Excited chatter filled town hall as four local artists discussed the creative prospects of Hot Sulphur Springs on Wednesday evening, Jan. 30.
“The local government has embraced the arts; they get it,” said Dawn Mathews, who works in photography. “They know it’s a tourism draw. They know it’s culturally and historically important.”
She points to the colorful quilts covering the walls as evidence. They are part of ongoing artistic exhibits, lasting for three months each, featuring local arts and crafts and approved by the town board to be displayed in the town building. The exhibits represent a labor of love by the year-old Hot Sulphur Springs Creative Arts Council, which includes Mathews, the three other artists who joined her in town hall, as well as two other locals.
Last summer, their first exhibit was a nod to Hot Sulphur Spring’s artistic history. It displayed the drawings and sketches of Lois Button, a beloved past resident who captured life-like scenes of ranching life. In the fall, the exhibit hosted paintings by Marty Witzman, who also owns the Glory Hole Restaurant. On Jan. 7, the Hot Sulphur Springs Creative Arts Council kicked off the current exhibit, with works by a variety of local quilters, dating as far back as the 1950s.
“We have so many people in this town who are artistically inclined, but too shy to say anything about it,” said council member Kathy Knight.
Creative District certification
One of the Creative Arts Council’s goals is to encourage those talented locals to showcase their work through exhibits, like the one in town hall. Another is to bring a new source of income to Hot Sulphur Springs through a vibrant creative arts and crafts district.
It’s a county-wide idea that came after Gov. John Hickenlooper made a push to bring more creative arts industries to Colorado. In 2010, the Colorado Council on the Arts merged with Art in Public Places program to create the Colorado Creative Industries Division, which works to help communities brand and invest in a creative sector. In 2011, the Colorado legislature went a step further, passing a bill that encourages the formation of creative economic hubs throughout the state’s neighborhoods and towns. The state certifies each of these districts, which brings both the prestige of branding as well as economic assistance through grants — as much as $15,000 — to attract artists and further invest in a creative economy.
The Hot Sulphur Springs Creative Arts Council is joining with Grand County Economic Development’s “Grand Creatives” to make the county one of these Colorado Certified Creative Districts. It’s an ambitious goal.
First, Grand Creatives must submit a letter of interest to the Creative Industries Division by March 3 to become a candidate. If accepted, the community will spend two years working toward certification. So far, only seven communities have received official creative district certification. Another seven are currently candidates, all located on the Front Range.
To help with the goal, the Creative Arts Council recently formed a Hot Sulphur co-op where local artists and crafters sell everything from photography and paintings to jewelry and homemade soap. They’ve even secured a location to show their wares, at the old M-bar 11 at the intersection of Aspen Street and Grand Avenue. A former bar and sometimes restaurant that was popular among locals during Hot Sulphur’s boom days, the building has been mostly vacant since the mid-1990s. The current owner is allowing the art co-op to use the building rent-free for six months. They’re calling it “Marge’s Mountain Emporium” in honor of the owner’s mother, who was also an artist.
The arts councils hopes to reach a point where the emporium is staffed and regularly open to visitors, but for now, they’re holding sporadic arts fairs in the building. The first was during the holidays. The second will be on Saturday, Feb. 8. With enough local support, the arts council members said they hope it drives an economy less dependent on a fluctuating housing market, bringing their town a vibrant source of income and energy once again.
“This community has seen its boom days,” said Sandy White, an arts council member and the town clerk. “The train used to stop here. Skiing and ski jumping originated here. This is where it all began.”
Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.