Steamboat arts nonprofit undergoes rebranding in time of transition
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Friends of the Chief Foundation has announced plans to rebrand as Friends of Yampa Valley Arts. The effort came about when their lease with the Chief Theater was terminated as the owners work to renovate and revamp the popular downtown landmark.
No longer connected to the iconic theater, the nonprofit’s mission remains similar: to produce, promote and foster artists of all ages, abilities and genres with opportunities to perform, practice and showcase their craft throughout the entire Yampa Valley.
The move away from the Chief Theater will allow the organization to do just that — expand its reach to include even more of Routt and Moffat counties, including Hayden and Craig.
Executive Director Scott Parker said the organization will do this through partnerships with different venues, including the Hayden Center and Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp, among others.
Parker, who was hired in 2013 as the executive director of the Friends of the Chief Foundation, has mostly focused on growing programming in the past decade. In 2019, before COVID-19 hit, the Chief Theater hosted over 200 events and was in use for 300 days of the year.
Much of the theater’s programming, including Steamboat Arts Academy, the annual Steamboat is Magic festival and the Songwriter Series will remain the same once, Parker stressed, it is safe to attend performances and classes, again.
“Right now with COVID, of course everything is up in the air,” Parker said. “But when we can start gathering again and attending shows, we’ll be able to do that in different venues. It’s not like we failed; we’re thriving.”
A partnership with the Hayden Center will allow performers a large stage and a 350-seat auditorium. The space will also be used for Steamboat Arts Academy classes. The building will undergo a remodel in the coming years but in the meantime is still a usable space.
“We had nothing in West Routt,” said Mathew Mendisco, town manager of Hayden. “This partnership is huge for us. Previously, kids and families would have to drive to either Craig or Steamboat to participate in any sort of arts, so this is the first time that we get to offer it to these kids.”
While most of the nonprofit’s programming is on hold due to the coronavirus, it is Parker’s hope that Steamboat Arts Academy classes will move to the Hayden Center and Perry-Mansfield in the next few months.
Board member Ben Spiegel said the organization expects to increase participation from 150 to 175 children by 2022 thanks to the two facilities. Currently, the academy serves about 50 students.
“We’re going to be spending a large amount of energy on expanding programming for kids,” Spiegel said. “We want to provide children all across the Yampa Valley — not just in Steamboat — the opportunity to take these lessons at an affordable rate. It’s really exciting; a lot of effort is being put forth to really benefit the community.”
Other popular programming, such as productions from The Chief Players, will rebrand as well and will now be called the Yampa Valley Players. Kirk Aigner, an original member of The Chief Players, said that while he was disappointed to no longer perform at the Chief Theater, the group is looking forward to getting back on the stage, wherever that may be.
“The core of the group is still intact, and we have the same enthusiasm and joy of performing,” Aigner said. “It will take some time to get things up and running, but if you’re putting one foot in front of the other, whatever that looks like, that’s progress.”
Arty Smith, who is both a board member of Friends of Yampa Valley Arts and the producer of the popular Songwriter Series, notes that it may take awhile to rebuild.
The Songwriter Series was growing and was in its sixth year when COVID-19 hit.
“We had just sold out 14 straight shows, and then we had to shut down,” Smith said. “We were getting to the point where musicians would contact me to play in Steamboat, rather than the other way around.
“We were an organization known for our hospitality, especially through our volunteers,” he continued. “We’ll have to start over in some sense, but I think that performers will still want to come, even if the venue is different. After all, it’s still us.”
While options for venues are still up in the air until COVID-19 has passed, the organization cites many possibilities for both indoor and outdoor spaces, including Steamboat Art Museum, Steamboat Creates and Strings Music Festival. In the meantime, they are hard at work on rebranding efforts, including a new website and logo.
“Things evolve, and we are staying very positive about this,” Parker said.
Smith points out that while the organization has typically been associated with a place in the past – the Chief Theater – now they will be associated with a service.
“It’s a big change, but it may be liberating,” he said. “We’ve offered a lot to the community in the past — magic, comedy, music, theater — for 300 days of the year. That’s impressive. We have all the parts in place to keep doing that.”
Sophie Dingle is a contributing writer for the Steamboat Pilot & Today. She can be reached through the editor.
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When Steamboat Springs Middle School band director James Knapp saw a production of “Matilda” performed on Broadway, he knew he wanted to bring a version of it to town.