CB Arts Festival kicking off this weekend

Celebrating 50 years

By Mark Reaman and Kendra Walker

The Crested Butte Arts Festival is ready to celebrate its golden anniversary this weekend as it prepares to open the 50th festival on Friday, August 5 at the Crested Butte Community School with 124 artists. 

The festival started out much smaller in Totem Pole Park in 1972 and spent decades on Elk Avenue. “We started out as a small craft festival with hippies selling pottery and beaded jewelry, and over the years we have really evolved into a world-class fine arts event,” said Festival executive director Chelsea Dalporto-McDowell.

But after not holding a physical fest in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic when most every event was cancelled, last year the organizers set up at the school and it worked out so well for them that they expect that will be the new home of the festival for at least a while. 

“Moving off of Elk Avenue was heartbreaking in some ways because the downtown area really beautified our event. We really had to stop and ask; how do we ensure the romanticism of the event stays strong? People come to the festival not just because of the art, but the way the art is displayed with our town’s beautiful charm and backdrop,” said Dalporto-McDowell. 

However, she also sees endless potential with the new location. “We have so many more opportunities in this new location. We’re working really hard to recreate that beautiful experience in a new way. Patrons will feel that in the aesthetics of the event. When you walk through the gates it’s going to feel artsy.”

Dalporto-McDowell also explained that Festival logistics are much easier to manage at CBCS. “There is really no comparison for the two locations, as Elk Avenue setup/breakdown was extremely difficult,” she said. “With the new location at the school we are able to start setting up our infrastructure on the Wednesday before the event and give our vendors a full day on Thursday to get their booths ready for our patrons on Friday afternoon at 12 o’clock. Before, it all had to be accomplished on Friday morning before the opening of the show on the same day. We also can break down on the Monday after the close on Sunday. Before, we had to close the show on Sunday by 5 and have all vendors off Elk by 8 p.m.

“Additionally, we no longer interfere with businesses on Elk,” continued Dalporto-McDowell. “We had a lot of complaints over the years from owners concerned with sales at their establishments. Now, there are two “events” happening in town during the weekend – shopping on downtown Elk and Arts Fest at the Community School.”

The artist configuration will be similar to the set-up from last year with a few changes to make it more patron friendly. “We want every level of art enthusiast to see themselves participating in the event through what we offer inside the gates,” she stated.

Dalporto-McDowell said that because the school space is tighter for artist booths compared to Elk Avenue, the quality of the art has gone up. “We have less space for artists at the community school, so the show has actually become more competitive to be accepted into,” she said. “With 520 artists who applied for the show this year, our jury had their work cut out for them! We have a strong local group of artists showcasing this year, including folks who have never showcased before. It has been really exciting to work with this talented group.”

Dalporto-McDowell said this year’s event is designed with all levels of art enthusiasts in mind. “Our real focus this year is around the experience, the experience for everyone, not just someone coming to purchase a $10,000 piece of art, not just someone interested in the family activities for their kids. Anyone with any level of art enthusiasm will see themselves inside our event and have a place here,” said Dalporto-McDowell.

As introduced last year, there will be a $5 per day entrance fee or you can get a weekend pass for $12. Ticket sales will help support the Crested Butte Arts Festival organization’s mission to support the arts of the Gunnison Valley and ensure they thrive in the community. Dalporto-McDowell said that at a minimum, 20% of these proceeds will go directly back into arts outreach in the local community. She said that from the proceeds in 2021, the Arts Festival has more than $30,000 earmarked in 2022 for this purpose. “This is more funding than ever before that we are able to commit to our non-profit mission,” she said.

Additionally, each juried artist donates an item for the auction and 100% of the proceeds will go back into the organization’s arts funding. “Every cent goes directly back to our mission of providing arts outreach in the Gunnison Valley,” said Dalporto-McDowell.

The organization has funded a wide range of projects, from local art workshops, to local art installations, to Crested Butte Community School Enrichment Program activities. “We tend to fund projects that have the most positive impact for our community,” said Dalporto-McDowell. “If you’ve got a creative idea you want to put into place, let’s do it.” 

As for the actual three days, Dalporto-McDowell promised there would be no shortage of things to do. “Our stage will showcase all local performers including Easy Jim, Storm Pass, and Lizzy Plotkin & Natalie Spears (to name a few). This is a part of our outreach mission of supporting the artist community in the Gunnison Valley,” she said. “The Art Alley will have a caricature artist, face painter and hands-on fun for the whole family. On Friday the CB Wheels of Intention group will be on site helping children create their own wheel and the Trailhead Children’s Museum will be there all weekend offering art activities.”

Dalporto-McDowell is also looking forward to bringing back the festival’s artist demonstrations this year, which was not part of the last couple years due to COVID. “We’re so happy to have this experience back, the artists love to showcase their creative process to the community,” she said. “It adds so much to the interactive element of the weekend for both our artists and guests.”

The look and feel of the event will be different this year compared to 2021 with more installations, extensive seating and a covered eating area. The 50-year history will be showcased throughout the event including 20 years of their posters. The annual Art Auction will be hybrid with pieces available to peruse at the festival and on the festival’s art auction website. The link to register and start checking it out is on the website. All bidding happens online.

“We have a strong commitment to greening our event and have created a festival app to assist in this effort as well as commissioning local artist, Laura Jane, to create engaging and beautiful Art of Trash stations,” said Dalporto-McDowell. “We encourage all patrons to join these efforts by bringing their own materials for the culinary court, reusable water bottles, etc.

“We also received a grant from the town of Crested Butte for this initiative to green our event,” said Dalporto-McDowell. “They have a really robust waste free initiative and I’m grateful they are helping us implement it at the festival.”

Dalporto-McDowell credits the festival’s 50 years of success to the overwhelming support from the community, including the organization’s board members, business sponsors, attendees and volunteers. “These people are such a big part of us doing what we are able to do. We would not be able to put this on without the support from the community. It’s a huge deal and we are so grateful.” 

The festival officially opens on Friday at noon and will run until 5 o’clock that afternoon. Saturday and Sunday will run from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Patrons can download the app that showcases all the artists, maps, entertainment and artist demo schedules and much more by going to Google Play or the Apple store.

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