For nearly a decade, the Circle of Light Photo Project, a collection of photos by people who were blind before corneal transplants restored their sight, was exhibited each year at the Artwork Network Gallery in Denver's Santa Fe Arts District. Yet, shortly after the 2018 exhibit closed, so too did the gallery. Artwork Network took its work exclusively online in June of 2018, where it aims to catalog, educate and broaden the reach of original art to connect to people. And so began a search for a new home for the annual exhibit, which also serves as a primary fundraiser for the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Bank, which facilitates eye donation and transplantation in Colorado and Wyoming.
The search was not an easy task. After all, asking an art gallery to give up precious wall space for a nonprofit's exhibit is a lot to ask. "One of the things we loved about our relationship with Artwork Network," said Robert Austin, the eye bank's public and professional relations manager, "is that the gallery was willing to host the exhibit for a few weeks outside of our main fundraising event. It wasn't just a one-night-only thing." That extra time in the gallery let the eye bank work on getting media coverage to drive people to the exhibit who wouldn't normally see it via the gala event to auction off the artwork. "It really was a great partnership," Austin said, "We got to further spread the message of what eye donation can do and the gallery got some extra foot traffic."
The very nature of the photo project makes it attractive and several galleries were interested. The eye bank, however, also had to think about the main event and the size of the gallery mattered. "The event has grown, and we can we can have over 300 people come through the gallery during the gala," Austin said, referring to the one-night celebration where all the photographs are auctioned off, along with hundreds of donated items, to benefit the eye bank's mission. Space was a prime consideration and many smaller galleries just wouldn't have had the room for the event, even though they could have accommodated the photos.
Yet, aside from the space, the eye bank also needed a partner who believed in the eye bank's sight-saving mission and how it fits into our communities. Enter RedLine Contemporary Arts Center in Denver's hip arts neighborhood, RiNo. The nonprofit center's mission includes creating engagement between artists and communities to create positive social change. According to Louise Martorano, the center's executive director, the Circle of Light Photo Project is a perfect fit.
RedLine comes at its mission from several angles. A two-year residency program for emerging artists is one of its hallmark programs and each artist has a studio within the huge gallery space. Yet, a myriad of other programs brings art and communities together in new ways. For example, EPIC Arts is a semester-long project designed to engage children in grades K-12 living in stressed communities who would otherwise have limited or no access to quality arts education. Similarly, RedLine has supported the arts at under-resourced schools in Redline's community surrounding the Five Points neighborhood. Both programs bring skills of inquiry and imagination, allowing students to find new in-roads to core subjects and are better prepared for lifelong learning.
Other programs focus on ways to involve people with art in new ways: brown-bag lunches discuss social responsibility, collective leadership, cultural responsiveness, and how art can instigate change. RedLine has also partnered with others, such as the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation, the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District, to make grants supporting the integration of arts and culture into multiple disciplines critical to the health and well-being of Coloradans. This program, known as Arts in Society, is an excellent example of the collaborative approach RedLine takes in its mission.
And it is that spirit of collaboration that has the Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Bank excited about the new home for the 2019 Circle of Light Photo Project. The project will be exhibited at the RedLine Contemporary Arts Center from August 13 to August 24, with the big, gala party closing the exhibit on the evening of Saturday, August 24. "It's one of the best arts events in Denver," Austin said, "There is nowhere else you can enjoy great food, wine, beer, music, fantastic art, an outstanding auction, all the while supporting a local nonprofit with a worldwide impact on people's lives for just the cost of a $40 ticket."