Just about seven weeks ago, Jason Rodriguez’s truck broke down on Lincoln Street. But pulling over to the side of the road wasn’t just any vehicle — this was the Mobile Art Gallery, MAG for short, a 1979 Chevy truck that’s spent years transporting art to Colorado communities.
“When you take a few steps in, you almost have to turn around and look over your shoulder to make sure you’re in a truck, because it really feels like you’re inside a really tiny gallery,” Rodriguez, an artist who most people know as FORGE, said about the MAG. “We want to attract artists and give them creative opportunities that they might not have had in a regular gallery setting.”
But after the MAG’s engine malfunctioned in January, the artist and his gallery are raising money to get the show back on the road.
The MAG is run by ARTAOS, a Denver contemporary gallery that opened a brick and mortar location at 2822 East 17th Avenue last August. Rodriguez, a New York City native, established ARTAOS and came up with the MAG concept when he was an artist working in Taos, New Mexico.
Working at the Taos News at the time, Rodriguez was also practicing art but didn’t have a gallery or studio space. When Rodriguez learned one of the company’s news delivery trucks was for sale, he bought it and converted into a space where he could show his work to the public.
Rodriguez has since traded in that truck for the Chevy he drives today and has brought the business to Denver. In previous years, the MAG has driven up to Longmont’s Firehouse Art Center and put on an afternoon of collaging and mixed media work, run by local artists, to raise money for the locale. The truck’s “Off the Walls” show drove around the city and raised money for nonprofit Youth on Record. And the mobile gallery also helped Denverites celebrate the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg when it drove around with, as Rodriguez describes them, “these giant four-foot RBGs with a crown on them.” Those pieces were sold to raise money for ACLU of Colorado.
“It always changes. Sometimes we have had artists trick it out in their unique style, not looking to sell art — just looking to create a Meow-Wolf-on-wheels, so to speak,” he said. “In other cases, we’ve featured artists and had them do live art-making at a specific spot. They could make some sales but also get that exposure.”
And Rodriguez highlighted one more important facet of the MAG: It’s about much more than art.
“I’m a Black man and it’s taken me a while to get taken seriously in the art community. But persistence pays,” he said. “When I go to a Black community, or a Hispanic or Native American community, and I’m talking to people of my color, I hope that it can inspire them to follow their dreams, even if they’re not art-related.”
The artist has started a GoFundMe to raise money that would help the gallery replace the MAG’s engine and get the show back on the road. As of March 10, the fundraiser had raised $2,615 out of the gallery’s $7,000 goal. Donations are more than just a gift, he added — when somebody donates to the fundraiser, they receive a credit in the same amount that can be used to purchase work at the gallery.
Rodriguez added that ARTAOS is also looking for recommendations for a mechanic who could repair the truck.
However, the MAG’s restoration isn’t all that ARTAOS has coming up this year. Rodriguez added that in November 2020, the ARTAOS team was asked to curate art in the Thrive Workplace, a coworking space in Denver. ARTAOS is also in the process of filing to establish a nonprofit called ARTAOS Community. The MAG will eventually fall under the umbrella of that nonprofit, opening it up to benefit from new funding opportunities.
But for now, Rodriguez has one main goal in mind: fixing up the truck so it can resume its regular excursions into the community.
“I have people messaging me on social media saying, ‘Are you still in Denver? We miss the art truck,’” he said. “And it makes me think: I’ve got to get this back up and running.”