October 13, 2022
Community Spotlight: The Northside Arts Collaborative. Preserving the creative legacy of the Latinx Northside Community
Displayed next door to the Holiday Theater, you will find a collection of posters lining the windows in what was formerly Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt. The vacancy provided inspiration to a group of residents on Denver’s Northside to come together to share and preserve the story about the Latinx/Chicanx artists and creative individuals who call and have for many years called the Northside home.
I reached out via email to three of the members of the Northside Arts Collaborative, Flo Hernández-Ramos, Mercedes Hernández, and Maruca Salazar, to learn more about the current exhibition in the Menchies space, Northside Pride: A Drive-By Exhibit, and the importance of acknowledging and celebrating a neighborhood’s history.
As members of the Northside Arts Collaborative. Could you share some history behind the Collaborative and the artists involved?
FH: The Northside Arts Collaborative is not a formal organization with members, officers, and a bank account. It is more of a Latinocentric concept, a group of like-minded individuals who reside in the Northside and want to preserve the culture, creativity, and contributions of Latinos to the history of North Denver.
The Northside Arts Collaborative was born out of conversations among several Northside resident creatives when it was announced that the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver was to inhabit the Holiday Theater on West 32nd Avenue. The Holiday Theater presented Spanish language movies, music concerts, and community events and is an iconic, cultural landmark for Latinos. The need to work with MCA Denver to preserve the theater’s cultural significance and that of the Northside became the driving force in the formation of the Collaborative. Musicians, poets, actors, media, and visual and graphic artists currently constitute the Northside Arts Collaborative.
The collaborative has a current exhibition, Northside Pride: A Drive-By Exhibit. What inspired the curation of this exhibition?
FH: Empty windows inspired the Northside Pride Exhibit. The Northside Arts Collaborative aspired to rent the space owned by the Denver Cultural Property Trust next to the Holiday Theater on the corner of W 32nd Avenue and Clay. And as every organization does when preparing their space, they paper up the windows. We ultimately could not afford to rent the space and thought “why not paper the windows until somebody rents out the space? And why can’t that paper have images of the creative work that is done by Latinos from the Northside.” The Trust gave us the go-ahead and we set about producing banners visible from the street. Our only regret is that we didn’t have enough window space to include work from the numerous creatives we discovered after the initial printing was done.
The exhibition tells a story about the Northside community. Why was it important to share this exhibition and have it represented in the community?
FH: Northside Pride presents the work of Northside creatives to anyone who walks or drives by 32nd and Clay. Those that walk by include the new residents of the Northside who may not know the deep and numerous roots of Northside creativity. But just as importantly, the exhibit lets the predominantly Latino student population of North High School know about the talent and creativity that exists in the Northside.
Who are some of the artists represented in Northside Pride: A Drive-By Exhibit?
MH: The word "artist" tends to confine one's thinking to visual artists. The word "creatives" has been used lately; it encompasses all who create, as represented in the exhibit.
The Northside Pride exhibit includes:
- Musicians Cipriano Ortega and Mariachi Juvenil of Bryant Webster Elementary School
- Award-winning novelists and writers Mario Acevedo, Manuel Ramos, R. Ch. Garcia, Ana Flores, Magdalena Gallegos, Flor Lovato, and students of North High School
- Spoken word creatives such as Colorado poet laureate and playwright Bobby Lefebre, student poets of North High School, and storyteller Geraldine Lawson.
- Photographers Juan Fuentes and Manuel Aragon.
- Actor Felicia Gallegos Pettis
- Visual artists Frank Zamora, husband and wife Stevon Lucero and Arlette Lucero, husband and wife Tony Ortega and Sylvia Montero, husband and wife Daniel Salazar and Maruca Salazar, Meggan DeAnza, family members John Flores and Lewis Flores, Leo Tanguma, and Alfredo Cardenas.
- Public Radio KUVO 89.3 FM, whose founder Flo Hernández-Ramos is a long-time Northsider.
Of special note, is that Northside Pride has included young creatives in the exhibit: Mariachi Juvenil of Bryant Webster Elementary School in North Denver, and the students of North High School who produced "Our Sacred Community," a booklet of their poetry and photography.
The creatives whose work is represented have a connection with Denver’s Northside. They live in the Northside, have lived in the Northside, or their work is on display in the Northside.
Being a part of this community and having seen its transformation over the years, what is it that you love about the Northside? What do you want people to know about the Northside and its importance to Denver and Denver’s history?
MS: The Northside has been my home for the past 43 years. The houses, streets, schools, churches, and galleries always had a sense of community—a gathering place.
We enjoy our gardens and our sidewalks where our children played.
We enjoy our porches during the summer.
The north is always on the other side of the tracks.
An oasis for emigrants from different parts of the world.
At the turn of the century Irish, Italians, and Mexicans occupied different sectors of the
Northside and established their community and their local traditions.
The different churches are proof that we shared the geographical location but with our own cultural indications.
Education, art, and culture were our markers and how we distinguish one another.
The Northside was a microcosm of a new way of life, a new generation of hybrid people.
A Northsider has lived in peace protected by the geography of the highlands and the historical
influences that shaped the city of Denver.
Many leaders and artists were born and raised in the Northside. They contribute to the colorful
legends and magical myths that make this place special.
How can creatives become more involved with the arts collective and your community engagement?
FH: They should contact Flo at firstname.lastname@example.org. We always welcome more creatives, especially in our upcoming projects.
What are you looking forward to for the rest of the year?
FH: We are partnering with History Colorado in the Northside Memory Project to diversify and democratize the history of the Northside. We have already hosted two “open-mic” sessions where people gathered and told stories about the Northside. The third session was scanning the photos of current and former Northside residents. The fourth session (time TBA) will be a celebration of the Project and creatives can definitely contribute their talents to this event.