Boulder & the arts over the years
Boulder has long been a hub for artists and those looking to be inspired by what nature has to offer in this unique valley. From the soaring peaks to the West to the wide open expanses to the East, it makes sense that one of Colorado’s premier gathering spots for creatives of all types would center around the growing town. By the turn of the 19th Century, the Colorado Chautauqua and CU Boulder were firmly established as institutions that fostered the growing artistic community.
“A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains,” an 1879 novel by English author Isabella Bird, helped propel Boulder onto the tourist track for Europeans and Americans alike. This combination of tourists seeking a gateway to the wilderness plus a burgeoning creative community helped lay down the founding spirit that influences Boulder to this day.
The only constant in life is change. Pearl Street grew from a Western outpost to a University Town. The arts blossomed. This growing gem attracted more and more residents. E-Town, founded in 1991, developed and grew as the city expanded. Home prices steadily increased starting in the mid-1990s. Rising costs and arts hubs do not always mix well. Many galleries thrived, but many more did not.
Costs of gallery spaces increased alongside home prices, rent, and other expenses that made it more difficult to cultivate a profitable arts space, especially in high-demand spots like Pearl Street. The growth in the North Metro region in recent decades has also seen a burst of creative talent and demand for art spaces. Towns like Lafayette and Broomfield rapidly grew into cities. Suddenly there were arts hubs all over Northern Colorado, not just centered in Boulder. Even if the average tourist wasn’t aware, locals knew their towns were becoming places to be, not just to live.
“It’s just a strange dichotomy in Boulder because we have the highest per capita of creatives after L.A. and Santa Fe, about a lot of creative talent here, but we also have comparatively very low funding for the arts. There’s a lot of artists and not very much support for artists,” Marie-Juliette Bird of The New Local shared. The New Local is a relative newcomer to the scene, with a dedicated space for women-identifying artists located just off Pearl Street.
We spoke with Rachel Hanson, Director of the City of Lafayette’s Arts & Cultural Resources Department, about the growing arts scene outside Boulder. “We have a really interesting grassroots organization called Alley Art Amazin’, which is a small collective of muralists who years ago decided to paint murals on willing resident’s alley garage doors. I believe there are over 100 murals and they do a bicycle mural tour. It’s not a city entity, they are just really motivated to beautify the community.”
She elaborated on what helps foster a successful artistic community within Lafayette. “I think it’s a combination of the city offering support and structures, as well as the organic nature of the community, it’s the people — the artists themselves and the residents who appreciate art, and support, and encourage it. I think it’s the combination that makes Lafayette unique.”
COVID changed everything
COVID-19 forever altered the arts scene, as it did nearly every industry. The immediate shutdown of day-to-day life meant that gallery spaces were devoid of people. Costs continued while income did not. Many small businesses were forced to close down or at least re-imagine what operations would look like going forward. The economic harm of COVID-19 on small businesses has been thoroughly discussed and lingering problems like inflation will continue to haunt new businesses and galleries.
What also revolutionized the arts industry during this time was the shift to virtual possibilities.
During the downtime, instead of visiting galleries or walking through downtown, many people turned to virtual experiences. Coupled with rising costs of rent across the state but especially on Pearl Street, Bird wonders what these new possibilities will mean for physical art spaces. “You have to create interactive experiences just to be able to support the gallery space.”
Many small gallery owners wonder what the future holds in store when so many large museums and well-known galleries offer virtual tours of their spaces.
The value comes from the tactile experience. More information is retained when reading in print as opposed to reading on a screen. Seeing the art, feeling the textures, and sensing others nearby also affected by the piece, all bring an intangible value to in-person visits that the virtual world cannot replicate — yet.
The shift to virtual meetings has also netted some positives for sharing creative ideas.
“Pretty much every single Saturday we have an art critique on Zoom. We started over COVID. People from different states join us. We are very playful, but we have very serious talks about the art,” Jeanne Kipke of the Boulder Arts Association shared. Minimizing the impact that physical distance has on creativity is one of the bright spots of the rise in virtual technologies.
What role does AI play in art?
An aspect that concerns and fascinates both artists and laypeople alike is the emergence of AI technology in everyday life. AI such as DeepDream can generate infinitely more images than human artists ever could. In a recent 60 Minutes interview, Google CEO Sundar Pichai AI, expanded on the implications of AI: “There are two views of this. You know, there are a set of people who view this as look, these are just algorithms. They’re just repeating what it’s seen online. Then there is the view where these algorithms are showing emergent properties, to be creative, to reason, to plan, and so on.”
The debate over the impact of AI on creative careers like screenwriters is partially what drives the current Hollywood writer’s strike across Los Angeles.
The coming AI technologies will likely revolutionize what a daily work experience is like. It will undoubtedly render some jobs obsolete in a sea of change, but also create new opportunities in the wake. Just like computers massively increased the efficiency of a workday, made entire careers disappear, and created possibilities never imagined at first, so will AI. Humans are designed to adapt to change. How to best integrate virtual experiences and AI-generated art into the creative process will take more than just the computer scientists developing the programs, it will require input from artists, social scientists, and the general public.
Who then becomes more important, the content creator or the editor and curator?
It also begs the question, why is artificial intelligence focused on generating art — such a human experience — instead of completing menial tasks like completing spreadsheets or compiling contact information, freeing humans up to explore creative enterprises, spend time with family, and discover meaning in life?
Sci-Fi-esque technologies have been disrupting the arts for decades. We have all become very accustomed to cell phones and social media, but it was not too long ago that marketing and creating were two very different sides to a successful art campaign. For years, every aspiring artist has had to also be their marketer, social media manager, and ad campaign manager on top of creating their art. This shift had its upsides and drawbacks as well — just like AI will. So far it appears that the artistic community will be the first to experience the disruption that AI will bring.
The entire concept of art galleries is in flux. “The idea that you could just drop off your work, and then expect to take a 50% cut and have the gallery survive — having to pay rent and [with] marketing — It’s just not tenable,” Bird said.
Moving marketing to social media democratized the process by helping remove the middleman in many cases. The barriers to entry were lowered in that you could now display your art online to a nearly limitless audience. Just like the music industry, it allowed popularity to move from professionally curated studios into the bedrooms of talented people across the world.
Removing the barrier to entry means the unfortunate reality is that some scammers take advantage of artists starting online marketing themselves. “In some ways, it empowers individuals to be independent of the publishing houses or the galleries, but on the other hand there are that many more voices out there on the platform,” Bird elaborated on the challenges.
Where to see underrated art and performances
Some of the incredible art spaces across the area are doing unexpected things. From high-concept immersive places like Meow Wolf to curated coworking artistic spaces, the image of a stuffy art gallery or a theater full of snobs is slowly slipping away. Each of these spaces below is doing something different, offering a new approach, or creating a space for inclusivity. YS takes a look at some of the best-underrated art spaces to check out, join and support.
Local Theater – Boulder
The aptly named Local Theater is going on their 13the year providing community plays in local locations. Aspiring to create the next generation of great American theater, Local Lab New Play Festival brings new works to light in front of Boulder audiences. Afterall, theater should be for everyone, not just those taking a trip to New York.
Butterfly Effect Theater of Colorado – Boulder
Offering inclusivity from the get-go, Butterfly Effect includes and amplifies voices of all kinds. No matter your age, no matter your identity, you’ll find a home here among the incredible performers and shows offered in their 17th year. With live theater finally back from it’s COVID hiatus, come see a show.
Emancipation Theater – Denver
Empowering voices and spreading the message of modern day abolitionism, Emancipation Theater provides a space for stories that may not be told in other venues. Not just a theater, they also offer Underground Railroad Culture Courses that help build enlightened storytellers.
Motus Theater – Boulder
Dialogue helps define a performance. Between actors, between the performance and the audience, this spirit of conversation helps encourage dialogue about issues that may cause us discomfort. When it comes time to examine our own community and reflect on Boulder’s inclusivity, this is the place.
Upstart Crow – Boulder
Taking democracy to the stage, Upstart Crow puts on plays run entirely by ensemble. Actors help write the scripts, direct the plays, and even staff the theater. It’s that collective community and ideal that allows creativity to flourish. Stop by on Saturdays to discuss the previous week’s play.
Galleries and Studios
pArticulars – Lafayette
An art cooperative offering a gallery, studio, and classes to foster local talent and encourage one another. pArticulars continue to offer free classes for those affected by the Marshall Fire.
Osmosis Art – Niwot
With over 40 artists and a First Friday art experience, Osmosis offers an indoor and out space to appreciate local crafts
The Collective Community Arts Center – Lafayette
Lafayette has one of the best emerging art scenes around in large part due to the Collective Community Arts Center that has fostered an environment of public beautification, art appreciation, and funding for artists.
Boulder Creative Collective – Boulder
Offering pop-art art shows and studio spaces for artists for ten years now, Boulder Creative Collective is still going strong. It was founded as a way to bring artist together and art back into the community.
Boulder Arts Association – Boulder
With over 100 years of artistic support, the Boulder Arts Association represented the early need for an arts hub near the CU campus. Although their mission has changed as Boulder has evolved, they still offer strong support to the community.
Dairy Arts Center – Boulder
The “largest interdisciplinary arts center” in Boulder gets its name from the fact that the building used to be a dairy farm. As the population grew, farmland turned into suburbs, and the need for more arts and entertainment took off just as Dairy was getting started in 1992.
NoBo Arts Association – Boulder
No doubt about it, NoBo is the place to be to see local art. Not just art, the neighborhood offers food, drinks, and shops to explore making this a destination to see when you’re in town.
The Arts HUB – Lafayette
One of the first major arts centers outside of the Denver or Boulder, Arts HUB in Lafayette helps set the tone that makes Lafayette stand out. It was built on the foundation of resisting systems of oppression through artistic expression.
East Boulder County Artists – Multiple Cities
Supporting artists from Louisville, Lafayette, Longmont, Superior, and more, the East Boulder County Artists group brings together artistic communities from several growing cities. They also offer studio tours once a year where the public can see how and where the artists work.
Louisville Art Association – Louisville
Louisville Art Association recognizes that every human has an inert drive to create. They offer a plein air class that allows you to take advantage of the outdoors that has inspired countless generations of artists here.
Firehouse Art Center – Longmont
With over a dozen shows a year, Firehouse brings community and art together in Longmont through filmmaking, songwriting, poetry, and plenty of other ways to express yourself. If painting isn’t for you there are plenty of other genres to explore.
Phil Lewis Art – Boulder
Bright, nature inspired, and surreal all partially describe the pieces you can find here. Plus, riding the wave of new technology, they offer a virtual tour of their space via their website.
Boulder JCC – Boulder
Looking for an adult art class? You found it. From traditional painting classes to creating your own handbag, there are plenty of great opportunities to grow as a budding older artist here.
The New Local – Boulder
The New Local strives to bridge the gap between the artistic community, the broader Boulder community, and the tourists who visit the city. Located at 741 Pearl St. in the Montgomery House, The New Local features sixty women-identifying artists in their non-profit space.