Golden Anniversary of Art09/29/2022 07:00AM ● By Dan Greeson
Artist Stephen Henry won the Historic Routt County Award of Excellence in 2017 for “Steamboat at Night,” his depiction of the Steamboat Art Museum, which currently occupies the Rehder Building. Today it is included on the National Registry of Historic Places, the Downtown Historic District, and is a cornerstone of the Arts and Culture Creative District designated by the State of Colorado.
Traces of Steamboat’s arts history can be found throughout town. In the very fabric of its visual arts, music, dance and theater communities, we find threads leading back to legends like the Crawfords – Steamboat’s founding family – Charlotte Perry, Portia Mansfield and Eleanor Bliss.
The historic Depot Art Center, home of Steamboat Creates, exemplifies the bond between the local arts community and its heritage. The building once housed the train depot that transported cattle, strawberries and people to and from town. With improvements to Rabbit Ears Pass, train service was discontinued in 1968, and the Depot was narrowly saved from destruction in 1972 with an enthusiastic “Save the Depot” campaign.
Also in 1972, another long-standing Steamboat arts group started with a dozen dancers who wanted to hold an annual performance. Fifty years later, Steamboat Dance Theatre has seen continuous growth, hosting several sold-out performances of its annual show with over 150 dancers.
Historic Routt County also plays an integral role in preserving Routt County’s heritage. For over 20 years, this dedicated group has protected local buildings and land. One of its most high-profile projects was saving the Arnold Barn, aka “The Butterfly Barn,” which had been targeted for demolition at its former location adjacent to the Meadows Parking Lot.
When it comes to the Yampa Valley arts community, there’s no more exciting time than the present.
Steamboat flautist Mary Beth Norris dreamed of the day she could perform locally with an orchestra. Her vision led to the creation of the Steamboat Symphony Orchestra in 1991. When Ernest Richardson joined the orchestra as music director in 2005, SSO began inviting professional players from outside the community to perform with the local group. Today, SSO is made up of local, regional and sometimes nationally renowned musicians, and additionally, SSO has taken a lead role in music education in the county.
Among the many artistic endeavors that originated in Steamboat is Literary Sojourn, slated for Saturday, Sept. 10. This year’s event features Omar El Akkad, National Book Award winner Jason Mott, Gary Shteyngart, Claire Vaye Watkins and Man Booker finalist Karen Joy Fowler. “The pandemic obviously stoked the creative juices and boosted some imaginative and quirky new storytelling that is going to make this year’s Literary Sojourn extra current and extra special,” says Literary Sojourn Festival Director Jennie Lay.
The Yampa River Botanic Park is a meeting ground for the arts and botany. Springing up from a horse pasture in 1995, the park includes six acres of lush gardens and hosts more than 35,000 visitors each year. Public sculptures and a reflecting pond complement the gardens, which provide an idyllic outdoor venue for theatrical and musical performances.
Celebrating its 50th anniversary this summer, Steamboat Writers Group attracts authors from an eclectic variety of genres and experience levels. Meeting weekly, the group offers a place where local writers can bounce their ideas off of one another. Each July, the group hosts a writers’ conference, including workshops, readings and guest authors.
What will the future hold? If upcoming plans are any indication, the Northwest Colorado arts scene is poised to make a meaningful statement in the world of arts and culture, not only locally but throughout the West.
To foster opportunities for young artists, Steamboat Creates is offering residencies to two local artists, Julia Ben Asher and Garrett Bock, in the Nazcaboose studio at the Depot Arts Center. Asher, a mixed media artist, painter and writer, is working in the space this summer, while Bock, a printmaker, will utilize the space in the fall.
Steamboat’s performing arts community is moving in a progressive direction, with Opera Steamboat performing the chamber opera, “As One,” in September. The piece focuses on a transgender main character, a new topic for Steamboat theater and one that may bring awareness to the topic of trans rights in the Yampa Valley.
Perry Mansfield Performing Arts School & Camp is merging with Friends of Yampa Valley Arts, likely by year’s end. The merger involves the renovation of the historic Julie Harris Theater at Perry-Mansfield’s campus and may allow the camp to expand year-round programming.
In 2023, Piknik Theatre plans to build the Yampa Valley’s first outdoor amphitheater next to Strawberry Park Elementary School and Steamboat Springs Middle School, in collaboration with the Steamboat Springs School District. The outdoor theater will create a venue for local arts organizations and for students to spread their theatrical wings.
The Colorado New Play Festival, an annual event in which playwrights from around the country debut new works, has an intriguing collaboration with the Boys and Girls Club on the horizon. The festival will expand its programming to include a new “playwright slam” next summer.
This fall, Off the Beaten Path Bookstore is working with Steamboat Creates to install a mural, “Portal to Imagination,” at the local store. This is part of Steamboat Creates’ overarching plan to bolster public art within the creative district – the organization also plans to reinstall the newly refurbished, iconic bronze cougar statue along Yampa River Core Trail.
Steamboat may not be synonymous with the film industry, but that could soon change. The Steamboat Springs Film Committee is working to promote Steamboat’s media professionals, attracting more productions to the area with the hopes of, one day, creating a local film festival.
The Performing Arts Alliance meets regularly to formulate a vision for the future of Steamboat’s performing arts nonprofits. To create a secure future for these organizations, the council tackles problems like finding seasonal housing and lining up venues for new events.
The Young Bloods Collective, a nonprofit that works to help up-and-coming artists in the Steamboat community, is another integral piece in helping build the Yampa Valley’s artistic future. The Young Bloods hold art markets regularly in downtown Steamboat, providing a space for promising creatives to exhibit their work.
The Steamboat Springs arts community has transformed dramatically over the years, in ways even local arts forebears like Eleanor Bliss and the Crawford family could never have predicted. With that in mind, what wonderments do the next 50 years hold?