Steamboat’s public art collection revived with new artistic energy
Steamboat Springs — Red granite gates rise to the sky as bikers ride by on the core trail, an elk stands guard over its park and kids frolic on the courthouse lawn.
These pieces of Steamboat Springs’ public art collection are an integral part of daily life, serving as landmarks or beacons of heritage and history.
“When people come to Steamboat and see our art collection, it shows that we have a sense of aesthetic that people of our community appreciate and see the value in having,” said local sculptor Sandy Graves. “That creative expression is all around, and I think it speaks a lot about this town. To have that kind of beauty here really makes this a special place. Any town you go into and see the sculptures, it makes people want to come back and be around that.”
In Steamboat Springs, public art has a long history, guided by the Steamboat Springs Arts Council.
According to an inventory list compiled by the Arts Council, there are more than 80 pieces in the Steamboat Springs collection, some of which have deteriorated due to damage from minerals released from the city’s famed hot springs.
Steamboat has its own definition of art and creativity. It’s the way Steamboat sees the world — an artist’s sense of place, time and community.
“You have to go all the way back to what art is,” Graves said. “Art is anything that is made specifically for the purpose of aesthetic contemplation. Our trees, sky and our earth are a gift of nature and they just happen to be incredibly gorgeous.”
“But not all art is gorgeous,” Graves added. “Art should make you think. Art should disturb you. Art should tickle you. Art should put you on edge. Art should make you feel love and feel connected. It should ignite your child-like creative qualities.”
History of public art revisited
“When you think about public art, some may think it’s just an object,” said Nancy Kramer, former executive director of the Steamboat Springs Arts Council who is now program coordinator for the Northwest Colorado Cultural Heritage program. “To me, it’s about developing a sense of place.”
In 1993, when Kramer assumed her new role as executive director of the Arts Council, her first task involved approaching the Routt County Board of Commissioners office to confirm a site for a public art piece that was part of a national call for artists, funded by a local incentive grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
According to Winnie Delli-
Quadri, assistant to the city manager, who also served on the public art committee during the early 1990s, the city and the Arts Council worked together to purchased new pieces of public art through a city grant program that funded a variety of community improvements.
During the first seven years of the Arts Council’s newly initiated public art endeavor, 13 pieces were incorporated into the public art collection, which were co-owned by the city and the Arts Council.
Then, in 2000, the Arts Council led a public art committee that chose to create a new project — “Art for the New Millennium” — with the purchase of 25 pieces. The committee tapped into grants it received from Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.’s Contribution Fund to purchase the pieces. The funding was the result of an arrangement between the city and Ski Corp. that generated $75,000 per year for community projects in lieu of Ski Corp. paying the 4 percent city sales tax on lift tickets.
In 2008, the public art board budget was eliminated, and the Parks and Recreation budget from the city saw the biggest cuts within the city. DelliQuadri said this is why many of the public art pieces haven’t been consistently maintained since.
“Public art needs to be thoughtfully planned,” said Rachel Cain, manager of the public art archive for Western States Arts Federation, a nonprofit arts service organization that documents public artworks on a national scale. “I think it’s important for every community to determine the support and be conscious about the choices they make. Many programs are excited about commissioning new pieces, but they are not aware of the costs to maintain those, which fall to disrepair and end up turning from a positive to a negative asset, becoming a liability.”
Steamboat’s public art collection’s future
“Public art is an avenue for every single person who visits here or resides here to interact with art that’s somehow or another tied to our community,” said Kim Keith, executive director of the Steamboat Springs Arts Council. “Whether it’s a sculpture of Buddy Werner or the Maestro downstairs, public art is this wonderful vehicle for people to experience art, even just by taking a walk.”
With the Arts Council currently in pursuit of Colorado Creative District designation, Keith said the conversation about Steamboat’s public art collection is yet another vehicle to spark a broader dialogue about art in the community. Recently, the Arts Council has met twice with a group of individuals invested in the public art collection and heard the stories behind the art and the need to maintain the pieces.
Due to the town’s mineral springs, which are very corrosive, Steamboat is considered a harsh environment for many sculptures or pieces made of metal — pieces such as the “Autumn Majesty,” by local sculptor Curtis Zabel, that was created in 1993. The 17-foot bronze elk, which stands in Lincoln Park, has turned a green and black tint due to the minerals.
“We became aware there was a need to address the maintenance of public art and began conversations with the city for what agreements are already in place,” Keith said. “The conversation is starting again, and that’s a really positive step towards finding some solutions around our maintenance, adding new pieces or making it more acknowledged and honoring the artists or donors more.”
Graves said there needs to be a group that determines how and where some of the public art collection’s pieces are displayed and maintained.
“It’s not just about choosing where those pieces go, but how they will be maintained,” said Graves, who created the piece “Steamboat Legacy” or “Chamber Legacy,” which is seen on the courthouse lawn and was commissioned to mark the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association’s 100th anniversary. “They need to be annually cleaned, re-conditioned and checked for any weaknesses. Even pieces that are not bronze, stone or other materials, even just for the safety of those.”
Artists such as Dona Steele have suggested solutions, including community service projects for kids in an art class or local organizations and nonprofits who would take on the responsibility of maintaining a piece by volunteering their time.
Investing in public art
Mark Scully, managing director for Green Courte Partners, LLC, said the Howelsen Place and Alpenglow buildings donate a transfer fee on every sale to downtown public art through a fund established with the Yampa Valley Community Foundation. Those funds helped to develop the benches and bike racks seen at Seventh and Yampa streets, Sixth Street and Lincoln Avenue and Seventh Street and Lincoln Avenue as part of the Leadership Steamboat endeavor in 2015.
“Most buildings, like the ones you see being developed in Denver, a percentage of the cost goes towards public art,” said Jim Cook, of Colorado Group Realty, who helped develop the Alpenglow and Howelsen Place buildings. “I think that’s a good way to pay for acquisition and ongoing maintenance.”
“Public art extends the culture of a community and makes open space more interesting,” Cook said. “I think it’s also important to the ongoing culture of a community to have a good representation of art in our public places.”
According to DelliQuadri, the city has not allocated money in its 2016 budget to maintain its public art inventory. The city has directed the Community Development Crew under the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps to provide maintenance for a few art pieces. An intern will be hired to catalogue each piece.
“Previously, this was an activity of the Youth Corps for many years,” DelliQuadri said. “Now, we want to bring that back to use that resource to help maintain these pieces of art and then work with the Steamboat Springs Arts Council to understand the bigger picture and what their ideas are. The idea is that we would try to come up with a plan and understand the costs of that so we could put that in front of City Council for their direction during the budget process.
Before anything else is added to Steamboat’s public art collection, Keith said there needs to be a plan to maintain the pieces already there.
“There are few other towns like Steamboat that are a historic destination with that kind of a landscape and ski area,” said John T. Young, a Seattle artist who created the city’s first commissioned piece, “The Gates of Asopus,” for the Arts Council in 1994. “The real question is, how does a community like Steamboat distinguish itself from a town like Aspen? And one way it can do that is through public art.”
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