Celebrating Steamboat’s creative spirit
Steamboat Springs’ creative community has its share of unique folks and traditions dating back to its settlement by the Crawford family on the frontier’s edge.
When the daughter of Steamboat’s founding father began painting wildflowers at the 1800s, little did she know school children would be following her lead in the 21st century at the city’s local botanical gardens.
When two ladies ventured into town on a mule in 1914 to offer dance and acting classes “close to creatures and mountains and out-of-doors,” little did they know it would grow into Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts and Camp, a premier arts camp for youth, hosting eventual Tony, Oscar and Grammy winners throughout its century of existence.
And then, there’s the Tread of Pioneers Museum, which sends out an 80-year-old historian to regale listeners with tales of murder and mayhem while his audience drinks their locally brewed beer.
Add visiting musicians and singers from the national stage, along with locally-grown painters and performers, and you have the perfect mix for an official Colorado Creative District designation. At least, that’s what city officials, community leaders and art patrons are hoping for.
“A Creative District designation from the state would be a huge economic boon for our community,” said Matt Eidt, Steamboat Springs Arts Council member and chair of the Creative District committee.
“It opens us up to state recognition and possible funding for initiatives based around the arts,” agreed Chula Beauregard, Steamboat native and nationally-known plein air painter.
Officials with Colorado Creative Industries visited Steamboat last year after the city was named a Creative District finalist. Though the town went all-out with pop-up performers and artists and a whirlwind tour, the application fell short.
Not deterred, the Steamboat Springs Arts Council took the state officials’ critique and advice and went to work.
“They wanted to see more of our Western heritage, and we’re weaving that throughout the tour,” said Candice Bannister, a founding member of the Creative District committee and executive director of the Tread of Pioneers Museum. “They also wanted to see more public art.”
The public art, also known as “place-making” art, can be seen popping up throughout town. The plain tan Meat & Seafood building, where hunters bring in their meat for processing, has been transformed with a colorful mule deer painting that dominates the street scene near Yampa and 10th streets.
“A lot of our mural art is connected to our history, and the mule deer is reminiscent of Native American pattering in rugs,” said Steamboat Springs Arts Council Executive Director Kim Keith.
Another artist went to work on rails above the creek on Yampa Street, turning a simple utilitarian railing into a sculpture of local fauna.
“We’re taking our artists and their creativity and making our public spaces more interesting and memorable for people walking around,” said Keith.
Last year’s state panelists also wanted to see more public/private collaboration within the community.
In fact, City Manager Gary Suiter confirmed the Steamboat Springs City Council has ended its moratorium on public art and updated the city’s public art policy.
“We’re looking at creating a foundation for maintenance of public art,” Suiter said.
And word came in last week that “creative crosswalks” have been approved by the city, as well.
Suiter said crosswalks along Yampa Street will be painted by artists, who have suggested everything from piano keys to paw prints.
The visiting dignitaries will also see how investments have progressed in the art community from last year. The Pine Moon Fine Art Gallery — a mere shell during last year’s visit — is now up and running, and the Steamboat Art Museum, where exhibits often rival those of much larger cities, is starting renovation on unused parts of its building.
Eidt said Steamboat is ready to show panelists from Colorado Creative Industries how the town’s creativity can’t be packaged in several city blocks.
“We’re nothing like the RiNo district in Denver,” Eidt said of the colorful urban/industrial arts district in Denver that runs on its north side.
“We are very unique and different, and just because it’s not a walkable district, doesn’t mean it’s not a creative district. We have to be ourselves as a community,” Eidt said. “If Perry-Mansfield and the Strings Pavilion — among other community assets — are outside a walkable district, that’s OK. That’s who we are. We’re a rural mountain town. We feel strongly that our art does not live behind closed doors.”
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It was a love story that brought Jason Erwin to Steamboat Springs from Nashville, Tennessee.