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Steamboat Magazine

Golden Anniversary of Art

09/29/2022 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.

Steamboat Springs, CO - 50 Years. Five decades. Eighteen thousand, two hundred and fifty days. That’s how long Steamboat Creates, formerly the Steamboat Springs Arts Council, has served as a gateway for arts, culture and heritage in Steamboat Springs. Led by executive director Kim Keith, Steamboat Creates achieved Colorado Creative District designation in 2017. However, it’s impossible to have a comprehensive conversation about Steamboat’s arts community without looking at the big picture: honoring its past, appreciating its present, and looking excitedly to the future. 


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. 

In 1913, Perry and Mansfield traveled into the Yampa Valley wilderness to found a dance/equestrian camp amidst the mountains. The humble camp these women founded saw prodigious success, attracting a star-studded repertoire of actors and dancers, from Agnes DeMille and José Limón to Dustin Hoffman and Julie Harris. Today the camp continues to bring internationally renowned performers to Northwest Colorado.

The Rehder Building in 1929 was home to Ford Garage offices, Northwestern Auto Parts, a dentist’s office, an insurance office and a uranium company office. Photo courtesy of Tread of Pioneers Museum. 

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. 

Two of those lobbyists, Eleanor Bliss and Carol Finnoff, founded the Steamboat Arts Council that same year. Bliss had originally come to Steamboat in 1924 to study dance at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School & Camp and stayed after falling in love with the Yampa Valley. Today, the Depot is home to rotating arts exhibits, artist-in-residency programs, youth art camps and other events. 

Eleanor Bliss stands beside the railroad tracks outside of the Depot Art Center. Photo courtesy of Tread of Pioneers Museum. 

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.

The Tread of Pioneers Museum has documented the rich history of the Yampa Valley since 1959. With a meticulously curated collection, historic walking tours, guided hikes and informative events and exhibits, the museum is a prime resource to explore Steamboat’s history, including the arts. The museum is housed in a 1901 Queen-Anne style Victorian home. 

Dancers in what is now the dining room of Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts Camp’s Main Lodge, constructed in 1918. The screens and lack of patio indicate the picture was taken relatively soon after construction. The Main Lodge was used as a dance studio until the Main Studio was built in 1922.

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. 
It was preserved and moved to the entrance of the ski area in 2018.  “The Arnold Barn matters to me, to all of us here in Steamboat. It matters to people throughout the country, and we hope it matters to you,” says Arianthe Stettner, cofounder of Historic Routt County.


When it comes to the Yampa Valley arts community, there’s no more exciting time than the present. 

Simply stroll down the sidewalks of Old Town to delight in commemorative banners created by mixed-media artist Katie Earixson. As part of its 50th anniversary celebration, Steamboat Creates and MainStreet Steamboat collaborated to present these banners, which depict Steamboat scenes. 

Then stop in at Steamboat Art Museum, which exemplifies the fusion of Steamboat’s past and present. When the museum opened in 2006, the historic First National Bank Building was a well-known local landmark buzzing with potential. That possibility has been realized with nationally-recognized art exhibits – including this summer’s Oil Painters of America National Exhibition and fall’s Plein Air workshop and exhibit. 

Strings Music Festival is the epicenter of the performing arts in Steamboat. What was founded in 1988 as a summer series of eight classical music concerts has grown to more than 60 musical performances of diverse genres throughout the year, plus an extensive education program. Since its inception 34 years ago, Strings has hosted more than 60 Grammy winners – and counting – plus musicians from all 25 of the nation’s top orchestras. Upcoming concerts include the world premiere of “Arabian Nights and the Dance of Life and Death,” with the Strings Festival Orchestra, the Drepung Loseling Monks, Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers, Béla Fleck and James McMurtry.

Wynton Marsalis performs in the Strings Music Pavilion. Photo courtesy of Strings Music Festival. 

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. 

Musical stars from throughout the world converge each summer to perform with Opera Steamboat.  2022 saw the enthusiastic expansion of the company’s performance schedule, as well as the Opera Artists Institute, which comprises intensive workshops, master classes and performances for emerging artists. Summer highlights include a modern-day version of Puccini’s “La Bohème,” Stephen Sondheim’s “Company” and “Three Feathers,” by Lorid Laitman. 

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 Tread of Pioneers Museum, located on the corner of Oak and Eighth streets, is home to many art pieces from throughout Steamboat Springs’ history. Photo courtesy of The Tread of Pioneers Museum

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 Symphony Orchestra music director Ernest Richardson conducts a performance by students in the 2021 Immersion Weekend, when musicians of all ages and abilities gather for intensive study, culminating in a celebration concert. Photo courtesy of Steamboat Symphony Orchestra. 

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.

“Fare thee well, nymph,” says Oberon, King of the Fairies, during Piknik Theatre’s outdoor performance of “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

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.

An artist mockup of Piknik Theatre’s planned outdoor amphitheater near Strawberry Park Elementary and Steamboat Springs Middle schools.

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.

Glenn Davis and Donté Bonner perform a reading of the Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins play “Purpose” during the 2019 Colorado New Play Festival.

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. 

Yampa Valley locals in the African Drum and Dance group perform Lucky Moyo’s gumboot piece on the Steamboat Springs High School stage at the 50th Steamboat Dance Theatre Concert, February 2022.

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?