by Amy Vaerewyck
Shannon Corrigan answered her phone one morning in September to wonderful news: The Emmanuel Gallery, which she directs and curates on the Auraria Campus, was selected to receive the Mayor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.
“I was tickled pink,” she said. “I smiled a lot for the first few hours.”
The award recognizes individuals and organizations that have made significant and lasting contributions to the arts in the City and County of Denver. Awards are given in three categories, and the Emmanuel Gallery received its award in the “Impact Arts” category.
“Very few galleries have ever gotten this award,” said Corrigan, who has worked at the gallery for seven years. “This gallery is one of the most beautiful art spaces in the city.”
With a focus on student and faculty artwork, the gallery welcomes approximately 10,000 visitors each year, making it one of the city’s busiest art spaces. Housed in Denver’s oldest standing church structure, it hosts about 13 exhibitions a year—twice what most galleries do, Corrigan said.
Corrigan, who’s originally from southern Indiana, moved to Denver and worked for the Denver Art Museum for seven years before coming to the Emmanuel Gallery. She believes the gallery’s course to success was charted before she even arrived. Its 35-year anniversary celebration last year showcased many of the key players, including curators, artists, faculty and students.
“When you direct a great art space, it’s easy to win awards,” Corrigan said. “This is not about only me. It goes back a long way.”
Corrigan works hard to make the space live up to its potential. Just keeping up with the local art scene is a full-time job in itself, she said, but she also has to plan and prepare for the exhibitions, which move at a “fast and furious” pace.
“It’s a tremendous amount of physical work,” she said. “I’m up on ladders doing lighting and hanging equipment. With many artists using multi-media, I also have to deal with sound issues in an 18th-century building. Nobody taught me how to do this in grad school.”
But she does it, because it has to be done.
“It’s the only exhibition space the university has, so it’s crucial to the art department,” Corrigan said.
For student art shows, three per year, her staff helps sift through hundreds of entries and readies all the works for guest jurors to judge the pieces. The student artists then learn to hang, light and label each exhibition.
“Students get their first professional exhibition experience here,” she said. “I love working with them, sharing what I’ve learned and watching them flourish.”
Another thing she’ll love: accepting the Mayor’s Award on behalf of the gallery at a celebration in the Ellie Caulkins Opera House on Nov. 15.