Regional arts

“Exiled,” taken at night on Route 550, Red Mountain Pass. (Photo by Markus Van Meter)

The arts scene in the San Juans this summer is, admittedly, a work-in-progress. You might imagine it as a work of Pointillism: through contrasting dots of paint, an image is beginning to emerge. 

Already, much art was created in quarantine, such as Telluride Theatre’s recently concluded Shelter In Play(ce) Short Play Festival (go to to view the plays). 

At the Wright Opera House in Ouray, following a call for crowd-sourced art, there was, literally, a crowd of art: simply too many submissions to display the exhibit “Art In Isolation: Coping with Quarantine” in the Wright’s single-picture window. Curator Alyssa Preston has solved the problem by changing the display every weekday at 10 a.m.

Preston had asked for works in black and white. “My personal reaction to our current situation is a feeling of ‘Life in Gray Scale,’” she explained on the Wright’s website. “I think taking color away, in itself, is my statement of art in isolation.” 

Not all artists responded to Preston’s call for pieces in black-and-white — she has posted all the works in full color at — but some took up the challenge. 

Ouray photographer Markus Van Meter was one of them. “I don’t normally shoot in black and white,” Van Meter said. His images “Fear,” taken from inside a car and subtitled “Annette Getting Tested” for Covid-19, and “Exiled,” a self-portrait shot at night in the middle of the road on Red Mountain Pass, capture the starkness and isolation of a singular time.

Now the artistic landscape is shifting yet again. Visitors are returning to the San Juans, and artists (and classes) are coming back into the open. 

On Tuesday, Weehawken Arts and Ridgway’s Sherbino Theater present a hybrid event: “ArtBar: Coffee Cups and Glasses of Wine” with instructor Anne Hockenberry. No experience is necessary, “and of course, liquid inspiration will be available,” the course description reads. 

The event will be convivial, but slightly less crowded: This ArtBar is being held both in person and online (sign up at The class “is basically going to be our model” going forward, programs director Trisha Oakland said. “A lot of people aren’t ready” for in-person events, but some are, Oakland pointed out. So programmers plan to hold events bothin-person and online. ArtBar will respect social distancing, and offer a set of paints you can take home with you, in addition to Hockenberry’s instruction and a beverage. Other attendees can follow along from the comfort of their own home; instruction will be uploaded, so you can watch whenever you choose. 

As for the remainder of this summer, “We have some really exciting stuff planned,” Oakland said. “Our backyard courtyard behind the 610 Arts Collective has been completely set up and can seat, probably, 20.” She’s envisioning “some small tables, possibly beer and appetizers once we’re allowed to open up,” replete with “really nice café lighting that upholds Dark Sky standards.” 

It would be an intimate setting for “a storytelling series featuring actors from the Sherbino Theater Company.” Perhaps a solo musician might perform. “Our goal would be mid-June, if this works with state and local public health orders,” Oakland said. Obviously, “We’ll get the green light from Ouray County Health” before opening. Whatever the event, “We’ll be happy to have a maximimum of 20-25 patrons” attend, she added. “We want to make a comfortable space for everybody. We don’t plan on programming anything inside the Sherbino Theater this summer at all. Everyone says being outdoors is healthier, and summer’s the time to do it.”

The reluctance to program indoor events led to a recent decision by the Ouray County Performing Arts Guild (OCPAG) that offers yet another picture of what the arts are likely to look like this summer: There will be no large outdoor gatherings — as the cancellation of numerous festivals has already proved — and precious few if any events are likely to take place indoors.

The guild’s board met Tuesday night, “and while we haven’t put out any information officially,” executive director Heather Greisz said, “the board decided to cancel the rest of our 2020 season. A lot of our board members were talking to patrons and asking, ‘If we did concerts, would you come inside?’ The answer was a resounding no.” (OCPAG concerts are held at the Wright Opera House and at the 4H Event Center in Ridgway.) 

“Airflow studies have shown how COVID-19 is transmitted,” Greisz said frankly. “And when it comes down to it, how would a concert with 25 or 30 attendees,” a safe number for social distancing, “even be economically feasible? Plus, most of our patrons are over age 50. That’s the wrong age to be sitting in a theater” for a 90-minute-long performance. “And our musicians would have to take airplanes to get here,” Greisz summed up. “It just didn’t make sense. So, we’re going to take what’s known in music as a fermatta — a grand pause. Hopefully all will go well, and we can come back and have a vibrant, exceptional year, next year.”