An Art-Felt Mission

Both kids and adults find solace by tapping their own creativity at the Art Garage


OODLES OF DOODLES Both kids and adults get creative at the Art Garage, once a place for car repairs. Courtesy Art Garage

School’s out for the summer, and the kids are itching for something fun to do. It would be a shame for them to spend the day parked in front of the TV, or playing video games—why not send them to the garage to work on an art project?

Not just any garage, though. The Art Garage.

Located in Denver’s Park Hill neighborhood, this unique nonprofit offers a year-round list of classes, camps and other programs centered on the visual arts. The Art Garage also can be reserved for birthday parties, engagement parties, wedding receptions, anniversaries and other occasions.

“What makes us unique,” says executive director Katie Moran, “is that we work with kids as young as 3, we believe there’s no wrong way when it comes to self-expression through art and we operate as a safe space for all.”

Headed by Moran and governed by a board of directors whose members include Pam Sweetser, founder and executive director of the Heritage Camps for Adoptive Families, and artist/Denver Public Schools teacher Marion Richardson, the Art Garage got its start in 2007, when Park Hill artist Barb McKee rented the 1,800-square-foot structure and turned it into a community art center. For the next three years artists and others could gather in the space to practice their crafts, share ideas and form friendships. In 2010, the Art Garage incorporated as a nonprofit organization, serving kids and adults looking to discover their inner Jackson Pollock or Grandma Moses.

It also offers classes for young adults in residential treatment programs such as Shiloh House, which serves those recovering from abuse, neglect and trauma; Arapahoe House and Synergy, both of which offer addiction recovery programs; the Joshua School, for children on the autism spectrum; the Colorado Foundation for Conductive Education, serving 3- to 18-year-olds with cerebral palsy and other motor-skills challenges; and the Wings Foundation, serving adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, rape, and incest.

“For many of those participants, the reclaiming of their identity as an artist is an essential part of their recovery,” Moran says. “On the first day of a recent class, one participant shared that … for many years art occupied a central place in her life. As her drug addiction increased, her daily practice of making art fell to the wayside and instead became a source of shame, a representation of her failures. Weekly visits to the Art Garage became crucial to the rediscovery of her creative process. She came to class enthusiastic, willing to experiment with materials and concepts, and was able to fulfill her need for the creative process.”

Another woman worked with clay to create a sculpture of a pregnant woman sitting in a fetal position. “The clay woman was secured to a large boulder, which was attached at her back,” Moran recalls. “She also was adorned with beads and feathers, a reference to the artist’s Native American heritage. When prompted by the facilitator about the meaning behind her piece, she replied that she was simply alone. Other participants spoke to a feeling of personal connection with the piece.”

Before McKee transformed the Art Garage into a community gathering spot, the space was an auto repair facility, hence its name.

“It’s a great space,” Moran says. “There are lots of bright colors, floor-to-ceiling chalkboards and two large bay doors that open. The front side of the building is all glass, which brings in the bright, natural sunlight, and there are drains in the floors, so it’s OK if we get messy. The silver funnels that once were used for oil or other engine fluids are now filled with yarn that you can pull out.”

Moran received her undergraduate degree in fine arts from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and a master’s degree in special education from Pace University before teaching students with severe special needs in the New York public schools. Later, she joined the Peace Corps and was assigned to the Caribbean island of Grenada. When her three-year hitch was up, Moran remained on the island for eight more months to co-direct Camp G.L.O.W., a girls’ empowerment program.

Moran and associate director Katie Duncan work with a team of contract instructors and studio assistants, all of whom are practicing artists or have degrees in art. Funding comes from grants, class and camp enrollment fees, proceeds from special-event bookings and fundraisers like the Park Hill Studio Tour.

6100 E. 23rd Ave. / 303.377.2353
GIVE: Donate money by visiting Donations of art materials are also welcomed; call first to determine current needs.
VOLUNTEER: Helpers are needed to assist instructors in the summer camp programs; also, those with specialized training can help with classes geared to clients from residential treatment centers.
ATTEND: The Park Hill Studio Tour, one of the Art Garage’s biggest fundraisers, is a two-day event (this year, on October 14- 15) where guests can take a self-guided tour of about 10 artist studios in Park Hill. The participating artists donate 10 percent of their sales on those days to the Art Garage.

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