I sat down a few days ago with a Watch from every week this past year. My intention was to separate the most interesting arts stories from the rest, and write about them in this column.
I couldn’t do it. I riffled through each paper and set it aside. In the end, all I had managed to do was move the entire pile from one side of my lap to the other.
Such is the incredible diversity and quality of the arts in this region that each week there is something opening in a gallery – or screening in a cinema – or playing on a stage – worthy of one’s precious time in an area so drenched with natural beauty, with so many tempting alternatives in the out-of-doors, you wonder why any artist would bother to compete.
The truth is, artists and craftspeople don’t “compete.” They just do what they do. The poet Kierstin Bridger has likened the artistic process to spinning pennies on a table. “We can’t really determine the trajectory” of a poem or coin, she pointed out in this column several months ago, as “so many variables are out of our hands.” Most days, she went on, artists don’t even know or notice how the work will turn out: “That is usually determined in hindsight. We just have to show up for the process.” What follows is a highly personal selection of artistic highlights from the past year.
I am grateful for the Telluride Film Festival, the cinematic juggernaut that delivered odds-on Oscar nominees including the Coen brothers’ U.S. premiere of Inside Llewyn Davis, and Bruce Dern’s star turn in Nebraska, and Robert Redford in All Is Lost (among many other highlights) this past year. I am also thankful for Mountainfilm in all its iterations, not only in Telluride as a “proper” festival each spring, but in its numerous presentations in Ouray, Ridgway and Montrose throughout the rest of the year. Most of all, I appreciate the taste and vision of local curators who screen worthy films year round. Avid cinema buff Pam Ferman has kept up a steady dribble of acclaimed, intriguing, independent Almost Every Wednesday Night movies at the Wright Opera House, for example – films like Before Midnight, the third and (to my mind) best of the acclaimed Richard Linklater “Before Sunrise” trilogy starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, and Sound City, a documentary on the fabled Van Nuys recording studio revived by Dave Grohl (who also directed and financed the film). Meanwhile, Second Sunday Cinema at the Fox Theatre in Montrose, under the guidance of Kay Lair, Linda Munson-Haley, and Jim Daley, screened the documentary Twenty Feet From Stardom about the lives of backup singers in the pop music world, and a free screening of Chasing Ice, a documentary by National Geographic James Balog’s attempt to chronicle climate change. The Fox’s first presentation of Chasing Ice was such a success, it returned the next week – for free. Other terrific free films came with appetizers and beverages at the Wilkinson Library, where horror-movie buffs Erika Moss Gordon and TFF Director Gary Meyer programmed The Undead, a set of classic films under the auspices of TFF Cinematheque. This fall, Cinematheque unveiled They Came to Telluride, a film series that is still ongoing about the influential, international female moviemakers who have brought their work to TFF.
Theatre was also thriving in this region last year, and the busy artistic director of Telluride Theatre, Sasha Sullivan, contributed more than her share with her acclaimed production of the Broadway musical Hair at the Palm last March, and Dinner With Dionysus, an original production about a raucous, ribald meal the Greek God of Wine at the Ah Haa School last August. Thanks to Sparky Productions and the Palm, Kenneth Branagh’s seminal performance as Macbeth was in Telluride, too, also at the Palm. Down the road, the Tony-award-winning play Art played at the Wright Opera House, as did Jake Abel’s take on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. And the Magic Circle Players community theatre in Montrose now in its 54th year of continuous operation, presented the acclaimed Broadway comedy-drama Bus Stop and the Tony Award-winning musicals Man of La Mancha and 1776.
Jake Abel, a Ouray High School graduate, returned from college to direct his staged reading of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with the Ouray County Players. He had been back the previous fall before to oversee the staging of T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral and “After Eliot, we needed some laughs,” he said. Young people shone on stage, or behind the scenes, all year, in performances as disparate as Jesus Christ Superstar (from Telluride Middle School students, under the direction of Angela Watkins) and The Polar Express (reimagined and re-choreographed for a cast of over 100, ages 2 to 18, by Natasha Pyeatte for Weehawken Arts in Montrose). Re-imagining is what Jen Julia at the Sheridan Arts Foundation Young People’s Theater does with every production; she always writes her own scripts and, often, music and lyrics. This spring, her 12 high school students performed Godspell, and this winter, her young thespians performed You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
And then there was art, and history. And where the two intersected last year, there often seemed to be ladies of the night., and the Telluride Historical Museum. Poet Kierstin Bridger wrote a “sort of elegy” about these women “and the children they may never have had” last spring. The poem, entitled Baby Names, was inspired by a beautiful, ornate steamer trunk from the Telluride Historical Museum; the Museum unveiled its own exhibit on this topic, entitled Telluride’s Red Light District, just a few weeks ago. And Eileen Benjamin, perhaps best known for her own landscape photography of this region, instead used photos by others as a jumping off point for her mixed-media exhibit entitled Fabric of a Woman, which included images of nurses, mothers, nuns and women of the night at the Historical Museum last March. “As women, we’re strong, smart, independent. We’re weak,” Benjamin explained, “And that’s what this exhibit is all about.”
Speaking of the Telluride Historical Museum brings me to honorable mentions and awards, another theme of the past year. The museum’s Powerful Currents exhibit, the story of hydroelectricity in the San Juans, won an honorable mention for the Josephine H. Miles Award from History Colorado, and the museum was also selected to participate in the Smithsonian’s Institute’s Places of Invention exhibition project in 2014 – one of just seven museums in the U.S. to earn the distinction. And in June, both Telluride and Ridgway won Creative District certification and a $15,000 grant from the State of Colorado. It’s been estimated that some 90 percent of Ridgway’s residents are artisans, and the town used some of its Creative District funding to inaugurate its MoonWalk series, a monthly foray into the local galleries and studios. One was an Alley Walk, which showcased hidden poetry around town; another was a participatory outing, in which residents were encouraged to decorate Hartwell Park. Poetry became increasingly popular last year: in addition to Alley Art in Ridgway, the Open Bard Poetry Series launched at the Sherbino Theater, monthly poetry-readings at Arroyo in Telluride continued, and just recently at the Steaming Bean a poetry series has debuted that is entitled – perhaps in an ironic nod to the town’s most recent exhibits involving ladies-of-the-evening – Bean Brothel. And then there were the visual arts. Too many to list, though a few favorites include Meredith Nemirov’s Twelve Views of Lone Cone, a project she launched in Aspen, worked on in Spain and exhibited in Telluride; Jeff Burch’s meticulously researched The Peaks of Telluride, which catalogues every mountain (and how it got its name) surrounding town; and Painting Side by Side, a glowing collection of local peaks and valleys by partners-in-paint as well as life, Ilene Green and George Kernan at the Ridgway Library. Perhaps most moving of all wasn’t a film, or a book, or a poem or a play, but a talk I had with Stash Wislocki recounting his experience at Kakuma, a camp of 100,000 refugees in Northern Kenya he visited for the charity Film Aid. I figured he would simply tell me about the presentation he was about to give at the Sherbino on his trip to Africa, but Wislocki made it personal. “I feel tremendously lucky,” he said. “I get to do a lot of activism and art for social change at home.” (Wislocki is the producer of Mountainfilm, and the executive director of the Telluride AIDS Benefit.) Even so, his time at Kakuma was more gratifying than anything he’d ever done. “Nothing in my life has been as rewarding or just plain powerful,” Wislocki said, “than being in a refugee camp for a few weeks, getting a chance to make life better for people who don’t get a lot of joy or light in their own lives.”