Steamboat Creates needs help to Keep the Arts Alive in the Yampa Valley

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Some economic victims of the COVID-19 pandemic are obvious: ski resorts, restaurants, small businesses. Some, perhaps, are not considered as often: live music, galleries, artists.

“Keep the Arts Alive was spurred by information coming out nationally that arts and culture was the second-hardest hit industry behind food and lodging and would take the longest to recover, as well as, local information gathered by the Yampa Valley Community Foundation and Steamboat Creates’ surveys of local nonprofits,” said Steamboat Creates Development Director Dagny McKinley.

Steamboat Springs has a long history of performing and visual arts, which have been taking some serious hits due to pandemic-induced closures and cancellations. Steamboat Creates is hoping to educate the public and support artists through a new initiative, Keeping the Arts Alive.

“Perry-Mansfield (Performing Atrs School and Camp) is over 100 years old. The dancers have been coming here, people have been coming to the Chief since the (1920s),” said Scott Parker, executive director at the Chief Theater. “People have been coming to this valley for the arts longer than they’ve been coming for skiing. It’s an integral part of our history.”

To ensure that history doesn’t fade, Steamboat Creates is kicking off Keeping the Arts Alive with a pair of educational talks via Zoom. Steamboat Creates hopes the initiative helps people understand how much arts and culture contribute to the local economy and Steamboat’s diversity.

First, at 5 p.m. Monday, Meredith Badler will discuss “Living our Values: Ensuring We Have Arts Through it All.” The conversation will share statistics about how important the arts are and how they’ve been suffering, as well as stories of success and support.

At 1 p.m. Wednesday, Ruby Lopez Harper and Meghan Joy “Mojo” O’Keefe will speak on the “COVID-19 Effects on Arts & Culture Nationally and Rurally and What You Can Do.”

Tickets can be purchased by donation at Donations to Steamboat Creates can be made on their website as well.

Lopez Harper is the senior director of Local Arts Advancement for Americans for the Arts, and O’Keefe is a teaching artist of more than 20 years. The pair will answer a question that everyone is asking these days: What can we do to help?

The answer is simple. Shop local. Nov. 28 is Artists Sunday, a nationally-recognized day to support local artists. Read a book by local authors from Off the Beaten Path, indulge in season tickets to Strings Music Pavilion or Opera Steamboat or purchase a work of art through the in-person or virtual First Friday Artwalk.

Parker said spreading the word about virtual events and performances can be a huge help as well.

Steamboat cares deeply about the arts, and through the thick of the pandemic in April, came together to provide a space for music and creating to exist. When everyone was stuck at home, the Chief gave musicians a place to perform with the living room sessions. As the world awoke once more, the theater opened its doors to the Arts Academy, comedians, authors and more.

Steamboat Symphony Orchestra raised money to pay its musicians, even with the season on hold, none of which could have happened without donations from the community.

While the support has been undeniable, it’s unclear if it’ll be enough. Few may know exactly how huge the economic impact of the arts is in Steamboat.

“As of 2016, there were 550 creative jobs in Routt County generating $32.2 million, according to Creative Vitality Suite,” Steamboat Creates wrote in a release. “Cultural nonprofits generated $5.8 million through ticket sales, which doesn’t account for the additional money put into the economy through hotel stays, dinners out and more.”

Major organizations have had to cancel large, annual fundraising events. Art in the Park was canceled, and Piknik Theatre canceled performances, which typically brought in crucial donations.

“So, you look at theater, dance, music, writing and everyone is suffering,” McKinley said. “This is a crisis.”

While the arts are usually the first thing cut in a school with a reduced budget, they are also the first thing people seek out in times of trouble. When Steamboat was stuck at home this spring, neighborhoods came together to sing because it brought a sense of community and joy.

Parker recalled 9/11, which nearly led to a Ski Town Productions show being canceled the following weekend.

“We were conflicted,” Parker recalled. “Do we do a show? People were glued to their television sets. People need that outlet. We decided the show must go on. It was magic. … What are we fighting for if we cancel this? The arts have always persevered through the most trying times. They will find a way.”

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