It’s time for my favorite local event, Georgetown Plein Air, a couple of days of outdoor painting and a resulting art exhibit. I can’t resist sharing again my post from last year, when I had fewer readers, with some timely updates.
The mountain town I live in—Georgetown, Colorado—is part of the Georgetown-Silver Plume National Historic Landmark District. A mouthful, I know, but it means that it’s been recognized as a place to preserve, to care for, and to last in its natural state for decades and even centuries to come. Historic preservation is a way of life, a way of keeping this town vibrant and its one-thousand people purposeful.
During the eight years I lived abroad, an important and challenging project was taking place. The 1874 schoolhouse, an imposing structure, believed to be the oldest red brick schoolhouse in Colorado, once called “the pride of Georgetown,” back in the days when the silver boom brought a much larger population, had been in a state of disrepair and dilapidation, rapidly approaching a point beyond rescue. Closed as a school in 1939, it was purchased by a private person who filled it with whatever he collected and didn’t maintain the building. Cracks split the outside wall where he had bulldozed a garage-sized hole and removed a supporting floor in order to drive his trucks inside; the roof leaked and eaves sagged; explosives were found in the basement along with other mining equipment; the surrounding grounds were littered with rusted and broken machinery. After the owner’s death, the Georgetown Trust for Conservation and Preservation, Inc. was able, with generous donations and grants, to purchase and painstakingly restore it over many years, a phoenix rising from the ashes.
Surveys suggested uses for the building: a museum (there were already several museums in this town and a schoolhouse museum in neighboring Silver Plume), rent the classrooms to businesses for income, or use it for something that the community could participate in. The latter sparked interest and won out. The building was dubbed the Georgetown Heritage Center; the library rented one of the classrooms for their local history archives; and the Cultural Arts Program was born. Rooms would be available to rent for seminars and meetings when not booked for events. Forty-five minutes from Denver, the way to enjoy cultural events had been to drive down to the city, pay for parking, dinner somewhere, pricey show or concert tickets, and a long, late drive up the mountain in the dark. We could create culture right here; it was worth a try.
Around the time I returned to town, a board was established and I was invited to join because of my interest in arts. We commissioned and modified a plan and opened in September of 2015. The dynamic and capable woman, a friend, who had spearheaded the restoration (as well as founding and directing many other local historic projects) retired, saying “No, I’m not going to run it.” And guess who ended up stepping in to keep the project alive? I have been the chair of the program, with a small board of idea people and promoters, and a handful of staff and event volunteers, for over five years.
We’ve hosted regular concerts—classical, opera, jazz, bluegrass/folk, eclectic, in both romantic cabaret style and full one-hundred-seaters; fine art festivals, traditional craft and art classes, and exhibits; lectures, book signings, writers’ conferences, film series, gardening workshops, beer tastings, cooking classes, children’s programs, and more, partnering with other groups for many of these events. My head spins to think of all we’ve pulled off. What a joy to hear a string quartet, jazz ensemble, or classical guitar in that spacious second-floor concert hall, with its first-class grand piano and amazing acoustics, while sipping a glass of wine, transported to a peaceful place in my mind, floating in the music like a leaf in the breeze. At some point during each event, I have found myself looking around in grateful awe, eyes tearing.
Lacking any significant financial patronage, we are always on the edge, but we are still going. With the backing of the Georgetown Trust, of which we are a part, and its enthusiastically supportive albeit small staff, I am thankfully no longer having to set up chairs and tables and design and print posters for events, but am still very much involved in the planning stages, working with some of the artists and musicians, putting up those posters, and sharing on social media.
In the challenging year of 2020, we held virtual concerts; any donation was welcome and our partnerships helped to support local first responders and restaurants. In May 2021, just two months ago, we held our first in-person concert and welcomed back a classical pianist we’ve hosted before, popular with our audience, with cabaret style tables, wine and charcuterie, appropriately distanced, with a YouTube version as well. Sold out!
Join us at GeorgetownHeritageCenter.org. Many of our events may now be shared virtually as well as in person (mostly concerts). We’re not restricted by geography for those virtual events—you can join from anywhere in the world! Events are sometimes posted without much advance notice, so put your name on the mailing list or find us on social media to follow us.
We are gearing up for one of my favorite events, Georgetown Plein Air, our fourth annual. About twenty artists for each of the past three years painted the town’s charming historic buildings and stunning mountain landscapes in watercolor, acrylic, oils, pastels. This year we have over thirty-five artists participating. If you’re in the area, come watch them paint July 30th and 31st. On Saturday afternoon is the Quick Draw, when artists have ninety minutes to create a painting along 6th Street, our main street, fast and fun to see! The opening reception is on Saturday the 31st; meet the artists and get first viewing of their creations. Works will be on exhibit and for sale in the Heritage Center for another two weeks.
Enjoy a few scenes from Georgetown’s past plein air celebrations:
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Email me at: Ruth@RuthRosenfeld.com