When the Chicano Humanities and Arts Council (CHAC) was founded in 1978, its purpose was simple: to create a place where Latino/a/x and Hispanic artists could display their art freely.

“We weren’t allowed in galleries, or they didn’t want our type of art,” said CHAC’s Executive Director Brenda Gurule.

The organization’s beginnings were humble but inventive – CHAC’s first location was a mobile van. Eventually, the organization found a home for its first brick-and-mortar art gallery in Denver.

Since then, CHAC has moved locations several times within the metro for various reasons. Rising rents, diminished foot traffic in new locations, etc…  and then Covid happened, which put further stress on CHAC’s ability to operate. Leadership decided to terminate the lease in hopes it would allow the organization to survive the pandemic. It worked.

“In a sense, it was kind of good timing,” Gurule says.

Not having a physical space gave the team the ability to focus their efforts on developing the strategic plan they were granted through the DeVos Institute of Arts Management, and to begin telling their story to the public.

“Different media outlets were reaching out to us because of the pandemic [to talk about] how we lost our space,” she said.

After hearing CHAC’s story, other organizations started offering (temporary) spaces for CHAC’s artists to showcase their work. As a result, CHAC had exhibits in Lafayette, Brighton, Thornton – and Denver as well, of course.

“A lot of [these opportunities] came to us,” Gurule says.

Searching for a sustainable and affordable physical space was a challenge, but CHAC finally found a (shared) space through Lakewood’s 40 West Arts District that would be financially sustainable.

Then, CHAC received an opportunity that was nearly too good to be true.

“This generous young man reached out to me one day and said he might have a space to donate to us,” Gurule says. “Of course, I was skeptical… so I called my board chair and we went [to meet him at the space].”

The young man in question had inherited the property when his mother passed away. Instead of selling it, he decided to look up non-profits in the area and discovered that CHAC did not have their own dedicated space.

“He goes, ‘It’s yours if you want it!” Gurule says. “Can you believe it? It’s unbelievable, really.” Gurule considers CHAC’s against-all-odds survival of Covid as a blessing. “We’re excited about what the future holds,” she says.

The transfer became official in March 2023 and CHAC became property owners of a new space on Santa Fe Drive.

“It’s a small space, but it doesn’t matter,” says Gurule. “It could’ve been a shoebox and we would’ve been happy because we never owned a space before.”

The grand opening was in October 2023.

“We had to make a couple of changes [to the space],” says Gurule. “We didn’t want to really open it until we could do our signature event, which is Dia de los Muertos.”

CHAC still maintains a small gallery and an office at the 40 West Arts District in addition to the location on Sante Fe.

So what’s next?

“I’ve moved CHAC three times now, so we’re just excited about putting some solid roots down in our own space,” Gurule says.

Education and cultural programming, which were cornerstones of the organization’s pre-pandemic mission, suffered as a result of the uncertainty and much-needed survival mode CHAC had to adopt in order to make it through the pandemic.

“Now we’re trying to bring back our education and bring back that cultural programming,” Gurule says. “We’re trying to bring the humanities component back into our organization.”

Having a dedicated space is a game changer for an organization like CHAC, enabling them to have total control over how the space is used in a way that simply isn’t possible in a shared space or a rental.

“[We] appreciate everything everyone did for us,” Gurule adds. “Now we’re finally able to program how we want to program.” The building on Sante Fe is currently being renovated to serve CHAC’s needs and will reopen in April 2024. Says Gurule, “We’re excited about bringing back the cultural part of our organization.”

Education is a core component of CHAC’s work – including a quite popular series of folk-art workshops where the community can expand their artistic horizons and learn to make art for themselves. These workshops often take place at the physical locations in Lakewood and on Santa Fe, but CHAC has a list of background-checked art educators who are available to conduct offsite workshops for a slightly higher fee. This service is primarily utilized by schools but is not limited to them.

“If people want to support us in any way, I’d say attend our classes. We work hard to keep our classes affordable so that they’re attainable,” Gurule says.

Spanish and English speakers alike can be accommodated.

Beyond lectures and education, CHAC is also expanding the scope of their work to include programming on art therapy. Last year, CHAC suffered a tragic loss when its vice chair was killed in a domestic violence episode. It shook the other members of the leadership team to their cores and inspired this new programming.

“We’re not excited about it; it’s not the kind of thing you get excited about,” Gurule says. “But there’s a need for it, right? And it has touched our organization. We don’t want to do art shows around domestic violence, where it could be a trigger for somebody. We want to go the route of art therapy instead. So that’s the direction we’re going in now.”

As for the art itself?

“Typically our show [submissions] are just open to members,” says Gurule. “If it’s a specialty show, like printmaking or an area that’s very specialized, we’ll do a call for artists beyond our members. But for most of our shows they have to be members.”

Artists pay an annual membership fee.

“What we really need is everyone’s support,” Gurule smiles. “Come visit! We have amazing artists.”