As a world-class hiking destination and a nexus for many tech start-up companies, Boulder is one of the most desirable places in the country to live. But while building the infrastructure to support its growing population and tourism numbers, the city may be overlooking one important cultural institution: the arts.
Boulder’s museums often appear under-visited. The NoBo Art District can look like a ghost town. There are many galleries scattered along Pearl Street, but burgeoning rent prices in the area can be prohibitive for most artists.
While Boulder is thriving in many areas, its arts scene appears to be struggling to find its identity among a sea of entrepreneurs and adventurers.
Serving Boulder County and the Denver Metro area since 1972, Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art (BMoCA) has played a key role in Boulder’s arts culture since its inception. The museum brings international, contemporary art to Boulder while still providing a platform for up and coming, local artists.
As David Dadone, BMoCA’s executive director and chief curator, explains, “I think Boulder has a unique setting … It’s a vibrant community of artists that really care about the community.”
Set against the backdrop of the Rockies, Dadone says that the arts community in Boulder was started by artists who wanted to experience a more holistic approach to art and life. Tiffany Mitchum, owner of the art gallery/event space Rembrandt Yard, has a similar view of Boulder’s artists.
“A lot of artists here have been in Boulder for a very long time … they enjoy the plein-air aspect,” Mitchum says.
Located in the heart of downtown Boulder, Rembrandt Yard displays cutting-edge, contemporary art from around the world while doubling as an event space. With its floor-to-ceiling windows facing the intersection of Spruce and 13th streets, it resembles what one might find in SoHo or Williamsburg.
Though the galleries themselves may not attract a lot of foot traffic on a typical day, Rembrandt Yard is able to make sales through their events, which include everything from weddings to yoga classes. This isn’t an entirely new concept — galleries and museums have been pulling double duty for a while now in order to attract visitors and gain more revenue. But is this strategy indicative of Boulder’s art scene as a whole?
Charlotte LaSasso, executive director at Boulder County Arts Alliance, understands the struggles that many local artists and arts organizations deal with. LaSasso says there are some conditions — regulations against some forms of advertising such as banners, lack of living/work spaces for artists — which make it more difficult for artists in Boulder to prosper.
LaSasso explains that while the City has recently stepped up in significant ways, many challenges still exist for artists in the area.
Jessica Kooiman Parker, curator of visual arts at Dairy Arts Center, agrees that she doesn’t see as much art appreciation in Boulder as she would like, but hopes the Dairy can continue to push the City’s creative culture forward.
But a lack of creative space isn’t the only obstacle the Boulder arts scene is trying to hurdle.
“In Colorado, our competition is pretty stiff because the outdoors here are so incredible,” Parker says.
While Boulder’s first artists came here in order to be inspired by the outdoors, today’s artists are competing with the outdoors for the attention of its residents and visitors.
Adrienne Amato and Kelly Cope Russack are working to combat that with the creation of the Boulder Creative Collective (BCC) — an idea the two conceived while, coincidentally, hiking Mount Sanitas. Amato, a trained fine art painter, was ready to get back into the studio after having her son, but wasn’t sure where in the Boulder art scene she fit into.
“We imagined a place where artists could create, co-mingle with other creatives, network and exhibit their work,” Russack explains. Today, the alternative space comprises six studios and a gallery.
While Amato and Russack say they have seen a lot of positive growth since starting BCC in 2013, they would like to see more support from the larger agencies moving to Boulder. It’s no secret that Boulder has seen an influx of tech companies (some large, like Google, others smaller, like Wunder Capital), and Mitchum of Rembrandt Yard believes they may be the missing piece of the puzzle that is Boulder’s art scene.
According to Mitchum, a young, innovative group of people with disposable income could help create a larger demand for art.
Additionally, support from these companies in the form of corporate art collections culled from local artists, providing employees with free museum access and sponsoring events, could be what helps boost the creative culture in Boulder to its full potential. Recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and the National Endowment for the Arts says the arts contributed $763.6 billion to the U.S. economy in 2018 — more than agriculture or transportation. When viewed as a part of the economic ecosystem, the arts have proven to be an important tool in any city’s economic and cultural development.
Of course, it’s also up to all of us. While Boulder is known for the outdoors, this doesn’t mean we have to leave the arts behind in the dust kicked up by our hiking boots. On those days when the sky threatens rain or when you’re just a little too sore for Bear Peak, check out any one of these amazing organizations.
WHERE TO GO
Boulder Creative Collective’s fall programming begins on Aug. 24 with local fiber-based artist Erica Green. Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art is free every Saturday year-round, as well as Wednesdays during farmers market hours. Dairy Arts Center’s calendar is filled to the brim with events, including Wine and Wander twice each month, which allows visitors to tour the latest art exhibit with a docent and a glass of wine in hand. And Rembrandt Yard is open to visitors, free of charge, Mondays through Saturdays, except when closed for private events.
No matter where you go, you’ll be sure to leave with a renewed sense of wonder for the world and its people, while storing up some energy to tackle those trails another day.