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Amidst widespread efforts to address racial inequity, RiNo Art District—a nonprofit that supports Denver-based community and art initiatives—pledged $50,500 in social impact grants to local organizations, collectives, and cultural centers. The organizations chosen all heavily invest in the Black and Indigenous communities in the Five Points, Elyria-Swansea, Globeville, and Cole neighborhoods, which the art district spans.
In early June, Tracy Weil, RiNo Art District’s executive director, was targeting a July 31 deadline to distribute the funds. By June 30, a full month early, $50,500 had already been given to 18 recipients with commitments to end racial discrimination and promote equity through ongoing projects and initiatives. The majority of the funding came from RiNo’s Business Improvement District (BID) which set aside additional cash in its 2020 budget. And because of its success, RiNo Art District’s committee is considering setting aside money for these grants in the coming years. Additionally, over $500 came directly out of Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca’s pocket, whose district encompasses the neighborhoods of the recipients.
The grant recipients include an eclectic group of organizations, like the Black American West Museum, a 50-year-old Five Points’ institution, and Project Voyce—a youth leadership organization that helps connect kids to food and other resources. Birdseed Collective, another recipient, is an art-and-community-driven collective that gives artists opportunities to create beauty on Denver’s streets and distributes thousands of pounds of fresh food in Globeville; BLM5280 has been a major organizer in Denver’s recent protests; Make a Chess Move tries to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline by engaging youth in Northeast Denver in the game of chess, lead by graduates of the program; Urban Sanctuary offers acupressure, mediation, and yoga classes to its members, some specifically for men of color.
These organizations and many others will have additional support to carry their missions forward.
“We created the art district to support arts and creatives and we think it’s really important to give back to these communities. They’ve been here for generations, while RiNo has been here since 2005,” Weil says. RiNo Art District intersects with areas hard hit by gentrification. “We have been working on an initiative to work on affordable housing for artists and creatives. It’s important that these funds are provided in an equitable fashion.”
The grants range from $1,000 to $3,500 per organization and can be used at the discretion of the organization. This move puts trust in each organization, allowing them to maximize the use of the funds by paying the office rent, paying staff, and whatever else may be especially needed during the COVID-19 crisis.
A committee of leaders from the neighborhoods nominated organizations and groups that they have strong ties with. Councilwoman CdeBaca brought her insight into this project with her personal relationships with the areas’ specific needs. CdeBaca, native to north Denver, has been advocating for residents in Elyria-Swansea since well before joining City Council: she pushed for community land trusts, fought the I-70 expansion, and co-founded the youth-focused nonprofit Project Voyce at the age of 18.
“[Art is] a voice, a very strong voice. It’s a voice that not only speaks loudly on social justice and issues of injustice, but it’s also recording this moment in time,” Weil says. “These artists are setting this time in stone, so that future generations can look back and say ‘Oh that’s when COVID happened,’ and ‘That’s when BLM took it to the next level.’ These are times for us to really discuss these issues for people to remember. We’re using our canvases to tell stories and create change hopefully.”