We had the good fortune of connecting with Emma Perez Steuer and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Emma, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Risk-taking has played a major role throughout my life, and my career in particular. I suppose most risks tend to feel more like necessary changes in the moment, and in hindsight the picture becomes clearer of how they led you to where you are today.
Throughout my early twenties I went from being a waitress to an investment bank admin to a development associate at an international human rights non-profit. In 2016, I took a giant leap on a personal and professional level, packed up all my things and left New York City. I traveled around Southeast Asia for several months by myself and when I returned a few months later, I moved cross-country to Colorado, also shifting my professional focus to the arts.
Then in July 2020, in the height of the pandemic, I accepted my first Executive Director role, running a non-profit arts exhibition and event space called Union Hall. This felt like a huge risk during a very tumultuous time, but one that felt important to take. It’s been a whirlwind this past year and a half but I am so grateful for the opportunity to lead this organization, whose mission supporting emerging artists and creatives is so resonant to me. After having to pursue so many odd jobs to build a career in the non-profit world and in the arts, it feels fitting that I’m now able to support emerging artists also fighting for fair wages and visibility in this field. Looking back, I’m so glad that all of these risky changes and shifts led me to where I am today.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Union Hall is a non-profit arts space right next to Union Station in the epicenter of Downtown Denver, which acts as a springboard for emerging artists and curators, supporting them in their career and paying fair and equitable wages. The organization was built as a community-focused space, featuring a wide range of interdisciplinary events including concerts, performances, film screenings, yoga, and more. While arts spaces can often feel prohibitive or exclusive to some, Union Hall works to create accessible programming, with 90% of events in 2021 being free and open to the public.
One of the programs that I’m most proud of and excited about is our annual curatorial program, Rough Gems, which takes place from January through April each year. For this program we turn our exhibition space over to local, emerging curators for 3 three-week pop-ups, paying stipends to all the curators and artists involved, and providing installation support, funding, and mentorship. I love this program because there is unfortunately not much support for emerging curators, or opportunities for them to submit work and be awarded funds. Rough Gems also helps diversify the voices responsible for exhibition-making in our organization and in the Denver arts scene.
Founded in 2019, Union Hall has had a challenging few years, dealing with the effects of COVID-19 while trying to build a donor base and audience for the organization. However, we have seen so much growth and success and are excited for what’s to come.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Part of what drew me to Denver was the access to the mountains and outdoors, as well as the city life. When friends visit I love to show them both! I would probably spend a few days in Denver, showing them some of my favorite coffee shops, like Whittier Café and Coffee at The Point, and check out whatever art exhibitions are up at that time. Some of my usual art stops (aside from Union Hall of course!) are Lane Meyer Projects, Alto Gallery, Friend of a Friend, Leon Gallery, Redline, and Museo de las Americas. Being an avid rock climber, I’d probably force them to come to my climbing gym, Movement, with beers and food afterwards at Improper City. Denver also has one of the best live music scenes, so I’d have to take them to a venue closer to home like Cervantes or Levitt Pavilion, or make a trip out to Red Rocks.
Depending on weather, I’d take them into the mountains for a a few days for a hike, camping, or skiing. The Buena Vista area is always fun in the summer months, while Steamboat would be a good stop year-round.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Nobody gets anywhere alone, and I’ve had tremendous help along the way, from professional mentors, friends, family, co-workers – too many people to list. Of course my family and friends, and my partner – who all show up in force for art openings and events, help with installs and gallery sitting, and have done so much to support me over these past few years. My community in Denver is truly unmatched.
Shoutout to our Board of Directors and incredible staff at Union Hall, Ari and Jess, who have both worked tirelessly to help grow this organization over the past 18 months. Our dedicated partners and donors, who believe wholeheartedly in our mission. Most importantly the artists and curators who have such a deep passion for what they do, which by proxy emanates through our staff and throughout our space. Not having an artistic practice myself, I am constantly in awe of the creatives we work with, their vision and their drive. So thankful for everyone I have had the privilege to work with at Union Hall.
Instagram: @unionhalldenver @emma.perez.steuer
All photo credits should be in the file names, some are Raymundo Muñoz (@munozraymundo), some are Matthew Pevear (@matthewpevear). Please let me know if you have any questions on this!