Local arts in the time of coronavirus: How Steamboat artists are impacted by and adapting to social distancing

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In a time when most of the world’s functions and establishments have shut down or been forced into an entirely new format, every one of us will be impacted in countless ways. In this article, Explore Steamboat looked at how Steamboat Springs artists, arts businesses and freelancers are affected by coronavirus and its precautionary measures, knowing and respecting the fact that these workers are only one group of many experiencing difficulties. 

Feeling the impact

Over the past week, as media coverage and government mandates have realized the seriousness of COVID-19, Steamboat Springs artists and musicians have watched as most, if not all, of their income streams have trickled off or abruptly stopped. 

“Let’s not sugarcoat this,” Steamboat Creates Executive Director Kim Keith said. “(The mood in the local arts community) is tenuous at best. I am seeing a growing concern by freelance artists who make their primary income from selling work in galleries, performing in local venues, teaching children’s classes, selling work at festivals and traveling to gigs outside the country.” 

“The mood of the local music scene is the same I would imagine across the state and across the nation,” Buffalo Commons’ guitarist, lead vocalist and songwriter Tyree Woods said. “People are wondering how they’re going to make rent and bills, with all of everyone’s gigs getting cancelled.”

On Monday, March 16, Steamboat Springs singer-songwriter Jay Roemer saw the next two months of his upcoming shows — both solo shows and those with his Denver-based band — canceled. 

Over at the Chief Theater, Executive Director Scott Parker canceled upcoming shows through the rest of March. If the Chief is closed until July, he estimates a $50,000 to $70,000 loss in ticket and bar sales. Additionally, Parker’s juggling troupe, We’re Not Clowns, has had a dozen gigs canceled.

“We’re definitely in uncharted territory right now,” Parker said, “so everyone’s trying to wrap their head around what’s going on.”

Old Town Pub owner Sean Regan canceled the 11 shows that were planned through the end of ski season. Before announcing the decision Monday, Regan, his team and the musicians who were scheduled to play had been having conversations about closing for two weeks, and he noted that the venue and the artists agreed that canceling was for the best.

“Everything right now is big picture,” he said. “Obviously, no one can really afford to take the hit that we are, but we hope that this helps (curb the spread of the virus).”

“We (full-time musicians) don’t have savings accounts; we don’t make decent wages. There’s never been a safety net for artists,” Roemer said. “We do (art) because we have to.”

If you go

What: Live-streamed Family Fun Show
When: 2 p.m. Saturday, March 21
Cost: Free; donations will be accepted

What: Live-streamed First Friday Artwalk tour
When: Friday, April 3
More information: Email Steamboat Creates Visual Arts Coordinator Barb King at

He notes that with all this downtime, in addition to writing new material, he’s also giving a lot of thought to “the important issues that are driving (him) crazy.”

“Who’s benefiting and who’s hurting from this?” Roemer said. “Who’s benefiting? Amazon. Who’s hurting? Small businesses.”

Sue Oehme is the owner and master printer at Oehme Graphics. Between last Thursday night and Saturday morning, many of her workshops, private printing sessions and two large art fairs that she was set to be involved with were all canceled — leading to a projected income loss of between $15,000 to $18,000. She saw nothing on the horizon to compensate for the lost funds.

“I just kept getting email after email, phone call after phone call,” she said. “It was the most terrifying feeling. (That income) is how I pay my bills and my mortgage.”

She felt depressed and unable to make art — far from the optimist she usually describes herself as.

Maxx Schaller is one of Oehme’s assistants. He’s been doing his Oehme Graphics work remotely in order to be part of a two-month residency program focusing on textiles at the Penland School of Craft, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. The residency began March 8.

“Right when we got there, (the program) already had more stringent cleaning policies,” Schaller said.

At first, the instructions to artists were to clean their tools and desk every day. Soon, that had increased to “every time you leave the room.

“(Penland) seemed like it could have been (the ideal place to quarantine), and a lot of people wanted it to be,” Schaller said, noting the school’s rural location and small population.

On Monday, the school announced visitors would no longer be able to visit campus, and its gallery was closed, but the goal was to allow artists to stay for the duration of the two-month program. But only one day later, the artists were informed the facility had to close. 

Schaller packed up his car and started driving west back to Steamboat Springs on Wednesday.

Adapting and looking forward

Even before Parker had finished canceling the Chief’s upcoming lineup, an idea to keep entertainment at the Chief alive and thriving was already brewing in his head. He and We’re Not Clowns partner Kelly Anzalone had been tinkering with the thought of live-streaming and recording acts at the Chief to wider virtual audiences for a while, and with all local live entertainment suddenly nonexistent, this seemed to be the perfect time to give it a go.

At 2 p.m. Saturday, March 21, We’re Not Clowns will present a Family Fun Show, full of juggling, singing, dancing and magic. All the theater seats will be empty, but anyone and everyone is invited to be part of the audience: Anzalone’s production company, KPA Productions, is set to broadcast a live stream of the show. He’ll be using a four-camera set-up, complete with a switcher to shift the view to the best shot of every moment.

“This has been on our radar, and it’s all we can do now, so why not focus on it?” Parker said. “It’s a way to help everyone weather the storm a little bit easier, together.”

The show is free and accessible at Paypal and Venmo links will also be posted for those interested in donating toward efforts to recoup financial losses. 

If Saturday’s show goes well, Parker says he’s interested in expanding opportunities for groups to be live-streamed as well as expanding offerings for virtual audiences.

All across town, other artists, groups and businesses are also moving their work online. Printmaker Jill Bergman had the idea to move April’s First Friday’s Artwalk into an online format; days later, it was officially happening. 

On Friday, April 3, Artwalk participants can pour themselves a glass of wine, curl up in a comfy chair and stroll on over to There, people will be able to view work from each participating gallery and artist and have the ability to contact them for more information or purchase a piece of artwork.

“We think this may be something we continue, even after we all venture out of our homes,” said Steamboat Creates Visual Arts Coordinator Barb King. 

Artists interested in displaying work during the virtual First Friday Artwalk should contact King at

For Lizzie LaRock, operating an arts-based business online is nothing new. She teaches The Life Feast, an online, creative iPhone photography and positive psychology class; the most recent Life Feast class began in mid-February.

“I’ve been hearing from a lot of people taking it who are really grateful to have it,” she said. “Positive psychology, mindfulness, appreciation of beauty in the everyday, resilience, curiosity — there are a lot of things besides panic that we need right now.”

LaRock is currently working on increasing her online class offerings.

And she’s not the only online teacher in the LaRock household. One of LaRock’s 14-year-old twin daughters, Catherine, has released two episodes of Cooking with Cat, an online cooking show encouraged by Steamboat Arts Academy’s Celina Taylor. So far, Catherine has taught her audience about making no-bake energy balls as well as pizza for a “Friday night pizza and family movie night,” sent out to Steamboat Arts Academy families. 

“I like seeing end results and seeing what I can do better next,” Catherine said. “So I like helping other people have that same experience, and hopefully, get better at cooking.”

During the pizza-making episode, Catherine ran out of yeast for the dough, but fittingly enough, her mom Lizzie was able to use social media to facilitate a yeast-for-toilet-paper trade, and the show went on. 

“The trade was properly socially distant,” Lizzie said.

Beyond teaching photography, Lizzie has also run a boutique marketing business for a decade and is well-practiced in moving businesses onto online platforms. 

“It’s a strange thing, because it feels like an awkward time to be selling anything to anyone, but hopefully that will change, because our economy runs on participating in it both ways,” she said. “Maybe this is a great time for artists to get organized and get their stuff online and make that a bigger part of their business.” 

Keith sees that already happening. 

“Artists will and are quick to adjust, evolve and work with what they have to be a source of inspiration, a barometer and mirror for the times,” she said. “I am super encouraged to see an increase in social media, webinars, online platforms and phone interactions. 

“There is a spirit of connectedness amongst the creative community that is unparalleled — a pay it forward mentality I am encountering over and over,” she added.

On the musical side of the arts, the sentiment is similar.

Woods reflects on the gig-less era on the horizon.

“I’m looking at it as a time to rest, focus on family and good friends, making sure everyone is getting through this,” he said. “It’s also a time to work on new material, which is hard to do when constantly gigging. These are uncertain, emotional times and some of that energy can be channeled into art. I’m excited to see and hear all the new stuff that is created during this forced time off.” 

Roemer vocalized a common feeling among many of the artists featured in this article.

“I don’t need pity — I play music for a living, so I’m very lucky,” he said. “But there are bands and artists that have families they support with music, so they’re really hurting right now.

“If you have the means to support the arts, do it, now and always,” he said.

Oehme is focusing on selling digital prints from her inventory, as well as planning social media campaigns for Oehme Graphics.

“After working with beautiful inks and beautiful papers my whole career, nothing’s ever going to replace that,” Oehme said. “But we’re working on it.”

She also drafted a long, personal letter to her best clients and artists on Wednesday. Within a few hours, several people purchased pieces of art. Several more pre-paid for upcoming classes and printing sessions. Maybe best of all were the encouraging responses that poured into Oehme’s inbox.

“I can’t think of a better time for me to finally purchase one of your prints for my very own,” read one.

“People are really, really trying to help each other, which I think is the best thing out of this,” Oehme said.

Schaller, the textile student of the canceled North Carolina arts residency, received a refund for the time he didn’t get to spend at the residency, and several teachers welcomed him sending them photos of his work for feedback.

“The time I spent (at the residency) was worth it,” he said over the phone, a few hours into his multi-day drive back to Colorado. “I would have loved to learn more there, but now I have a better foundation to learn more on my own. And I met some really nice people, good artist folk. It was definitely worth it.” 

Regan is predicting the extended absence of live arts gatherings will make their return more special.

“The homecoming will be even better (than the shows that were cancelled),” Regan said. “There will be a different kind of energy and a little more love to what the shows will be, and that much more anticipation of the beauty of the music when it comes back around.

“As a community, we just have to sit tight, hold our neighbors in high regard, stay positive, live in the right precaution, and move forward,” he added.

Tyree Woods, lead singer of Steamboat’s Buffalo Commons, performs during the 2019 Steamboat Free Summer Concerts series.
Eleanor C. Hasenbeck
Guitarist Jay Roemer, left, jams with mandolin player Eric Baker.
John F. Russell
A reflection-themed photograph by The Life Feast teacher Lizzie Larock.
Lizzie Larock

Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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