‘A match made in heaven’: Friends of Yampa Valley Arts joins with Perry-Mansfield | SteamboatToday.com

‘A match made in heaven’: Friends of Yampa Valley Arts joins with Perry-Mansfield

Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp in Strawberry Park just outside Steamboat Springs.
Bryce Martin/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Friends of Yampa Valley Arts — the nonprofit formerly known as Friends of the Chief — is set to join forces with Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp. According to board chair Katy Goodman, this partnership will finally give the organization a home.

Friends of Yampa Valley Arts had a tumultuous year. The organization lost its lease in the Chief Theater, underwent a rebranding process and struggled to keep the arts alive in Steamboat Springs during a pandemic.

But Goodman said she’s more excited now than ever.

“It feels like we’re blossoming,” she said. “I’m really proud of the fact that over the past year we continued and went on.”

The two organizations will work to combine forces over the next year. Since losing its lease at the Chief Theater downtown, Friends of Yampa Valley Arts has been operating its Steamboat Academy of the Arts at Perry-Mansfield and the Hayden Center. In the future, the group will utilize the Julie Harris Theater once renovations on the historic space are complete.

It’s a move that doesn’t just give Friends of Yampa Valley Arts a home but also benefits Perry-Mansfield by reintroducing the iconic landmark back into the community. Rob Schwartz, Perry-Mansfield board president, said that has been his goal ever since he’s been on the board.

“It seemed to me that Perry-Mansfield had lost a certain connection to Steamboat Springs,” Schwartz explained. “Steamboat and Perry-Mansfield grew up hand in hand together, and they were integrally related to each other in so many ways. But when it was sold to Stephens College, that connection started to fray.”

In the early 1990s, when Stephens College was going to sell the camp, a group of local residents got together and rallied to buy the property.

When Schwartz became president of the board two years ago, he set about to revitalize the lost connection. The opportunity arose organically when Friends of Yampa Valley Arts needed a new home.

“I thought, ‘We performing arts types have to stick together,’” Schwartz said.

He reached out to the board about providing a space for them to continue providing lessons and operating Steamboat Academy of the Arts.

A space was created on campus at Conrad Hall to run the academy, and from there, it was mutually decided that it would be beneficial for both organizations to come together as one.

“Rather than mush everything together immediately, which would have created a logistical nightmare, we decided to run the two organizations side by side for a yea,r while we integrated our operations and, ultimately, our finances,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz and another Perry-Mansfield board member joined the Friends of Yampa Valley Arts board and vice versa, and for the next year, they will work together closely to coordinate logistics, with the goal of a complete merger at the end of 2022.

At Perry-Mansfield, one of its most important projects currently is the renovation of the Julie Harris Theater. Phase one — the structural re-engineering of the building— is complete, and phase two will address two things: a new roof and the critical interior needs that have been listed in a historic structure assessment of the building that was done in 2017. These needs include addressing an aging electric and plumbing system and addressing ADA needs, as well as fixing masonry issues inside the building.

Phase two construction will begin in spring 2022, and the goal is to operate the building during the summer and then move into phase three, which includes the complete winterization of the building, working on performance needs, such as acoustics, and finishing interior touches.

“Once we get the whole building done, it’s going to be the only working stand-alone theater for dramatic and musical theater in Steamboat Springs,” Schwartz said. “We’re going to throw the doors open wide for the entire community to utilize it, and we really want to make it Steamboat’s community theater.”

For Friends of Yampa Valley Arts, this renovation means a real theater in which to present its performances. Goodman pointed out there aren’t any other real theaters in town — not the kind that have a backstage, wings and a place to create set design, for instance.

“Now we have all of that,” she said, “and it will allow us to expand and bring back our programming.”

Many of their popular series were put on hold during the pandemic, including the Songwriter Series, Steamboat is Magic and performances from the Yampa Valley Players, formerly known as the Chief Players.

“The Julie Harris Theater renovation fits in nicely with what Friends of Yampa Valley Arts is looking for,” Schwartz said. “They’re looking for a place to play. And we’re excited to have their programming come under our roof so that Perry-Mansfield will start to present their programs and bring people in the valley out so that they can rediscover who we are.”

Ultimately, it was a joint passion for the arts that brought these two organizations together, and it is that passion that will sustain a strong collaboration within the community.

“Perry-Mansfield has experience worldwide, and we have experience within the community,” Goodman said. “Now we can all benefit from both of those things.”

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