“The purchase of the Depot came along at just the right time,” said Ah Haa Vice-President of the Board Josephine Fallenius. “We were considering a major remodel of our old home at the Silver Bell building, or possibly even building in a different location. We'd been grappling with the programming constraints of operating in a small space and knew that our next step would require significant change, vision and commitment. The Depot's riverfront location and additional square footage was the perfect solution. We'll be able to broaden our course offerings to reach an even greater cross section of the Telluride regional community.”
Having moved into the building on short notice in May, and with its biggest roster of summer classes to date wrapped up, school staff is now getting back to the arduous task of unpacking and organizing to bring the old train depot-cum-restaurant up to the standards necessary for a modern art school and public space.
The work includes strategic remodeling projects. For example: “I don’t know what we’re going to do with all these doors,” said Jennifer Heflin-Thompson, looking at one of the building’s several massive, heavily latched refrigerator doors. This one in particular now leads to a storage closet; the old wine cellar has been transformed to a glazing room adjacent to the ceramics studio.
The new ceramics studio is larger than the old one, with room for two additional pottery wheels (bringing the total number of wheels up to eight) and allowing for new types of kiln firings, including Raku and cone-10 reduction firings.
Cooking classes will take place in the kitchen, home to a restaurant and a brewpub/restaurant before that.
Dining areas upstairs have been transformed into gallery, office and classroom space. “We are increasing the number of exhibitions and events, and we’ll be able to leave exhibits up longer,” Heflin-Thompson said.
It’s not just the bigger building that has been a boon to the school, but the outdoor spaces have opened things up as well. “The Silver Bell just didn’t have any space around it,” Heflin-Thompson explained.
That’s changed, with the space in front of the Depot an ideal spot for the school’s recent Fire and Ice art opening (that included a large and dynamic metal and fire sculpture by artist Anton Viditz-Ward). The outdoor space will be home to an expanded metals program, a step up from the former program’s dependence on equipment and transportation provided by course instructors.
The new building is well-suited to the school’s mounting role as a community facility available for community art exhibitions and gatherings. With the reappropriation of places formerly used for public gatherings, instructor Julie McNair sees a shortage in community spaces. “Now the Ah Haa has a permanent facility that is available to other nonprofits” for a variety of uses.
Word is out that the new facility is available for private events. “We’ve had people approach us left and right to have their events here,” Heflin-Thompson said, adding that six weddings are in planning stages for this summer on the patio (where Heflin-Thompson was married herself last fall).
The school has hosted four children’s birthday parties since the move, as well. “People have been having a great time, and it helps us pay for the building,” said Heflin-Thompson, who keeps a schedule of available dates (and guidelines, with an eye to the care and maintenance of the old building) at the ready. It’s a balancing act, she said: “We want to be respectful of the historical nature of the building and make sure it lasts forever and be true to our mission as an art school.”
Ah Haa has joined in a school-to-school partnership with the Connecting Point School of Massage, formerly based at Lawson Hill, and is promoting its classes in Ah Haa catalogs, classes that count toward massage certification.
Two new staff members have joined the Ah Haa School – Tracee Hennigar, former special events director for Mountain Village, starts as the school’s new executive director after the first of the year. Rachel Loomis-Lee is the school’s new operations and program manager; and Julie McNair, longtime Ah Haa teacher (and onetime gallery owner), is heading up the exhibitions and visiting artist program. Judy Kohin, who retired from the Ah Haa after serving as its director for more than 15 years, is joining the Ah Haa team as the director of its American Academy of Bookbinding.
Heflin-Thompson is excited about the new space and new possibilities. “We’re seeing people in here that we’ve never seen in classes before,” she said. “It’s a really inviting building; people come in first for the curiosity of seeing the new space, and they have such a good experience with us they keep coming back.”
“This is a very exciting and pivotal time for the Ah Haa School,” Heflin-Thompson added. “Our reputation in the community is as a unifying force, encouraging people to express themselves in a positive way, fostering an understanding and tolerance that’s intrinsic to the development of community spirit.”
The school’s newfound stewardship of the Depot, a “historically significant landmark for the Telluride region,” she said, is a perfect next step as it “continues to continue to embrace the community.
“The Ah Haa School is looking to a bright future with an expanded curriculum in a bigger space where we can continue to grow as the regional community art center,” Fallenius added.
The Ah Haa School is in the process of organizing a capital campaign of $3.8 million, $1.5 million of which will go toward the repayment of debt for the Depot.
The next exhibition at Ah Haa is Borders, opening Thursday, Jan. 17, 5-7 p.m. For Borders, Ah Haa school is inviting regional artists interested in exploring borders both cultural and personal, to apply; the submission deadline is January 14.
For more information, call 728-3886 or visit the Ah Haa School at its new Depot location, at 300 So. Townsend St. The school’s winter/spring class schedule will be available soon, via mail to Telluride post-office boxholders and on racks around town.