warehouse

Poet Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer offered two socially distanced poetry readings earlier this summer. Trommer’s readings were just two of a series of presentations that involved a careful juggling act, balancing health, safety and local arts in the Transfer Warehouse. (Courtesy photo)

There was precious little to laugh about in March as the world descended into lockdown.

Yet one organization in the box canyon managed to coax wry smiles out of locals and visitors.

That bright-yellow billboard by the side of the road on the way into downtown Telluride, breezily suggesting how one might behave when life hands you lemons?

“Wear them on your mask,” the billboard winkingly advised, just like the hipster chick sporting a chic haircut and expensive-looking sunglasses in the poster. She could have been a well-dressed guest at one of the summer’s many festivals.

Who knew, at that point, that summer entertainment in large part be canceled? Or that mask wearing would become a point of contention in many places?

The point was to help save lives.

The same breezy, challenging-but-friendly ethos pervaded a series of posters in a COVID-19 safety campaign in downtown Telluride.

Keep a distance of six feet, the posters say (using the San Juan’s iconic majestic ungulate, the elk, as an example).

Scrub your hands! (What creature better to demonstrate than a beaver, that denizen of ponds abutting Town Park renowned for prodigious paw scrubbing?)

The gentle, jocular PSAs were not an accident; cheeky proscriptions for human behavior (as demonstrated by local animals) do not spring out of nowhere. They were the work of Telluride Arts, the nonprofit whose mission is to “sustain, promote and expand a culture of the arts in the Telluride Arts District.”

“We’re in a partnership with the local tourism board and county to develop public service announcements,” said Kate Jones, Telluride Arts’ executive director. When it came to getting the message out about the coronavirus, “I kept saying, let’s get local artists involved. We can help. We tried to lighten the mood,” Jones said. “The goal all along was to be very, very clear about the health and safety protocols in Telluride. But at the same time, our work is to uplift people and promote kindness. Everything we’ve done has been in that vein.”

In addition to the PSAs — the work of local artists Casey Nay, Brandon Berkel and Molly Pernault — the arts organization has paid local musicians to perform downtown.

“We’re trying to fill the air with live music,” Jones said. “We’ve raised more money for local artists this year than ever before, which is huge, considering that our budget basically fell through the floor.”

Telluride Arts has also flung open the doors of the Transfer Warehouse (an ideal, safe, outdoor space for virus times) welcoming a wide array of musicians, writers and dancers to perform for locals and visitors.

“It’s been incredibly sweet over there,” Jones said.

Poet Rosemerry Trommer read from her new poetry publication in the Warehouse; the Wilkinson Public Library has presented events for kids and dates with local musicians. Coming up next week will be a performance (the second of two this season) by the Telluride Dance Collective, the fourth annual “Mass Movement Transitions,” “an eclectic evening of live dance, spoken word, video installations and dance films.”

The Thinkers Festival will soon make use of the Transfer Warehouse’s signature space. And there is an ongoing series of live Tiny Concerts (visit telluridearts.org to learn more) being held there.

“Our board invested their own money in making that space available to the community,” Jones said. “It’s been kind of an act of kindness, a really wonderful contribution to the mental health and wellbeing of the community in Telluride, which is our first concern.”

On Friday, Telluride Arts will host a fundraiser, featuring a live auction with giveaways aimed at experiences locals might enjoy. “We have some really wonderful events,” Jones said, such as a private pop-up dinner in the warehouse catered by There bar, featuring a local musician (“It’s going to be just sublime”). The Original Thinkers festival will sponsor a private film night; and Wagner Skis is offering a pair of boards “customized by a design by an artist of your choice.”

The auction selections have been chosen with locals in mind — experiences that those who live here might particularly savor. Said Jones, “We’re super focused on the community right now.” As they have always been.

Visit telluridearts.org on Friday for a list of auction item and upcoming events.