Pirate: a contemporary
art oasis was founded in a storefront on 16th Street, just over the viaduct
from downtown, by a group of artists that included Phil Bender and Jennifer
Melton. Phil was the undoubted leader, spokesperson, and most importantly,
the one in charge of collecting and paying the rent.
Of course, the 10 who were not included no doubt went home crushed. I know because the first time I submitted my own work, some handmade paper decorated in what I thought was a punk fashion, I returned to the gallery after the jurying. The selected pieces, relatively few in number, were clearly those turned against the wall. Mine were not. I put them in my harvest gold Pinto and drove quietly back to my family's house in Boulder. It was a long drive where I contemplated whether dropping out of art school had really been the thing to do. I wasn't even good enough for the Pirate outsider show. Was handmade paper not edgy enough, even if it was sprinkled with glitter? That evening, I put my best face on and drove down to the opening. I was not going to hide my face.
As I came through the door, Reed Weimer & Chandler Romeo (now Pirate's landlords but then key members) grabbed me and said they hadn't been able to find my pieces when it came time to hang the show. I had misunderstood - it was the pieces turned against the wall that had been rejected. They were still in the car, so I found a place for them near a window and tacked them up hastily. They were looking for a new member, Jennifer Melton told me. Maybe I should apply.
That was the beginning of my year and a half of Pirate membership, where the opportunity to fill the gallery's thousand square feet and fourteen foot ceilings inspired a font of creativity. Not only did I have space to work, I had partners in crime. My first big show was a collaboration with Chandler Romeo and Jennifer Melton, titled "Good Housekeeping." Thanks to Jennifer and Chandler, who were considerably more media-savvy than me, the Denver Post showed up and wrote a review (with pictures!). But the highlight was really the apron raffle - Jennifer's idea - where your "ticket" was a vintage apron that she purchased for dimes at Value Village. I don't recall the prize, but the highlight was that you had to wear the apron at the opening -- even Denver's coolest donned theirs.
Over the years Pirate has been a place for many artists to launch their careers, as well as providing a haven for those who simply continue to make their work for the recognition of the community. The once desolate block is now home to multiple galleries and a theatre, thanks to Reed and Chandler, and is an anchor of the Denver art scene.
I have almost no relics from that era except slides and flyers in my vintage suitcase/ art archive, as well as all eight of the eleven issues of the black spot - but there is at least a chapter or two for my memoirs.