Robin Kondracki atop her first mural in Naturita. Her latest, funded by a 2021 Small Grant from Telluride Arts, is at the Telluride Boarding House. (Courtesy photo)

Robin Kondracki grew up in Telluride, and has served as an Americorps Vista volunteer in this region.

Those two facts offer this amateur artist a unique perspective on the local landscape. She gets the big picture: “My work is heavily inspired by the San Juans,” she says.

Kondracki also has a granular appreciation of what it costs to live here. For many of her Vista friends, it was their stay at the low-cost Boarding House — part of Telluride’s affordable housing complex, along the San Miguel River — which made it possible for them to volunteer in this region at all.

When they told her about “a huge blank wall” inside the Boarding House, Kondracki was inspired. She’d already painted one mural — her first — on the former site of a bar, burned down years ago, in Naturita as part of her tenure as a Vista volunteer. “The idea was to turn the space into a pocket park,” Kondracki recalled. “But the first step,” to evoke a sense of optimism, and (perhaps even) the possibility of beauty out of an “old, dilapidated, three-wall structure” was to paint a mural.

“I love that murals can be enjoyed by everyone,” she said. “I like their sense of permanence — that these works can by enjoyed by people now, and a few years from now. I also love their impermanence.” With a few flicks of a paint roller, “the mural can be totally gone,” Kondracki said. “That makes them special.”

So when she envisioned the Boarding House “empty white space” her friends mentioned, “My immediate feeling was, the place has such an inherent sense of community.”

More precisely — and appropriately — the gaping space was in the community room proper. Kondracki applied for, and received, $1,000 from the 2021 Telluride Arts Small Grants Awards Program. The number of recipients can vary from five to as many as a dozen, and the awards themselves range from $300 to $2,000, depending on the scope of the project, said Austin Halpern, Telluride Arts’ exhibitions and events manager. Recipients range from photographers to musicians to painters and more.

“This past year we awarded grants for acrobatic work and a podcast project,” Halpern noted. “One of our grantees runs a community ceramics studio and needed an extra pottery wheel, so she could continue to offer classes” — albeit more socially distanced — “during the pandemic.”

A Small Grant funded singer-songwriter Emily Scott Robinson’s score for the Shakespeare in the Park’s production of “Macbeth.”

For her 30-foot-wide, 12-foot-tall mural in acrylics at the Boarding House, Kondracki chose to echo the imposing view just outside the community room, “from Campbell to Dallas to Emma to the San Sophia Ridge,” she said, ticking off the peaks that loom above the valley. “I thought it was a nice idea to mirror the skyline, but do it in an abstract way, with colors.”

And in true community spirit, she had a lot of help from the community itself, starting with onsite property manager Max Jenkins, who was on board with the idea of a mural from the very beginning.

“Getting this award was just the first step,” Kondracki recalled. “I still had to pitch my design and ideas to the Town of Telluride,” a process for which she found Jenkins’ support essential. “And the Boarding House’s residents were so friendly and accommodating and very enjoyable” to be around, she added. “They helped me spackle the walls and put masking tape up. I finally got the go ahead to work on the mural in the summer, probably in August. I started in September, after I’d settled into my job” (she works full-time for another nonprofit that serves the community, the San Miguel Resource Center). “It was good to start in the warmer months,” she said, “so the doors could be open, it was better for ventilation, and there were still a lot of residents outside. It was the least intrusive that I could be.”

Telluride Arts has just begun accepting applications for the 2022 edition of its Small Grants for Artists. (In addition to Small Grants, the nonprofit confers Flash Grants, Amplify Grants and Art + Architecture Grants for its signature summer design weekend, which returns next July.) Applications for Small Grants are due by midnight on Friday, Dec. 17, will be reviewed in January, and funded as soon as Feb. 1 of next year. Kondracki would be delighted to embark upon a third mural. “If anyone has a wall for me to paint on,” she said, “contact me through Telluride Arts.”