Editorâ€™s Note: Drummer for the band Cotton Keys is Nic Turiciano, an entertainment staff writer for the Collegian.
The windows were fogged up, covering the â€œAvailable for Leaseâ€ sign of the vacant storefront in Old Town. Passersby were confused as to why this seemingly abandoned location was raging with loud music and screams of young people.
This isnâ€™t a crime scene. Itâ€™s the intuitive thinking of the Fort Collins-based program, Art Lab, and the appeal of bands like the Cotton Keys that turn the otherwise-empty real estate into something much more creative.
Issues arise with a stifling economy in that many small Old Town businesses were forced from their spaces, leaving them empty only to serve a dull and depressing purpose.
Instead, Art Lab takes these vacancies and fills them with color, movement and sounds of art galleries and performance centers.
The Cotton Keys used the Art Lab on Saturday to put on a free concert as part of its CD release party. Crowds gathered on the sidewalk in celebration of â€œSweatshop Sounds,â€ the bandâ€™s new album.
â€œJust the fact that the lights are on and people are inside adds interest and energy,â€ said Matt Zoccali, the music director at Art Lab. â€œIt really fits well with the rest of Old Town.â€
Art Lab currently uses the 239 Linden Street location and works with local realtors and other non-profits to occupy the empty spaces and in turn, coordinates with artists like the Cotton Keys who use the space to display their talents.
â€œWe welcome all kinds of creative things,â€ Zoccali said; he noted that the location is used for artists and musicians who arenâ€™t well known enough for traditional venues. He said artists are all up-and-coming and range from musicians to photographers, and dancers to painters.
Art Lab opens its doors for anyone looking to exhibit, experience or create art.
Drew Bombard, temporary bass player for Cotton Keys, said the group got involved after seeing other local bands perform there.
â€œArt Lab supports young acts like us through providing a space for us to showcase our music, sell merchandise and connect with fans and other musicians in a very intimate, local setting,â€ Bombard said.
Zoccali describes Art Lab as unique because it uses a combined effort by many multi-taskers to creatively â€œthrow things against the wall and see what sticks.â€
With its empty white walls the location serves as a blank canvass for artists who use it. Though it provides for an unusual music venue, both Zoccali and fans agree itâ€™s this abstract concept that separates Art Lab from other music venues.
In the case of the Cotton Keys, abstract means having fans assist in the sound check and the use of an over-head projector as the makeshift lighting for a stage-less show.
One fan was concerned that she couldnâ€™t see the band and said the lack of a stage is â€œa big no-noâ€ while another, Pouneh Alizadeh, an environmental and radiological health graduate student, said, â€œI like being this close to the band. It makes the show feel more intimate.â€
Alizadeh added that even though it was her first Art Lab show, she thinks itâ€™s a good way to support local bands.
â€œIts central location makes it easy for people just to stop in and see whatâ€™s going on,â€ Alizadeh said.
Art Lab isnâ€™t trying to compete with the other music outlets, art galleries and performance studios in town. Instead, they want to be a different entity entirely. They hope to only add to the already thriving artistic culture that exists in Old Town.
â€œWeâ€™re not going to tell you what to do with the space,â€ Zoccali said. â€œWe donâ€™t want to be stuffy. All we ask is that the people who use it be respectful.â€
As Zoccali put it, Art Lab is â€œsquattingâ€ for the time being, and once a new tenant decides to lease the space, they will simply up and move to a new location, and continue the process of bringing in artists and fans.
Art Lab requires no payment from any of its users. In most cases it will give you the keys and allow you to be as creative as possible. Artists keep 100 percent of profits and all the Art Lab asks is that they clean up after themselves and maybe pitch in a few bucks for utility bills.
â€œArt Lab is providing the bare-bone essentials to the artists,â€ Bombard said. â€œThe sky is the limit, itâ€™s up to you how to use the space.â€
Zoccali said the space ultimately relies on the creativity of artists and musicians and will sustain any way possible.
â€œWe want to accommodate as best as we can,â€ Zoccali said. â€œYoung or old, just come in, set up and jam.â€
Editorial Editor Chadwick Bowman can be reached at email@example.com.