TELLURIDE — After an ambitious seven-month remodel that began last November closed the Ah Haa School for the Arts six months after it moved into its new headquarters in the Historic Depot Building, it is inviting the community to celebrate the grand opening of its swank new gallery space on Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m.
“This is our big night, ” said Executive Director Tracee Hennigar, who described the evening’s festivities as “a celebration to welcome the community back” to the school after it spent the winter season operating out of other buildings.
“It’s hard for a business to close and then open again,” she continued. But with the evening representing the kickoff to a full roster of summer classes for children and adults alike, “Here we are back in business,” she said.
The Depot remodel brought the Victorian era building into compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act as required of the school by the Town of Telluride. The $350,000 to $380,000 project was funded by a Telluride Foundation Special Initiative Grant, as well as money from private donors and two private family foundations, Hennigar said.
As a result it now features a new, larger main entrance, an elevator, new decking and larger, upgraded restrooms.
Several walls were demolished to accommodate the elevator, resulting in the opportunity to create a larger, more usable west gallery that will serve as a backdrop to art exhibitions and other community events.
“The new building allows all our programs to be in one place,” said Hennigar, who envisions it not only as a community arts center, but also a space where events from children’s birthday parties to weddings may be hosted.
“We’re trying to make the school all things to all people,” she said.
In a tribute to the school’s founder, bookbinder, artist, and educator Daniel Tucker, who began the school as the American Academy of Bookbinding in 1990, the new gallery will be named after and dedicated to him during the celebration.
Since its founding the school has grown to provide artists of all ages and levels of experience with an environment that would inspire “ah-haa” moments of clarity and insight as Telluride’s community arts center.
“Daniel Tucker is such a beacon of light,” said Hennigar. “It’s really just a celebration and dedication for him.”
The Daniel Tucker Gallery will also kick off the summer season’s first-Thursday-of-the-month ArtWalk sponsored by the Telluride Council for the Arts and Humanities by showcasing the school’s inaugural “Be Inspired” exhibit.
The exhibit is a celebration of the artists, students, instructors and friends who been the most passionate and involved in contributing to the spirit of Ah Haa since its founding, and will feature works by 58 artists including: a Robert Presley quilt, paintings from Robert Weatherford, Andy Knorr and Meredith Nemirov, and pieces by Judy Mulford and Cindy Farny.
“It will be an eclectic and powerful exhibit that will visually represent a history of the school,” said Marketing and Exhibitions Manager Lauren Metzger.
Some of the pieces will be for sale, according to the preference of each artist. Additionally, photographs by Brad Foley will be displayed in the East Wing and available for sale. Foley is donating a portion of the proceeds from their sale back to the school.
The Ah Haa School launched a three-year “Star Campaign” fundraising effort in conjunction with the remodel, named after the five “star” objectives that must be met: Complete the remodel; pay for the Depot; cover operating expenses; plan for emerging capital needs, and replenish and build an endowment. The initial goal is to raise $2.5 million.
So far the Star Campaign has emphasized reaching out to those closest to the school. In tandem with Thursday’s celebration and gallery dedication, it is entering a second phase designed to have broad based appeal.
“We’ll be making a very, very strong push for the next two years,” Hennigar said, explaining that the school will offer donors naming opportunities for the building, galleries, and rooms.
“There are lots of opportunities to raise money that way,” she explained.
To that end, a new naming wall that features ceramic snowflakes bearing donors’ names will great visitors as they enter the school.
Local artist Goedele Vanhille made the snowflakes after her concept for the wall was chosen in a juried competition.
The school owes $750,000 plus interest for its purchase of the Depot that comes due in 2012, and has a substantial amount of historical preservation work that remains to be done, according to Hennigar.
Additionally, it has a high annual operational deficit based upon the economy and the operating costs of the Depot, she said. The Annual Ah Haa School Art Auction, scheduled for this year on Friday, July 24, is the school’s only operational fundraiser.
Still, “I feel very optimistic,” said Hennigar. “With the economy and all that’s happening there’s some faith I have that we’ll be OK.”
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