Artists, to my mind, are the real architects of change. Not the political legislators who implement change after the fact.
– William S. Burroughs
IN TELLURIDE: ART SCHOOL GALA
The Ah Haa School again rings in the New Year this Dec. 31 by honoring artists and the patrons who support them. It’s the fourth such fête, held in the old train depot, which has been transformed into the Ah Haa School’s headquarters. On New Year’s Eve, the space will transform yet again, into a private salon, where a four-course dinner with wine pairings from Bouillie catering will be served, and works by the artist Barbara Gilhooly will be on display. Gilhooly lives in Fort Collins, but has recently exhibited in New York and Paris; she works on wood because she is interested in the surface and layers of a painting. “I work intuitively as I apply paint with brushes and cards, or remove layers with sand paper, Windex or carving,” she has said. “The hidden layers are revealed through sanding or scrubbing. It’s related to so much of our lives: what we don’t see or notice still matters. We all have layers that aren’t visible, and I find discovering the depth of these layers the most interesting thing about people and paintings.”
A LOOK BACK ON 2012
Just as Gilhooly finds meaning in layers that aren’t visible, so are there many layers of artistic expression in this region. On the surface, particularly at this time of year, Telluride is best known for its proximity to great skiing and, in the summer, an abundance of big music festivals. But this is changing. Says Telluride Playwrights Festival Director Jennie Franks, “We’re getting to the point where we can have a conversation that is not just about a great ski day.” Franks sees this as part of a movement towards greater cultural diversity, and she is helping to lead the charge. Two weeks ago, Telluride’s Mushroom Festival and The Ride, the latest large music festival, found themselves jostling for the same calendar date in 2013. Any changes the big festivals would make could impact a host of smaller festivals, yet perhaps remarkably, the festivals agreed to accommodate each other. Festival organizers came at each other with claws bared, but in the end, they worked things out. “Overwhelmingly, we realized we can all get along,” Franks say. “We don’t want anyone to fall off the radar. We are all in this together.”
That urge towards cultural inclusiveness – to add more, and different, types of artistic expression to one’s community – seemed to be everywhere last year. And the wider world took notice: Telluride and Ridgway were two of five locations to receive “Prospective Creative District” nominations by the State of Colorado’s Office of Economic Development. The three other creative hotspots were where you might have expected all of them to be: along the much-more-populous Front Range. Being nominated is prestigious. Creative Districts provide an opportunity to participate and invest in the arts, and also “attract creative entrepreneurs and artists,” Governor Hickenlooper said.
So the wider world came to this region…but really, it has been here all along. After all, where else in a town the size of Telluride can you see a live performance from the Metropolitan Opera? In the space of a few weeks, you could watch both Wagner’s Gotterdammerung and Massenet’s Manon. For that matter, where can you watch a live performance of the British National Theatre? Stephen Beresford’s comedy, Last of the Haussmans, was just here. And in how many other regions of this size can you see a live performance of the Bolshoi ballet? World-class photography came to town as well, when Telluride’s Fine Arts Gallery exhibited Nudes, featuring the work of seminal photographer Ruth Bernhard, whom Ansel Adams called “the greatest photographer” of the naked form. Other global points-of-view arrived as well: the theme of the Telluride Playwrights’ Festival last year was politics. Not politics as in, Republican vs. Democrat, but the ways humans from different cultures tend to navigate the world.
Creative spaces opened, too. In Ridgway, the historic Sherbino Theater was restored, and began screening movies, offering concerts and holding a new “Mountain Adventure” lecture series, a forum for outdoor luminaries to discuss their latest travels. And the Mountain Air Music Series expanded to Ouray’s Fellin Park. The popular Ridgway event opened last July with the phantasmagorical March Fourth Marching Band, which kept the crowd on their feet the whole evening. As a result, Ouray County got eight weeks of outdoor concerts instead of four last summer.
Ouray’s artistic world grew in other ways, with the continuing restoration of the Wright Opera House. In this case, locals’ passion for the performing arts helped make the difference. Jim and Jackie Lauderdale, big live music fans, put together a popular singer-songwriter series at the Wright. Pam Ferman, an avid film buff and former New Yorker, brought a weekly independent film series of the kinds of movies she would like to see to the Wright. And the Wrighteous Jazz Series, assembled by local aficionados Anthony Gegauff and Jorg Angelhrn, debuted in the fall.
In Montrose, artistic worlds kept growing, as well. The Fox Theatre continued to add new independent films to its repertoire, Around the Corner Gallery brought in new artists and offered more classes, and Mike Simpson, a painter and framer with a shop on Main Street, expanded his artistic world by becoming a professional gilder (making him one of only two in Colorado). The Magic Circle Players pushed their own boundaries by taking on some of their most challenging work, in the form of the Stephen Sondheim musical, Sweeney Todd.
OUR CUP RUNNETH OVER
Here is a perfect example of this year’s artistic bounty: Over two weekends this month, you could watch one version of The Nutcracker onstage at the Montrose Pavilion, see a different interpretation at Telluride’s Palm Theatre, or view a live presentation by the Bolshoi Ballet, at the Wright in Ouray.
OLD CULTURE MEETS NEW CULTURE
More examples of increasing artistic diversity could be found in the way older cultures melded with new this past year. The Telluride Historical Museum sponsored an impersonation of feisty settler Lizzie Knight and gave a tour of her cabin in the Disappointment Valley. The Wilkinson Library hosted a cooking series called The Feasts of Spring by cookbook author Susanna Hoffman, who offered up skewered chicken livers (a reference to Cesar, who was stabbed by Brutus) and other historically-accurate dishes. And a group of quilters from Ouray paid homage to the heritage of this region with a quilt they created for auction. In the center was a depiction of a cow and her calf – the creatures at the heart of the ranching tradition.
And this was only the beginning. When I began surveying events in this region – the idea was to sum up the year in the arts – I realized to acknowledge everyone would be inconceivable. We have artistic creations from every corner of the globe, and every discipline, taking place so frequently it’s almost impossible to take it all in. Most small towns anywhere else in the world don’t have anything approaching the kind of cultural variety that we’ve got.
I got my own, best taste of our cultural diversity last July, when I pulled into the parking lot of Ridgway’s 4-H Event Center. It was dusk. Alpenglow was on the Cimarrons to my left. To my right, a cowgirl worked her quarter horse in the arena; I could smell hay and manure. I had come to hear a chamber music concert by Trio Solisti, the Julliard-trained musicians whom the New York Times had called “consistently brilliant and compelling.” They were about to play one of Beethoven’s most masterful piano trios.
Where else could I find such rich contrasts but here?