Photography by Nathan Bilow
If you haven't been to Crested Butte in a few years, the first glimpse of the Crested Butte Center for the Arts might throw you for a loop. The original Center for the Arts, created from a maintenance garage, opened in December 1987. Thirty years later, it was time for a new look, sound and feel. Now, visitors stop and wonder if they’re in Aspen or Telluride; there's certainly nothing like it for miles.
“People are pinching themselves,” said Scott Clarkson, marketing director for the Center for the Arts. “It’s a quantum leap ahead of what used to be available here.”
On the outside, the 28,000-square- foot building’s blue-stained siding echoes a Colorado bluebird sky; a copper finish alludes to a history of mining nearby. Inside, a striking atrium-style lobby with a floor-to-ceiling glass wall frames views of Paradise Divide and Gothic Mountain. The Kinder-Padon visual arts gallery is filled with natural light and opens onto an outdoor terrace while the theater provides flexible seating configurations and a main stage that fits a full symphony orchestra. Designed for the community, the Center is home to film screenings, theater, local and regional art exhibitions, classes, festivals and plenty of music.
A theater planned for performance
Nothing can ruin the experience in a performance space more quickly than the sound (it only takes one show in a poorly designed space to prove it). The Center has nothing to fear. Designed by an acoustician, every element was considered to make the Steddy Theater perfect for both sound and silence.
Made of textured bricks, walls of the 6,350-square-foot theater are slightly tilted at three degrees; along with stepped woodwork balconies and curved ceiling panels, these elements capture and clearly reflect sound back to the listener. Fully-insulated 16-inch walls ensure that external sounds and vibrations from the rest of the building don’t creep into the theater. Solid 10-inch concrete walls separate the outdoors — a high school marching band could practice outside and you wouldn’t hear it.
The architecture only tells half of the story. The surround sound system, incorporating speakers throughout the house, projects rich, full sound from every nook. With two mixing stations (one on each level of the theater), every seat sounds as if you’re sitting on the stage with the performers. It’s the kind of complexity you might expect in a concert hall in New York City, but it’s not often found in a theater that offers less than 400 tickets to its shows.
The space also has the ability to morph depending on the type of performance and audience needs. Though the balcony seating is fixed, the floor seating can go from an arena-style arc configuration with a sunken orchestra pit to an open, flat space perfect for dancing. Matisyahu and Leftover Salmon christened the space with performances this past winter.
Art for the eyes
The Center is home to many aspects of arts, including visual arts. The Kinder-Padon Gallery is immediately accessible from the main entrance and is the showpiece of the building, Clarkson said. The gallery opened with work from artist Richard Buchanan, who graduated from Western Colorado University in Gunnison. Five shows followed and the summer will kick off in July with an exhibition from photographer Curtis Speer.
Aspiring artists are also welcome at the Center. Art workshops include everything from paper marbling and needle felting to henna designs, printmaking and journaling. The Creativity + Cocktail series includes fun boozy offerings like Painting + Prosecco, Abstracts + Absinthe and more. Wordsmiths can gather for the Gunnison Valley Literary Festival, taking place Aug. 28-30, to enjoy live readings and take workshops that explore the writing craft.
Sounds of summer
The Center for the Arts in Crested Butte will celebrate summer with a wide range of programming starting in July. The Alpenglow series takes place every Monday at 5:30 p.m. through August at the outdoor stage: Bring your blankets and some money for the food trucks and get ready to dance. Blues man Anders Osborne is scheduled to perform with singer-songwriter Jackie Green on Aug. 9. And that’s just the start of the scheduling—in addition to music and visual arts, the Crested Butte Wine & Food Festival, July 25-28, will host the Reserve Tasting at the Center (please check the website regularly, as dates are subject to change).
Keep in mind, the spectacular building that you see now is only the beginning. Fundraising will continue: Phase II includes the renovation of the Center’s current building into an Arts Education Center. A larger and modernized outdoor stage will complete the project.
Center for the Arts Crested Butte
606 Sixth St.
Crested Butte, CO 81224
Katie Coakley is a freelance writer based in Denver covering travel, craft spirits and beer and outdoor adventures. Her work has appeared in newspapers, magazines and online outlets like The National, Business Insider and Outside. Her current favorite daydream is of hippie dancing at the new Center in Crested Butte.
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