’t familiar with the arts scene. We want to create something approachable and stay away from that feeling of the pristine art gallery that’s intimidating to so many people.”
Outside-the-box thinking also sparked the nonprofit’s financial model, which East West Partners has also used successfully in Snowmass, Beaver Creek, and Denver’s Riverfront Park. Transfer-assessment fees—paid each time a residence at the Coloradan sells—cover 50 percent of the operating budget, with Union Hall committed to raising matching funds through events and other fundraising. “The East West concept is a really unique vision for how a development can support a cultural nonprofit,” Weidmann says—not to mention an inspiring step toward making fine art an amenity to be enjoyed by all.