Tuesday, 27 Feb 2024

Las Bodegas project to become biggest investment in Latino arts scene in decades

A couple of warehouses wedged between Sun Valley and La Alma-Lincoln Park neighborhoods are poised to become the largest investment in Denver’s Latino arts and culture scene in decades, according to Latino Cultural Arts Center executive director Alfredo Reyes.

The project, dubbed Las Bodegas (Spanish for “warehouses”), is spearheaded by the Latino Cultural Arts Center with financial backing from Sen. Michael Bennet, the state, the city and philanthropic donations.

The space, years in the making, will be home to LCAC’s digital and visual arts complexes with promises of a multi-media lab, cafe, artist-in-residence studios, classrooms with year-round arts programming and more. The endeavor is focused on learning Latino history while forging a bright future for the predominantly diverse surrounding neighborhoods, Reyes said.

“There’s a tension between new Denver and old Denver,” Reyes said. “People who have been here for generations have seen the city change so rapidly around them. People love our culture, our food, our music, our talent, but not our people…La Bodegas is trying to take the first step in generating that community wealth and sense of place keeping. Not place making. It’s about keeping our space in the city that’s rapidly changing. A city that, at times, seems to have forgotten us.”

On Thursday, Reyes walked the interior of the gutted warehouses starry-eyed, pointing out where programs for Día de los Muertos and mural painting and film education would go after renovating the buildings located at 1935 W. 12th Ave.

The warehouses, valued at $1.4 million, were bought and donated to LCAC by its founder Adrianna Abarca.

“We own this space,” Reyes said. “That is a huge deal for our community. It means we aren’t going anywhere, folks. This will always be a space where families can come and heal together.”

A need for healing is palpable in the neighborhood, Reyes said.

Blocks away sits the Auraria campus where a once-thriving Latino neighborhood was demolished by the city to build the downtown Denver higher education campus. Gentrification, Reyes said, has been rampant in the area for decades as people of color continue to be pushed out to make way for new development. Youth violence in the city has been devastating, Reyes said, with fatal shootings this year disrupting youth’s lives.

Las Bodegas intends to be a safe space where young people in the community and their families can gather to develop pride in their cultures, connect and form meaningful relationships and learn creative skills that could transfer to lifelong passions or careers.

“We envision the space to be a creative hub and a springboard,” Reyes said. “This can be a pipeline to the workforce.”

Reyes intends to bring in local artists like LCAC board member Bobby LeFebre, fresh off his tenure as Colorado’s first poet laureate of color, to work with and mentor youth at Las Bodegas.

“We need a space that is going to serve as a cultural monument in an environment that has caused large-scale erasure and that’s what this is,” LeFebre said. “It’s rooted in areas of Denver traditionally inhabited by Latinos, Mexicanos, Chicanos, people of color. It’s a way to create a lasting testament to those cultures and their contributions, and that’s really exciting to do this work in a way that’s for us, by us, with us and for everyone.”

The total projected cost for Las Bodegas is about $9.3 million, Reyes said. Congressionally-directed spending from Bennet provided about $2.5 million toward the project in December. The state contributed $1.9 million through Community Revitalization Funding. The project is looking to fundraise $2.7 million more toward the construction effort.

The City of Denver is contributing $500,000 toward the electrification of Las Bodegas, Reyes said.

Las Bodegas was selected by the city’s  Climate Action, Sustainability, and Resilience team as an eco-pilot, making it one of the first commercial buildings to be fully electric, Reyes said. The effort will include solar panels, battery storage, a heat pump and EV charging stations.

Reyes hopes to break ground on the renovation construction by the end of the year and expects it to be about a year before the space is ready.

When finished, the design and construction documents will become public access so others can learn from and imitate similar eco-friendly builds, Reyes said.

“It’s often forgotten communities of color have been caring for this planet for hundreds of thousands of years as environmental stewards so to combine cultural legacies of that stewardship to the latest technology is going to be a transformative proposition,” Reyes said.

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