By Alan Gionet

DENVER (CBS4) – First Friday on Santa Fe Drive on a warm Friday night brought a lot of people out who haven’t had ad chance to see art in person.

“It’s alive and vibrant, and people are just happy to be part of the arts scene again,” said gallery visitor Linda Bell. The Threyda Gallery was busy.

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“I felt like all this came back. Just a perfect moment to save most of it,” said Peter Westermann, art director at the gallery.

Last year, they took things online and sold works to keep going, but the gallery experience is different.

“Buying a print online is something that people do, but there’s an in-person experience that is essential for selling original art. That’s how you make a relationship and that’s how you make a sale,” said Shaina Belton, President of the Art District on Santa Fe. “People are more inclined to buy artwork when they can talk to a person about it.”

The district lost more than a half dozen brick and mortar businesses through the last year of the pandemic. Santa Fe Drive likely has the highest density of art galleries in Denver. Keeping things going was a challenge.

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“We were seeing anything from 75 to 90 percent reduction in revenue,” added Belton. They did what they could online. “Nothing on the internet can ever replace what’s happening here… It’s such like a very human experience.”

Arts all around the metro area was impacted heavily by COVID but there are signs of awakening everywhere said Deborah Jordy, executive director of the Sciences and Cultural Facilities District.

“I think they’re ready. They want to be out doing things with their kids. They want to be at the Museum of Nature and Science. They want to be at the Santa Fe Arts District. They want to hear live music,” she said.

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The SCFD shared $63 million in sales tax money with more than 325 organizations in the seven-county metro district they cover.

“I don’t want to paint a rosy picture, it’s been difficult. But I think we see the light of the tunnel and I think we are just going to slowly keep bringing people back,” said Jordy.

The hardest hit, she says?

“Hands down performing arts because you have to be in a theater side by side with people to make the revenue numbers work.”

Much of theater is yet to be back, but art galleries are open and bringing people in with a desire to experience art.

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Westermann felt it all around him.

“You almost forget how animated people are when they see something they like.“We’re trying to make something that reaches out and connects with people.”

Linda Bell and her husband, John, said they hadn’t bought anything in a while, but their eyes were open.

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“In a looking mood,” said John. “We love this one over here,” said Linda.

Alan Gionet