French connection brings a world of art to RiNo, kids in Aurora

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AURORA | Viviane Le Courtois is measured and matter-of-fact as she mills about her new artistic haven tucked into a cranny of Denver’s RiNo Art District. Sporting hemp sandals and a diaphanous black scarf, she serenely sips coffee while describing the various mechanisms dotting the space: a dark room brimming with enlargers separates a Griffin etching press from a roomful of bandsaws and other carpentry equipment. With small installations sprawled throughout the converted print facility, it feels like a new-age playground for those who linger in the right cerebral hemisphere.

“It’s a co-working space for artists,” Le Courtois, program manager at Downtown Aurora Visual Arts, says of the 2,100-sqaure-foot spot at 955 24th St., sandwiched between Curtis and Champa streets. “It is so expensive to rent a studio so we wanted to open a space that other artists could help pay for. There was a big need for us and other artists to have a space to create.”

That enterprising hunger is what led Le Courtois to open Processus, a shared, membership-based workspace, with her longtime creative partner Christopher R. Perez in February.

“I moved into RiNo in 1990 and that was a really fun and interesting time,” Perez, principally a photographer, said. “That’s when there weren’t $12 tacos.”

Translated from French to mean “process” in English, founding the new artistic hive has been a long-time coming for the duo, who have been members of the RiNo district since Tracy Weil, now executive director of the Aurora Cultural Arts District, helped to found it over a decade ago. They pointed to a lack of space to house their ever-growing arsenal of equipment as well as a need to split ballooning industrial space rents between several parties as the primary reasons for opening the doors of the artistic incubator. Le Courtois didn’t want to reveal the exact price tag for the project, but said that rent was “very high.”

A yearlong membership to the studio currently runs $1,200, which offers full studio access for up to 40 hours each month. Now with about 20 members, Le Courtois and Perez also offer micro-membership punch cards that allow for about 10 hours of access over the course of just a few days, an option they say has been very popular. The long-term plan for the short-stinted memberships is to target creatives who may only be in town for a few days, but need a place to work on projects or develop photos.

An artist of nearly every medium outside of painting — one of her reoccurring projects involves staining tin plates with Kombucha and later turning them into prints — Le Courtois came to the U.S. over two decades ago from her native Brittany, France, with a backpack, $500 and no return flight.

“I thought I would only be here for a  couple of weeks,” she said. “I didn’t know where I would live or what job I would have.”

She eventually made her way west to study art history at the University of Denver, where she met fellow artist and future executive director of DAVA, Susan Jenson. Shortly after graduating, Jenson asked Le Courtouis to lend a hand at DAVA, and the two have been the driving force behind the art education studio on Florence Street ever since.

Despite being a veteran of both the ACAD and RiNo for a period longer than many of her students at DAVA have been alive, Le Courtois said that a fundamental chasm still exists between the two artistic communities.

“I haven’t seen too many connections between ACAD and RiNo yet, they’re just very different areas,” she said. “It’s possible for there to be overlap, but I think it’s difficult, because if you say your studio is in Aurora, it’s almost impossible to get people out there, just because it says Aurora in the address.”