New art exhibit in Steamboat celebrates creativity, independence

Art by NIAD's Jonathan Velazquez

Art by NIAD’s Jonathan Velazquez

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When curator Courtney Eldridge moved back to her hometown of Steamboat Springs in September 2018, the first thing she did was apply for a grant to bring her favorite art gallery in the world to Steamboat with her — a place she’d worked with as a curator and purchased from as a customer for years.

Supported by the grant from Steamboat Creates, the exhibit “Redefining Contemporary Art” opens on Friday, March 8, at the Depot Arts Center.

The exhibit features 65 works of art from about a dozen artists. All but one of these artists is from the NIAD — Nurturing Independence through Artistic Development — Art Center, a California-based nonprofit studio that supports adult artists with disabilities in studying, creating, showing and selling art, all while building community and independence. The 60 full-time NIAD artists visit museums and galleries for inspiration, then return to NIAD for studio time with all the materials an artist could wish for and the mentorship of instructors who hold MFAs.

If you go

What: “Redefining Contemporary Art” exhibit opening
When: 5 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, March 8
Where: Baggage Room at the Depot Arts Center, 1001 13th St.

Northwest Colorado Center for Independence is partnering with Eldridge to host the NIAD exhibit. 

The Center for Independence functions on a person-centered, peer-supported and participant-driven model and works with people to achieve their own goals for living well, aiming to foster an inclusive, healthy community that supports everyone.

“The thing that I think really resonated and connected us with NIAD is how we look at people with disabilities,” Northwest Center for Independence Executive Director Ian Engle said.

“For whatever reason, the (human services) system has been set up in a paternalistic, protective way, making sure that everyone is so safe that they don’t have room to grow into discovering who they are,” Engle said. “Learned helplessness, toxic charity — these are things we’re very aware of.

“We don’t do anything for anybody; we’ll do it with you,” Engle said. “We want people to be able to celebrate what they did for themselves, instead of something someone else did for them or to them. It’s a major shift in the paradigm of how human services are delivered.”

Art by Shana Harper

Art by NIAD’s Shana Harper

The Center for Independence works with people in tasks ranging from helping find affordable eyeglasses to rearranging several aspects of life in the aftermath of a broken spine from a fall while skiing.

“NIAD is the artistic embodiment of all the values NWCCI has,” Eldridge said. “I thought, ‘I want these two executive directors to talk about what they’re doing. It’s a really rich conversation.’”

NIAD Executive Director Amanda Eicher and installation expert Julio Rodriguez have been in Steamboat all week. In addition to opening the gallery, they’ve also led a workshop about behind-the-scenes art installation, taught a curating class and hosted a pre-exhibit hor d’oeuvres and panel discussion event titled “Redefining the Vanguard.”

One Steamboat-based artist will also have work featured in the gallery exhibit. Patricia Bolton is an oil painter who’s focused on painting the spirit of women. She’s shown work in galleries on both U.S. coasts and in several states in between and has won several art awards in Colorado and Florida.

“Subject matter isn’t as important to me as the colors and the arrangement of colors,” Bolton said. “That’s what I’m all about; I’m a colorist.”

Bolton is also a cancer survivor and the survivor of a warehouse fire that destroyed much of her art at the time. She will have prints available for sale at the gallery.

“Patricia is super, super talented,” Eldridge said.

Also featured in the exhibit will be the works of Marlon Mullen, one of NIAD’s most famous artists. Mullen’s paintings are based on photographs, generally from lifestyle, news and contemporary art periodicals.

Mullen was recently selected to be included in the 2019 edition of the Whitney Biennial at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art. He has autism spectrum disorder and is mostly nonverbal. He’s also said to be the first living artist with a developmental disability to be included in an international biennial.

“Rather than being benevolent to help the disabled people making art, as in ‘Oh, disabled people making art, that’s cute,’ we’re really celebrating those strengths and skills, and that diversity,” Engle said. “The very things that are often looked at as deficits are the things we should be proud of. Those unique perspectives gained from overcoming something, or from lived experiences, add value to the vibrance and health of our community, and create an exquisite genre of art.”

The “Redefining Contemporary Art” gallery at the Depot Arts Center will be open through March 30. Art pieces will be for sale.

Art by NIAD’s Peter Harris

“Easily half the show’s pieces are priced between $40 and $150,” Eldridge said. “It’s affordable and fantastic and groundbreaking.”

Funds raised will support the Center for Independence and its peer-group activities, including hosting speakers, trips to speak with elected officials and local businesses and social events. The events are sponsored by NorthWest Graphics, Rex’s Family of Restaurants, The Nordic Lodge, Billo and Rocky Mountain Remedies.

“I’m hoping that this will create an opportunity for more people in Routt and Moffat counties to show art,” Engle said. “When someone is creating art, you can see them blossom beyond the tyranny of the moment to go create something beautiful. It’s a relief from the culture of dependency and from everybody trying to help you all the time.”

To reach Julia Ben-Asher, call 970-871-4229 or email or follow her on Twitter @JuliaBenAsher.

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