Steamboat area ranks 2nd in prestigious Arts Vibrancy Index |

Steamboat area ranks 2nd in prestigious Arts Vibrancy Index

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — There’s excitement bubbling across the area’s arts and entertainment community as Steamboat Springs is considered the 2nd most arts-vibrant community in the United States among small cities.

SMU DataArts, one of the country’s leading institutes that provides a database for arts and culture, ranked more than 900 communities across the country by examining the level of supply and demand for arts in a community as well as government support.

“One of the reasons Steamboat ranked No. 2 instead of No. 1 is we get very little state and government financial support,” said Dagny McKinley, development director for Steamboat Creates, a nonprofit that promotes the creative sector in Routt County.

Last year, Steamboat was ranked 3rd in the country on the prestigious index.

With little government funding, individual donors and family foundations are what’s keeping the arts community afloat, said Kim Keith, executive director of Steamboat Creates.

“We may have a small donor pool compared to larger communities, but our residents and visitors care about the arts,” Keith said. “These philanthropy-minded individuals are helping us attract and retain top-quality artists that share their music, poetry, films, paintings, performances children’s art programs, skills based learning and mastery of the craft with our community.”

Creatives across Routt County are chiming in on the newest ranking.

“I think it’s fantastic,” said Jennifer Baker, renowned glass artist.

At a glance

SMU DataArts rankings for art vibrancy

Top 5 small communities:

  1. Jackson, Wyoming/Idaho
  2. Steamboat Springs
  3. Heber, Utah
  4. Hailey, Idaho
  5. Glenwood Springs
  6. Top 5 medium communities:
  1. Santa Fe
  2. San Rafael, California
  3. Pittsfield, Massachusetts
  4. Ithaca, New York
  5. Boulder

Top 5 large communities:

  1. New York-Jersey City-White Plains
  2. San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco
  3. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale
  4. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria
  5. Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin

“There has been a lot of work put in to getting us here, not just with creatives, but with non-profits giving us a voice.”

Award-winning plein-air painter Chula Beauregard is thrilled with the ranking but wants a real estate transaction tax that benefits the area’s creative district.

“When I see that there have been $45 million dollars in real estate transactions in one week, it breaks my heart to know that the cornerstone of our arts community is on the brink,” said Beauregard, whose stunning paintings can be seen in homes and businesses across the country. 

“In one financial crisis, we risk losing it all,” she said referring to disasters like the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Fortunately, patrons of the arts like Winchester and Elaine Dermody are doing what they can with private endowments.

“Among the many arts/cultural groups that took a tremendous hit from COVID this year, Steamboat Creates lost two of its most loved and profitable events,” said Winchester Dermody, referring to Cabaret and Art in the Park. “That loss of income was devastating. Now more than ever is the time for all of us to step up once again and support your favorite arts group… keeping within your ability to give.”

For Scott Parker, who helped bring back the historic Chief Theater to its former glory, the newest ranking is one of pride.

“I am so proud of the countless hours put in by the non-profit creative and performing arts sectors of our community,” said Parker, executive director of the Chief. “Perry Mansfield (Performing Arts School) is over 100 years old. The Chief Theater opened in 1927.

“People have been coming to our valley for arts and entertainment a lot longer than they have been coming here for skiing.”

The SMU DataArts is an academic-based institute designed to help arts leaders, businesses, government agencies, funders, and engaged citizens better understand their community’s arts and culture sector.

Community rankings are based on size: large (population over 1 million), medium (population between 100,000 and 1 million) and small (population under 100,000 with an urban core of 10,000 to 50,000). 

For the full report go to

Frances Hohl is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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