EPNRC regularly highlights non-profit organizations at work in our community. This week we spoke with Lars Sage, Gallery Manager at Estes Park Art Center (Art Center). Sage was just coming out of a three-year term on the board to devote more time to theater when the former director of the Art Center retired. He has been actively involved in the organization for six years.
The Art Center has a three-pronged mission: to promote visual art and artists in the Estes Park area; to provide educational opportunities in the visual arts; and to act as an advocate and partner in the community for the development of the visual arts.
The Center d’Art has just celebrated its anniversary!
Yes, we just celebrated our 35th birthday. The exhibition we have at the moment includes a sample of works by the founding artists of the Art Center. Subsequent shows will highlight one at a time for 5-6 weeks.
You have been here for almost six years. What are the biggest changes you have witnessed?
A desire to expand. We have adopted or accepted programs that may have been independently operated or operated by other organizations that have closed. For example, the Fiber Show and Plein Air. My goal is to have more visibility. We were part of the Women’s Monument project and I sit on the Board of the Chamber of Commerce. We exist, we are a vital resource and we deserve support and recognition.
How could you increase the visibility of the Art Center?
We want to bring people here. Allowing people to use this space for meetings is one way. The Watershed Coalition just held one of their Wandering Wildlife programs and held a silent art auction here. Inviting people increases exposure to local artwork, good community service and we get sales.
How many people can you accommodate in your meeting space?
We can organize stuff throughout the gallery for 30-40 people if it’s a traveling or presentation style event. We also have a classroom that can accommodate 12-15 people for workshops or meetings.
And part of your mission is to present educational opportunities?
We have slightly expanded the courses we offer in the summer. Many Plein Air artists have become teachers. Opportunities often arise based on the skills of our artist members. The Mentor Show pairs member artists with people in the community who want to learn a new skill.
There are certain shows that are repeated every year (Mentors, Plein Air, etc.). What place do you have in your annual programming for invention?
We have the opportunity to take risks or develop new ideas through our theme wall and other potential special exhibits. We were recently introduced to an organization that hires artists to help people struggling with mental health issues to create and show their work. I met a man this week whose son has mental health issues and who wants to become a member of the gallery. We are interested in exploring the idea of promoting the arts as a therapeutic and healing process. When I was in social work, we used art to help attract children who had been abused to solicit information and feelings that may not be so easily expressed in words. Sometimes we used dolls to create stories and drawings to identify moods. Art often helps people through trauma.
How has the organization been affected by COVID?
We saw huge growth after the masks went away the first time around. We have seen a big increase in people and sales.
Why do you think that is?
Cabin fever. People had gone nowhere and had money to spend. The quality of our artists has also improved over the years.
Part of your mission is to advocate for the development of the visual and performing arts. Are you pleading alone or… are there other collaborators?
Although I can manage an art gallery, I consider the arts to be more complete. As a board member of the Chamber of Commerce, I represent a voice for nonprofits and the arts. Now that the Parks Advisory Board (PAB) has approved the organization of an Arts Advisory Board, it appears that the City wants the arts community to participate through the support of the PAB. The City is supporting an effort to create an arts blueprint to guide the future of the arts (all forms) in our community.
Is the Arts Advisory Council a new idea for Estes? What does it change ?
Yes, it’s new. This is an opportunity for the Estes artistic community to be a more cohesive group. We have to define this group and our objectives, of course. Maybe we are coordinating an arts festival that shows the vitality of the arts. I helped found the Estes Arts District and one of the goals of that organization was to make Estes Park an arts destination.
But we have them all the time in Bond Park. How is it different?
These are fundraising events. I imagine something that showcases theatre, dance, music and the visual arts. There are all kinds of things we can do to create something more complete. Ideally, an arts festival would focus on the local but include the regional. This kind of event is on the road.
At some point, you were going deeper into acting. What is your current relationship with theater work?
I am currently Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Fine Arts Guild of the Rockies (FAGR). We are at about two shows a year, not for lack of interest in the theatre, production or audience demand, but for lack of space to rehearse and perform. The price of space available in the auditorium has increased significantly, which has prevented us from producing shows. The FAGR will be 65 years old next year, it is time for this municipality to have a fully operational community theater.
How could the theater promote Estes?
Years ago, Estes held a one-act play contest challenging locals to write a quick screenplay. It was something exciting that involved the community. We would like more community collaboration with the high school drama department. Theater can enhance creativity and provide people with resources they don’t have access to on their own, such as improv classes. At one time, this town was churning out a new show every week during the summer.* I lived in New York, and there was pervasive creative activity. One could easily find entertainment and be taken by surprise. That’s the kind of creative spirit I imagine for Estes.
[In the 60s, the Dark Horse Players opened a new show every week for nine weeks each summer for four years. They performed at the Dark Horse Inn and Riverside Ballroom, which was located near Estes Park Theatre. They promoted the idea of going for a swim in the St. Vrain and then having lunch and a draft beer. Greg Steiner came to Estes Park in 1959 as Art and Technical Director for the Dark Horse Players. There, he designed, built, and painted all of the sets as well as performed as principal dancer and choreographer.]
To learn more about the Estes Park Art Center, stop by the gallery, located between Safeway and Subway in Middle Stanley Village. Or visit them online at www.artcenterofestes.com. To speak with Lars about the ideas presented in this interview, email [email protected]