Announcing Lavender Hill, Denver’s First Queer Cultural District
Read Time: 4 minutes, 35 seconds
Zach Kotel is making big moves in Denver by harnessing his vision and successfully establishing the first Queer Cultural District in his city. This newly designated district will celebrate Queer stories, serve as a regional beacon for Queer culture, and spur on the city’s economy. Zach Kotel is a Senior Designer at Ashton Design, SEGD’s Denver Chapter Chair and recipient of the 2020 SEGD Chapter Chair Award. Learn more about the story behind this newly established Lavender Hill, Denver’s First Queer Cultural District in the following press release:
June 21, 2023 — A coalition of community organizations, including The Center on Colfax, the Colfax Ave Business Improvement District (BID), and Black Pride Colorado are proud to announce the official formation of the Lavender Hill Queer Cultural District. Embracing a color historically used to refer to the LGBTQ+ community, Lavender Hill will honor the Queer community’s contributions to the Mile High City while serving as a vital resource for all Denver residents and businesses.
The idea for the district started with Zach Kotel, Denver’s Society for Environmental Graphic Design (SEGD) chapter chair and lifelong resident. “Working in placemaking, I’ve seen time and time again how powerful creating and designing a space can be. I wanted our community to feel those same transformative results, especially now, when we’re facing renewed legislative attacks nationwide. I also knew that Denver’s values were better than that, and that our city would embrace the idea of celebrating its own.”
Kotel began reaching out to established Queer institutions about the idea. It won immediate support, and it led to the formation of an advisory board composed of members from the Queer community. They guided the concepting process, and, soon after, Lavender Hill was born.
“We’re ecstatic about the creation of the Lavender Hill Queer Cultural District,” shares Rex Fuller, CEO of The Center on Colfax, Denver’s LGBTQ+ community center. “The central Denver neighborhoods represented by the district have long been the center of Queer life in the city. We are proud to make our home in Lavender Hill and acknowledge the long history of the Queer community in Denver.”
Lavender Hill’s zone of influence spans Capitol Hill, City Park West, City Park, Cheesman Park, Baker, and Five Points. In these neighborhoods, the plan is to ensure Queer stories are a recognized part of the area’s rich historical narratives.
Where the district ends, however, is harder to say. Its boundaries are blurred on purpose to feel inclusive of all of Denver’s Queer people and entities, no matter their race, class, or address. This unique attribute also gives the district the flexibility to grow and adapt with the city. “With ongoing redevelopment nearby, particularly in Uptown and along the Colfax and Broadway corridors, there is a unique opportunity to weave Queer stories into new spaces,” explains Kotel. “As business engagement is a huge part of our mission, we find these areas particularly promising for encouraging new social, cultural, and economic growth.”
The first example of this approach is the recently debuted Joy of Pride project, now appearing on Colfax Avenue between Grant and Josephine streets. The photography-based art installation was conceived to honor the individuality of Queer people at a time when so many feel under attack. Lavender Hill facilitated a partnership between the Colfax Ave BID, Black Pride Colorado, and YouthSeen to create an “open casting,” where people shared stories of pride, joy, and strength for a chance to have their portrait taken by Eboni Coleman of EB Pixs. The portraits would be paired with a quote from that individual’s story to be featured on one of the street’s power boxes.
In the end, 17 unique faces and voices now line Denver’s famous Pride Parade route. Their presence is powerful, and the installation works on multiple levels: it serves as a community attraction, it provides a platform for individual Queer expression, and it increases the visibility of Queer people everywhere by highlighting the community’s inherent diversity.
One featured quote, from Leigh Briggs, sums up why these projects, including the founding of Lavender Hill, are so important: “I find joy in seeing young Queer people feeling comfortable and safe in themselves, and seeing older Queer adults with gray and white hairs. We’ve always been here, we’ll always be here. Por siempre viviremos.”
Ahead of co-founding Lavender Hill, Kotel studied established cultural districts in cities like San Francisco and New York for inspiration. Now, as Lavender Hill’s executive director, he hopes it will become its own regional and national beacon for Queer representation.
“By creating this space, we ensure the ongoing empowerment, protection, and celebration of Queer people in Denver and Colorado,” states Kotel. “Queer is here in Denver. It’s time we embrace it. Who better to help keep Colorado colorful than Lavender Hill?”
About Lavender Hill
Lavender Hill is Denver’s Queer Cultural District. Our mission is to create an engaging place that celebrates the Queer community, honors its contributions to our city, and serves as a vital resource for all area residents and businesses. To learn more about Lavender Hill and all upcoming projects and events, visit @lavenderhilldenver on Instagram.
About Fat Lip
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About Ashton Design
Ashton Design builds brands that serve people, shape places, define products, and elevate businesses. We believe the best design comes from being out in the world. We champion life experience as essential to creativity, and we celebrate each person’s unique talents as crucial to our success. Designing for inclusion and increasing access to our field are fundamental to our value system. Visit https://ashton-design.com/ to learn more.