Former auto parts warehouse becomes art center

Cross the red line and begin thinking outside the box. Or consider the line a symbol of opening up your mind to what’s inside, Laura Merage is fond of saying. The brightly lit red line Merage is talking about is embedded in the entry ceiling at a phenomenal new visual arts center in downtown Denver.

RedLine is Merage’s brainchild. A local philanthropist and artist, she scouted out a 20,000-square-foot former auto parts warehouse and, with the help of a design firm, transformed it into a sleek contemporary art gallery with studio space for 13 artists. Next to the Denver Art Museum, RedLine is now the city’s largest art exhibition space.

Merage began with a dream of providing affordable studios to talented artists and a desire to give them a leg up in their careers. Local artists were invited to apply for two- or three-year residencies. A jury selected 13, and today these artists inhabit a space for about $120 per month plus a bit of community service.

The RedLine artists hold regular critique sessions and have the opportunity to show their work in the sprawling exhibition space. In addition, Merage helps them find gallery representation.

By all accounts, the crowds are pouring in to the space during monthly art walks. Lectures by local painters, gallery owners and collectors are open to the public. And during my recent visit, volunteers were just breaking down a successful show of works by young students from the nearby Denver School of the Arts.

Many consider RedLine a gift to the neighborhood—it’s located in a “transitional” area where parking lots meet homeless shelters. Merage’s big hope is that the center can raise the level of the visual art scene in Denver. My hunch is that she’s created an impressive nonprofit model that other cities may eventually imitate. 

—Bonnie Gangelhoff

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