For the past four years, The People’s Building in the Aurora Cultural Arts District on Colfax has featured art exhibits, theatrical performances, and community events. Purchased by the City of Aurora in 2015 and converted into an arts venue, this new life for the building is revitalizing the neighborhood by providing platforms for artists, entertainment and culture for audiences, and foot traffic for businesses. Now a new venue called Manos Sagrados (Sacred Hands), expected to open this spring, will augment the District by offering live music, art studios, and yoga sessions.
The People’s Building
“While there is a beautiful art culture in Downtown Denver, Aurora has the added benefit of having some of the most diversity in the state,” says Aaron Vega, curator of The People’s Building. “When you’re reaching into those communities and letting them tell their stories, you end up with art that touches people in a deep way and that teaches us new ways to see the world. You don’t have to go downtown to have that experience; you can stay in Aurora and see a work of art in your own backyard that you’re going to carry with you for the rest of your life.”
The theatrical productions have been especially successful. The venue provides an affordable stage for independent theater companies that produce high-quality productions for audiences. In January, the venue showcased Cuauhtemoczin, a play that takes place in a prison to represent the restrictions of society, but uses Aztec imagery to tell a journey of self-discovery. In February and March, the stage will host Clink Clink: A Love Story, Disney’s Newsies Jr, and Mean Girls: High School Edition.
In selecting plays and theater companies, Vega evaluates whether the stories and mission align with The People’s Building. “We also look at whether they will feel like part of the community, produce programming that residents want to see, and bring other folks into this neighborhood.”
The People’s Building also functions as an art gallery, showcasing paintings in the main lobby and bar area—and as an event venue, hosting community gatherings and cultural celebrations.
Although the East Colfax and NW Aurora neighborhoods have been hampered by poverty and high crime rates, Vega is optimistic that the growing art scene can alleviate those issues and revitalize the community. “The People’s Building is a junction between an arts program and economic development, and we’re excited to see it happen with independent businesses coming to East Colfax,” says Vega. “The arts can change the narrative of the community, drive more traffic to small businesses, and improve the economy without gentrifying the neighborhood or displacing the residents.”
Now a live music venue, Manos Sagrados, is preparing to join this mission. Owner Alicia “Bruce” Trujillo says the concept of Sacred Hands represents the transformational power of the organization—one hand creates art and the other provides consulting services for local musicians. Trujillo has spent her career as a director for several Denver radio stations. “I’ve been involved with different parts of the music industry and I’m interested in a lot of different genres, so it seemed like the next step was to create something that brought together all of my passions and interests,” says Trujillo. “I do some work at The People’s Building, so when Aaron showed me that the space next door was open, it was a natural fit and everything fell into place.
The area has community theater with The Fox and The People’s Building, but there’s no music venue on that part of East Colfax and that’s pretty surprising because music is an amazing industry,” says Trujillo.
Reflecting the diversity of the local community is another important goal for Manos Sagrados. Residents in the surrounding neighborhoods represent a wide variety of races, ethnicities, and lifestyles—with over 160 languages being spoken in the schools due to the diverse immigrant populations in the area.
“The basis of Manos Sagrados came from uplifting different cultures of the community that are typically underrepresented or stifled in the music industry,” says Trujillo. “Black, Latin, female, and queer artists are underrepresented groups. Even though they create the foundation for what’s popular and what’s exciting, they don’t get opportunities at a lot of places.”
The venue will also feature art studios for painting, recording studios for podcasts, and communal work spaces for creators. Additionally, the venue will host yoga sessions, meditation classes, dance parties, and poetry slams.
Trujillo utilized a unique fundraising mechanism to purchase the venue. Although Trujillo qualified for a bank loan, she instead chose to raise money from residents so she could pay the 12.5 percent interest back to the community. Using the Honeycomb Credit platform, she raised more than $32,000. “It was really good to get the word out about Manos Sagrados and to involve the community in what we’re doing because the community is our main focus.”
Trujillo is currently working to get the city permits necessary to meet safety codes and accommodate live music and alcohol sales. She hopes to open Manos Sagrados in the spring.
Front Porch photos by Christie Gosch