Through the double doors of the University of Denver’s Shwayder Art Building, adjacent to the bustling lobby, lies the Davis Gallery, a space dedicated to empowering and celebrating student and community artists.
“It’s the place where people arrive. They start there. It’s beautiful. It’s visual,” says Annabeth Headrick, director of the School of Art and Art History.
The gallery, which opened in 2022, was made possible by a generous gift from Helen Davis, a longtime supporter of DU and the School of Art and Art History and LinkAGES: Colorado, a collaborative group aimed at creating connections across generations.
At the intersection of student learning and real-world experience, the gallery serves as a blank canvas, transporting gallery-goers to new realms, sparking conversation, introspection and appreciation for the creative process.
The space, now brimming with bright gallery style lighting, is a stark contrast to what lay there before—a darkroom for photography.
“It was large, designed for 1970s era photography, when you needed a lot of darkroom,” says Roddy MacInnes, professor of photography in the School of Art and Art History.
MacInnes took his first photo at 11 years old in 1964. With the first click of the shutter, he says he felt magic. In the decades since, MacInnes has used various lenses to capture communities. And a few years ago, he decided he wanted to repurpose some of the darkroom space to showcase community and student art.
“It activated the space,” he says. “We formed a committee to review proposals for exhibitions, not only from art students but students across campus.”
Since its initial opening, the Davis Gallery has hosted eight exhibitions, with plans to host six more during the 2023-2024 academic year.
On the surface, the Davis Gallery provides a space for student artists and community creators. But behind the scenes, the Davis Gallery also provides opportunities for students to get experience in art curation. While galleries are designed to look effortlessly elegant, art curators must intentionally think about every minute detail in a show.
“You don’t just hang art,” Headrick says. “You have to help the audience. [Curators] measure everything. They think about the vertical as well as horizontal space.”
For Eli Bucksbaum (BA ‘22), the gallery gave him power and legitimacy, breathing life into a dream he once shared with his sophomore year roommate, Jack Nathan.
Bucksbaum and Nathan vowed to both become art majors and looked forward to taking an oil painting class together, a milestone that signified the beginning of their artistic careers.
“In our eyes, oil painting was the pinnacle of being an artist,” Bucksbaum says.
However, during the summer of 2020, after returning home due to the coronavirus pandemic, Nathan passed away unexpectedly. Making good on a promise, Bucksbaum switched his major from hospitality to art, a way to honor Nathan’s memory.
In fall of 2021, he took the Introduction to Oil Painting class. Before he even picked up a brush, Bucksbaum says his outlook changed, thanks in part to encouraging words from a professor. Bucksbaum wasn’t a student studying art. He was already an artist.
“It completely altered everything for me,” Bucksbaum says.
At the opening event of the Davis Gallery in January 2022, Bucksbaum debuted his piece, an oil painting aptly named, “Potty Trained,” a full-circle moment of his journey to become an artist. Standing next to Helen Davis, talking about his piece, Bucksbaum felt the power of the student-centered gallery.
“To have that in a student space, a donated space, was really quite beautiful,” Bucksbaum says. “I couldn’t have thought of a better piece, a better time, a better moment to unveil a piece like that than in the Davis Gallery.”
And now in his gallery Studio MAXIMA in Los Angeles, “Potty Trained” hangs opposite a portrait of Jack. The works of art—designed to look at each other—serve as a reminder to keep pursuing his passion.
The Davis Gallery puts out calls for proposals on a quarterly basis, aiming for six shows each academic year. Community members, faculty, staff, students and alumni are encouraged to apply.
“Let your passion be the guide,” MacInnes says.