AURORA | Up until just a few years ago, the only way a glass water pipe could enter the unassuming brick building at 1400 Dallas St. was in an evidence box.
Opened as an Aurora police substation in the mid-1980s, the structure was a bustling bastion of justice in the city’s notoriously gritty District 1 for nearly 20 years.
But this weekend, the deputies who used to frequent the northwest Aurora building that has since become city-owned studio and gallery space for the Aurora Cultural Arts District would likely be squirming with displeasure at the change of course their workplace has taken.
More than 100 glass bowls, bongs and other marijuana smoking contraptions will be on display at the ACAD gallery Friday to Sunday, April 1 to 3, for what is believed to be the city’s first-ever, marijuana-themed glass art exhibition.
“I mean, if we want to talk about irony … it used to be a police substation,” said Bob Hagedorn, president of the ACAD board of directors and lead organizer for this weekend’s art exhibition. “It’s very ironic and obviously that was part of the thinking behind it.”
Deemed “Bongs and Beyond,” the ACAD show will feature the glass artwork — largely comprised of devices used to smoke and consume marijuana — of more than a dozen glassblowers from across the state. Participating artists will pay to display their work on a 4-foot-by-8-foot table during the three-day event, according to Hagedorn.
“Has there been something like this? I don’t think so, and I think the uniqueness is a bit of the draw,” he said.
Hagedorn, who is also a former state senator and longtime North Aurora activist, first began mulling the idea of hosting a glass-themed event at the ACAD building last fall, when he learned about a new glass blowing studio operating inside of Colorado Harvest Company, a retail pot shop on East Yale Avenue.
“We had talked about the concept before, and then a week or two later we saw … that there’s a guy (at Colorado Harvest) doing exactly what we were looking for,” he said.
Hagedorn said that he originally wanted Eric Pitts, the resident glass worker at Colorado Harvest, to lead the ACAD exhibition, but Pitts was eventually forced to bow out of the effort due to time constraints.
In Pitts’ absence, Aurora glass blower Matt Pinczkowski took over as the show’s artistic coordinator, spreading the word to fellow glass artists all along the Front Range, from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs.
Pinczkowski, who creates most of his work in a re-purposed grain silo on the city’s eastern peripheries, lauded Aurora’s willingness to host such an off-center artistic experience and said that he’s excited to be able to display his work — which ranges from bongs to belt buckles —in a gallery setting.
“I haven’t had too many opportunities to show my work in an art gallery-type setting, which is why I’m excited to do this event,” said Pinczkowski, who often goes by his nickname, “Lunch Box.” “It’s kind of a cool opportunity that the arts district has given us. No where else really in the whole state has opened itself up to an event like this.”
Retail pot shops first began operating in Aurora in October 2014, nearly a year after recreational stores first opened in Denver. Initially, Aurora instituted a one-year moratorium on the sale of recreational weed in order to develop and implement a first-of-its-kind business license lottery system for marijuana entrepreneurs.
Apart from the city’s pioneering attitude toward pot, events like “Bongs and Beyond” provide a rare and valuable opportunity to melt away long-standing misconceptions regrading a medium that for years has been married to the black market, according to Pinczkowski.
“I’m interested to see where it goes and if we can shed some of this stigma that glass is bad, cannabis is bad and see if we can move on,” he said.
Tracy Weil, managing director of the ACAD, said that glass artists often aren’t afforded legitimate opportunities to showcase their art, despite the high quality of the products.
“Most of the stuff is new for the general public, but once they have the opportunity to see the art and glass in a creative or artistic setting, sometimes that gives validity,” he said. “These are artists that need to be recognized for the beautiful things they’re making.”
Hagedorn echoed Weil’s thoughts on the show’s potential to bash stereotypes.
“I think this provides a certain level of legitimacy,” he said. “Art is art, and art crosses all kinds of barriers.”