Apr 242011
Authors: Allison Knaus

For the past three years, crowds packed the Underground Gallery once a month during the Local’s Walk art showcases. But it was these very crowds who forced owners of the gallery to close their doors because they couldn’t comply with capacity limits.

April 1 marked the last public art display put on by the Gallery Underground –– a popular art display in Old Town involving nearly 20 artists put on the first Friday of every month.

The gallery didn’t close because of a lack of popularity but because they were exceeding capacity limits of only 49 people, a number set by fire inspectors because the building had only one exit.

Darren Mahuron, an owner of the Gallery Underground, first got the idea for the gallery after his artwork was rejected from a coffee shop when a customer complained. Mahuron and two others created a place where all art was welcome in hopes of expanding the Fort Collins art scene and creating a place where nontraditional artists would be free to express their artistic ability.

The day of the closing, the Gallery Underground Facebook page read, “The Gallery Underground is now officially closed. Thanks for your support Fort Collins! It’s been a great 3.5 years.”

“We had no other choice but to close, we had to make the safe and smart move,” Mahuron said.

But according to Chad Myers, an assistant fire martial for Inspection Services of Fire Martial, they gave the owners several options in order to meet capacity limits and keep the gallery open.

“We want to see arts flourish in Colorado,” he said. “We aren’t out to shut businesses down, we’re just asking them to comply with standards.”

Myers said the inspection services never threatened to shut down the gallery and were contacted by Mahuron to see what changes needed to be made after an incident involving police made him aware of capacity limit laws.

For the 20 artists who displayed and sold their work in the Gallery Underground, not having the monthly first Friday traffic meant not making enough money to continue their work.

Blake Neubert, a painter who had his work displayed for about six months and will be officially moved out of the gallery by the end of the week, said the closure will bring up new opportunities in a city with a flourishing art scene.

“This town likes art, and it somehow just organically pops up. I’m not too worried for what’s to come. It was three and a half years of uphill success. We got to leave the party while we were still having fun,” Neubert said.

The closing of the Gallery Underground will provide an opportunity for a new start for both Mahuron and the other artists whose works were displayed, Mahuron said.

Cody Kuehl, an artist who had a display in the gallery, doesn’t perceive the gallery’s closing as a damper on his career.

“The Gallery Underground was a safe haven for us artists to express ourselves, and I saw it as a stepping stone in my career,” Kuehl said.
Mahuron said he’s in the process of figuring out his next move with the gallery, but he has plans to expand and eventually get a larger space.

“It’s good to go out on top and leave people wanting more for our next projects,” Mahuron said.

He plans to continue to occupy the Gallery Underground space for his personal business –– Summit Studios, where he shoots commercial photography –– but the Friday night walk public walkthroughs have to come to an end.

Staff writer Allison Knaus can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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