Artists Will Soon Breathe Some Early Life Back Into Denver’s Storied Rossonian Hotel

September 18, 2019
Norman Harris Jr. stands inside the Rossonian Hotel, of which he is a development partner, during Five Points' annual Juneteenth celebration, June 16, 2018.Norman Harris Jr. stands inside the Rossonian Hotel, of which he is a development partner, during Five Points' annual Juneteenth celebration, June 16, 2018.Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Norman Harris Jr. stands inside the Rossonian Hotel, of which he is a development partner, during Five Points' annual Juneteenth celebration, June 16, 2018.

Morgan Barbary lacked a space to make her art where she lived — a conundrum many Denver artists probably empathize with. She also lacked the funds to afford studio space in town. 

A partnership between the developers working to restore the storied Rossonian Hotel in the Five Points neighborhood and RedLine, an arts nonprofit, will soon change that. 

“As people walk by [the hotel] they’ll be able to peek in and see us working,” Barbary said. “People will be able to see there’s life back in the Rossonian, which is really exciting.”

The Rossonian Pop-Up Studio is a temporary, twice-a-week solution for artists living in the Five Points area. The approximately 2,000 square foot space at the hotel will be available through the end of October, with a possible extension. 

After decades of the hotel sitting vacant, the developers have one last hurdle to get final approval on their renovation plans before they can break ground. They’ve said they hope to restore the Rossonian to its former glory, giving a nod to the hotel’s history as a hotbed for jazz music

Barbary pitched the idea to the Five Points Development Corporation, a co-developer on the hotel with Palisade Partners, at the suggestion of a friend. They agreed.  

“Art, culture, music is something that we want to continue to highlight as it’s been, of course, a part of the history and culture of Five Points,” said Haroun Cowans, managing director of Five Points Development Corporation. “We want that to be a focal point, that art lives here, is done here, curated here and displayed here.”

Cowans thinks “it’s a cool thing” to have artists in the space at this point in the renovation process, “to see, even when it’s not remodeled, that the Rossonian brings artists and people together.”

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
The Rossonian, Five Points.

When asked what about this partnership felt like a good fit for RedLine, executive director Louise Martorano replied “all of it.”

“Not only did this opportunity allow us to be relevant to artists’ needs,” Martorano said, “but it also provided the opportunity to authentically engage and activate the Rossonian, and help raise awareness to celebrate this important historical landmark.”

She hopes that this partnership could serve as “a model that could be replicated in any neighborhood to provide space for artists, as well as important local stories and histories through art and engagement.”

Education director John-Claude Futrell worked with Barbary to recruit other artists for the initiative through RedLine’s Reach Studio program. The gallery also provided art supplies, such as easels, and basic needs, like tables and chairs, for the Rossonian space. 

The selected artists include Barbary, painter and illustrator Richard Beck, known to many as “Gonzo,” visual artist Vittoria Whitsett, sculptor and mixed-media artist Raverro Stinnett, and painter and sculptor Josephine Ferons.   

They’ll create work individually, as well as collaborate on several pieces inspired by the historic building and neighborhood, Barbary said. 

Barbary sees this evolving and expanding to bring more artists into the fold, realizing a long-time dream of hers “[to] create spaces and create opportunities and access for other local artists based off of the challenges I’ve had in my own creative journey.”