You know when you are talking to someone, and during the conversation you think to yourself, “It’s weird how similar we are, or this person is just as nuts as I am, or if we joined forces what a difference we could make!” Over the past month, I have experienced this connection with Americans for the Arts. As they prepare to convene in Colorful Colorado for their Annual Convention June 14-17, they took the time to reach out beforehand to get to know some of the local artists who are making a difference with their art. I am one of those fortunate artists.

I am a Colorado native and a third-generation artist. I work in illustration, photography, jewelry, lapidary, painting, printmaking, sculpture, assemblage, and installation art. I’m also the founder of ReArranging Denver, a ten-year-old zero use self-sustaining project that has engaged over 50,000 people, connecting communities to their local business and neighboring cities through creative reuse workshops, installations, and events.

I also travel to universities, libraries, art coalitions, and low income and private schools, giving living artist lectures. I always had the impression that most artists died before seeing success, so I decided to start seeing myself as a living artist sharing my secrets of success. As the Americans for the Arts staff learned more about my work, they asked me to share my story with them, with you, and with those about to join forces in Colorado at Convention.

Here it goes. I was born an artist but didn’t fully understand what that meant. I saw stuff every day. I saw lines, shapes, textures, colors, sculptures, images. I had no idea what I was seeing, and I honestly thought something was really wrong with me. After an adult education class when I was fifteen, I passed by a jewelry studio where molten metal was being poured. It clicked: that color, line, and shape was my future. I went in, I asked questions, and I never stopped creating and exploring in every medium since that day. My unimaginable early success—partnered with graduation from Metropolitan State College by age nineteen with a Bachelor of Arts degree—was short-lived. I lost everything and became homeless. It didn’t stop me; it fueled me. I used job site equipment to complete photography jobs, jewelry jobs, and print commissions to get on my feet. I even purchased my own enlarger for freelance photography jobs. That allowed me to get certified as a trade jeweler in California, beginning a lifelong career of cutting stones, carving waxes, repairing and fabricating jewelry, and buying my own jewelry bench with all the “fixins.” Contract labor with several Denver jewelry retailers supported my next advancement in art.

Crinkleism printWhile working as a freelance photographer and trade jeweler, I continue printmaking and invented “Crinkleism,” a unique process I use in printmaking, which also addresses the lack of creative movements with the suffix “ism.” Crinkleism’s invention landed me on top again with shows, sales, and a National Endowment for the Arts grant. I bought an etching press, a house/studio, and a truck—only to lose it all again.

During homelessness I learned a lot about reuse, waste, resources, and the joy of receiving unconditional vouchers/gift cards. I lost everything but my passion and had to figure out a way to create without my equipment, tools, or art supplies, as they were all sitting in storage. With two little ones expecting birthday parties, I created a project called ReArranging Denver. Ten years later, the underlying theme of ReArranging Denver is still taught at every event we do. The theme is to look around and create with what surrounds you. I realized my art supplies weren’t sitting in storage, but were all around me.

Roses made from scavenged materials. From scavenged materials I fabricate games and photo booths, assemble art roses, and more. I even sell the roses in Denver retail stores and museums, such as the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art and the Denver Art Museum. What started out as a low budget party turned into a way to help my neighboring low-income community and the homeless. I took what I learned from my struggle, reuse, and joy from a free meal, and passed it on to others.

As the project grew, more people and businesses donated, opening my eyes even wider to waste. That led me to a local landfill which processes 8,000 tons of trash a day. I photographed the waste, and post the pictures at all my events along with a trivia question aimed at bringing awareness to the amount of waste produced. ReArranging Denver is a zero-use art program. It only accepts broken or used items for creative reuse.

ReArranging Denver has enabled me to get everything back out of storage and has supported my next inventions in painting and printmaking. Supporters such as Americans for the Arts are the fourth Washington based organization to recognize the vision in my work. Thanks to them for supporting, for advocating for artists, and for introducing me to their team. See you soon!