If the Yampa Valley is defined by the unparalleled beauty of its landscape, from the Flat Tops and Sleeping Giant to the iconic slopes of Mount Werner, then downtown Steamboat is becoming known for its murals. There are 21 large-scale paintings and counting, created by 17 acclaimed local and national artists on various buildings around downtown Steamboat.
This walkable public art display was made possible by Steamboat Creates, a local non-profit whose commitment to public art has earned Steamboat Springs the esteemed designation as a Colorado Creative District by the State of Colorado. “Steamboat Creates wanted to expand our mission by bringing art from inside of the buildings to the outside of the buildings so everyone can experience art,” says Kim Keith, Executive Director, Steamboat Creates. “We believe that public art has the ability to not only tell the story of the community through sculptures and murals but to also distinguish Steamboat Springs as a unique and colorful place to visit.”
Steamboat Creates is the sole beneficiary of the Downtown Public Art Fund, which provides the resources to curate the extensive mural collection. It’s an elaborate process that’s ongoing, Keith says, pairing building owners and tenants with artists and then selecting a jury, typically based on expertise, the building’s location, and who it will impact, to approve the proposed artist and design.
“Everyone is treated equally in the process,” Keith says. “We are constantly on the lookout for a blank palate that is well-kept and well-prepped, and for building owners and tenants who really get it.” Building owners submit an application, pay a $1700 fee, and then a theme is chosen by the building owners, Steamboat Creates fund advisors, and the Steamboat Creates committee for public art. Artist’s designs are submitted online to be juried, and a selection is made. “We take care of all the permitting, supplies, and equipment. We make it very easy for an artist to participate because we really want to set them up for success,” Keith says.
Mural designs depict everything from local landscapes (“Yampa River Flow” by Jeff Roth on the Natural Grocers Building) and local culture (“Cowgirl on Horse” by ARCY) to the political (“America the Beautiful” by Bobby MaGee Lopez) and even a memorial (“In Memory of Salvado” by Fernando Meldorado).
The painting of some murals became a community event. Local artist Lance Whitner invited painters of all ages to help her complete “Forest Adventurous” and even hosted yoga classes throughout the weekend. Erin Kreis and Sarah Juschka invited the students of Strawberry Park Elementary School to participate in painting “For the love of trees: Aspen Collection” on the school’s building.
Participating artists range from well-known locals to nationally acclaimed painters from all over the country. When renowned Brooklyn-based muralist Espartaco Albornoz Abreu transformed the yellow caboose at the Depot Art Center with his famous Nozco-themed street-style painting, he spent a day at the Boys and Girls Club of Steamboat Springs Teen Center teaching a graffiti painting class.
Greg Block, a nationally-acclaimed Denver-based artist who grew up in Steamboat, says painting a mural in the town where he grew up was an emotional experience. “When they first approached me about doing this mural, I was a little apprehensive, but certainly, then realized this is like a new gallery,” he says. Block was named “one of the most promising young artists in the representational art world” by Fine Art Today. His mural “Elevate” was inspired by the music and arts he was exposed to during his childhood in Steamboat. “To see people stop and look up, and to take their blinders off for just a moment, it gives me so much joy,” Block says.
Not only is public engagement the goal, according to Keith, it’s also the reward. “I’ve seen weddings, dance troupes, and baby photoshoots take place in front of the murals. I once saw a horse getting its picture taken in front of Jeff Roth’s “Wings.” When I see people taking selfies or taking pictures with their families in front of the collection of murals we have, it’s really heartwarming.”
The most recent mural “The Great Outdoors” was completed on the Straightline Sports building. The piece was designed by Ben Rock, a fly-fishing guide and employee of Straightline Sports, and painted by Greg Effinger, a fine arts painter and founder of Creative Bearings Advertising Agency.
According to Keith, there will be many more murals to come. “Steamboat was ranked number two in the nation for small-sized communities for arts vibrancy by SMU DataArts, and public art has really contributed to that,” she says. “We are committed to having a concentration of public art in the downtown corridor and there are still many blank canvases that are prime for original artwork.”
For an online self-guided tour of the murals, go to: steamboatchamber.com.