Alums are Helping Shape Denver's Art World at Redline
“It usually comes down to one pivotal teacher,” says Louise Martorano, current Deputy Director and future Executive Director at RedLine, a non-profit arts organization in the up-and-coming RiNo district. She’s referring to the moment that changes so many students’ lives: the moment when academics and natural passion converge and the internal compass puts us on the path we were intended to walk. She remembers this moment in her own life quite clearly.
Martorano started pursuing an education specializing in recording arts at CU Denver in 2006. She made the most of her academics, and realized her interests were growing more diverse. She says, “Education is the one moment in your life you can do something purely for you.” While working on her graduate degree, Martorano began exploring her interest in film and contemporary art. She was successful in this endeavor, co-founding the Modest Films production company and being credited as producer on We Are the Sea. This film, written and directed by fellow CU Denver alum Neal Truglio, has appeared at film festivals in Denver, Austin, and Poland, and was an official selection at the 2010 Dallas International Film Festival.
Martorano’s film success encouraged her, and an interest in a career related to visual arts blossomed during this time. Her desire to finish her master degree in a way that allowed her to bring together her interests in arts management, film, and contemporary art grew in her. So, she turned to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Master of Humanities program (MH). Her interdisciplinary graduate studies in the MH program allowed her to diversify her coursework into an interdisciplinary plan so that she could develop skills in both the business and art worlds. In addition to her graduate studies, working as a research assistant in the Philosophy department and as a graduate assistant in the MH program, the indefatigable Martorano began volunteering at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver. She was exhilarated by the opportunity to engage her education in a practical way by learning the ropes in an established art museum. She says, glancing into one of RedLine’s resident artist studios, “I love exhibit-making and working with artists.”
Martorano had a career epiphany—that “pivotal teacher” moment—after she resumed her studies. She landed in the classroom of Margaret Woodhull, Director for the Master of Humanities and Master of Social Science program. Woodhull began mentoring Martorano, encouraging her to explore the convergence of academics and personal interests. Woodhull is a notable scholar on women as patrons of the arts, and her ideas gave her pupil both energy and focus to develop academically and artistically at the same time. Interestingly, the relationship between Martorano and her mentor yielded a reversal of fortune when Martorano went from student to teacher, getting Woodhull more interested and active in RedLine’s mission. The result is that Woodhull is now the Vice President-Elect of the non-profit’s board of directors.
Martorano graduated with a Master of Humanities in May 2010, and was hired by RedLine the following December. The multi-disciplinary approach afforded by her liberal arts degree has been instrumental to Martorano’s successes; as she explains it, “My education has enabled me to speak the language of both artists and the business community. I can bridge the gap between the artistic and the practical.” This knowledge has been pivotal to achieving pragmatic objectives such as funding goals, event planning, and human resources tasks, all vital to the success of a non-profit organization.
Although Martorano was hired at RedLine to manage exhibitions, serve as financial director, oversee the staff, and coordinate with resident artists, she performed so well that she was recently promoted to Executive Director, “Quite an accomplishment for someone so young in her career,” says Woodhull. As Executive Director, Martorano will maintain one of her favorite parts of her old position, working with the resident artists. This last aspect of her work is vital to visual art community in Denver and promoting social and cultural health of a city. The Resident Artist program is core to RedLine’s work. In exchange for precious studio space and mentorship by on-site veteran artists, fifteen to twenty creatives and artists are asked to donate a certain number of hours to doing community service each week. Current resident artists are exploring themes such as transgenerational theory, escapism, and social justice. Each year RedLine holds an annual fundraiser to celebrate the resident artist program entitled The Artist Bacchanal. This year, the fundraiser will be held on November 2 (7-Midnight) and will be themed the Art Rodeo. The event will not only support RedLine's ongoing education, art and community programs but also celebrate the contemporary art, industry and culture of the west. Martorano notes that this is her favorite event of the year because it includes the annual resident artist exhibition, this year entitled An Invisible Boundary, and the anonymous one square foot art sale. Those interested in tickets can find more information here.
The connection between CU Denver and RedLine has become a web of human relationships and passions, extending beyond Martorano and Woodhull. Martorano is instrumental in partnering CU Denver students with RedLine, so these emerging artists’ works can be shown in a public exhibit. She also maintains a collaborative relationship with professors and artists Mary Connelly and Lanny Devuono from the College of Arts and Media. Furthering ties, a second CU Denver alum on staff, Robin Gallite, received a Master of Education with a focus on Mental Health in Schools in 2006. Martorano and Gallite met in a CU Denver painting class, becoming fast friends. And though she never took a class from him, Gallite cites Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Social Justice minor Chad Kautzer as a major influence, helping her realize “you can try anything you want to try.” She has taken Kautzer’s enthusiasm to heart - after developing her talents teaching in Aurora, then abroad, she earned a position at RedLine in the crucial function of Education Director. Kautzer and Gallite co-curated RedLine’s summer 2013 exhibit Not Exactly – Between Home and Where I Find Myself. The exhibit brought together twenty-four artists to highlight how the lack of shelter and social recognition can contribute to homelessness, including the renowned artist, Inocente, the subject of the 2013 Oscar award-winning short documentary on homelessness.
Like Martorano, Gallite attributes her successes to a multi-disciplinary approach to education, and the results are tangible. Of note is the award of a three hundred thousand dollar grant from the National Corporation for Community Service for a project called ArtCorps. This three-year grant will put trained curriculum developers in the Denver Public School district to ensure customized, fiscally-sustainable art curriculum in schools where such programs too often become victims of fiscal competition. Another of Gallite’s duties is to oversee RedLine’s Educational Partnership Initiative for the Creative (EPIC) Arts program. EPIC Arts is a collaboration between K-12 art educators, resident/community artists and students. CU Denver, Metropolitan State University and the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design students help out in classrooms during the EPIC project, culminating in a Youth Exhibition at the end of each session.
Martorano and Gallite are a potent one-two punch for their thriving organization, generating tangible successes thanks to an education shaped by following their hearts, and having been encouraged by professors that cared. It’s true that it often comes down to one pivotal teacher.
RedLine’s current exhibit The Ironic Object runs through October 27th. More information about Redline can be found at: http://RedLineart.org/
Dennis Mont'Ros is a senior studying Creative Writing at CU Denver.