In a morning work session at Tuesday’s Telluride Town Council meeting, Telluride Arts Executive Director Kate Jones settled in for what she supposed would be a routine update to council on the organization’s latest plans for the Transfer Warehouse and a brief overview of the nonprofit’s history.
But when several members of Telluride’s arts community present at Rebekah Hall expressed concern that the building’s design was not inclusive enough of the needs of local artists, Jones had to switch gears from a straight-forward update to government officials to explaining the process that led up to the so-far conceptual design of the $20 million project located on the corner of Pacific Avenue and South Fir Street.
“We have always had open, transparent public meetings to hear from the community, and are open to more,” Jones told the Daily Planet after the meeting. “But I was asked to provide a progress report to council and was not anticipating that there would be a call to arms. We have enjoyed a close partnership with the town, and were delegated the authority to advance the Cultural Master Plan goals, and for all intents and purposes have succeeded in this role. The new council members perhaps have a different agenda and want us to reconsider housing and studios in the warehouse. However, it would have been nice to engage in a respectful, democratic process based on the work that has come before.”
As currently envisioned, the Transfer Warehouse, a crumbling historic building, would be transformed into a multi-use space that includes a rooftop bar and gathering area, a basement level lecture hall/meeting/theater space and a ground level gallery space that could also be used as a community gathering area. A second floor gallery space rounds out the conceptual design thus far.
The process, Jones told council, included 400 participants, who considered the architect’s preliminary ideas.
Council member Geneva Shaunette said she invited members of the arts community and arts groups’ representatives to the work session when she saw the Telluride Arts update on the agenda last week. Some spoke to the fact that there is nothing in the design that accommodates studio space for working local artists.
“I hope artists are part of what the benefit of the Transfer Warehouse is,” local artist Brittany Miller said. Miller once ran the Stronghouse Studio, a warren of artist workspaces that filled the Stronghouse building on South Fir Street.
Today, there are a number of studios in the Voodoo Lounge building — a town-owned property on the corner of South Willow Street and East Pacific Avenue — but the long-term future there is uncertain, as town and other entities have thought about developing the lot for housing and other uses.
“It’s concerning to me that the number one request (in a survey about potential uses of the building), artist studio space” is not included, Shaunette said.
“We wanted to max out the public aspect of the space,” Jones said. “The (second floor) gallery space could be transformed into studio space.”
The second floor, according to materials provided by Telluride Arts, is 4,000 square feet.
Others in the audience said they felt excluded and “left out in the cold” regarding the current progress of work surrounding the acquisition and design of the Transfer Warehouse.
In an interview after the meeting, Jones explained that the design can “certainly” be re-edited and that the notion of artist studio space was always under consideration.
“Yes, private studios, makers space and housing were absolutely on the table when we invited community members to determine the uses and vision for the warehouse,” she said. “ArtSpace, our consultants, are genius for creating spaces for artists, and we hired them to facilitate the plan because we felt their ethos aligned with Telluride, balancing support for local artists while not being provincial.”
The resulting vision, she said, was a decision to “serve the public good, prioritizing spaces that would be free and open to the community as a whole, rather than serving the needs of a few individuals.”
They sought to avoid redundancy in the building’s design.
“There are other messy, makers’ spaces in town, including the Ah Haa School being built across the street,” Jones said.
Jones also responded to allegations that the process has not been inclusive.
“We are concerned that is the perception because all of the planning has been done through diligent, facilitated public meetings, and have developed a vision that is in complement to other institutions, rather than in conflict or competition with them,” she said. “In fact, those who spoke have been included in this process, as recently as last summer, so we’re trying to understand what the underlying issues are and circle back with everyone who feels their voice hasn’t been heard. We do maintain a record of invitations and attendees which we can share.”
Shaunette said she wanted those involved in the arts community to attend Tuesday’s work session, because some she’d spoken to felt they were “being left behind in the process.”
She praised Telluride Arts’ work in the community through the years, but enumerated some concerns with the direction of the Transfer Warehouse in an interview after the meeting.
“I’m very concerned that the new building is bringing in outside artists and that it won’t be affordable for events,” Shaunette said. “I’m concerned it doesn’t have enough funky weirdness. I feel like there is a disconnect between the survey results and the selected design. I don’t think people feel heard.”
Jones responded: “Our public meetings and planning record speaks for itself, but we know there’s no end to blatant transparency and rigorous inclusion, and we need to keep at it. Currently, we have a grant application out for another Cultural Master Planning process, and we also have an artists survey out on our website that we launched at an artists gathering last summer, which included a presentation on the warehouse.”
For more information, visit the Telluride Arts website at telluridearts.org.