Gondolla cabin art

From culinary oasis to art installation: Up to 10 artists’ designs will be selected to adorn the refurbished gondola cabins — now private dining spaces — in Mountain Village. (Photo by Michael Mowery) 

The Mountain Village gondola cabins were a cheery refuge in a pandemic winter, places for diners to safely gather and enjoy a warming beverage, or a bite, before heading back into the snow.

They were also a media sensation. Conceived of by Town of Mountain Village staff as a way to keep local restaurants operating safely, soon after they were unveiled, gondola cabins began turning up at dining establishments far from pristine, powder-covered peaks. “Just outside Cleveland, five apres-ski-themed gondola cars are helping restaurateur John Owen keep the lights on at Rocky River Wine Bar and Market,” Food & Wine wrote. The dining pods enabled “us to stay relevant and busy, enough to allow all of our employees to stay employed and not lose shifts — because when you lose seats inside (the restaurant), you have to lose staff,” Owen told the magazine.

Box canyon denizens think big (even when it comes to small cabins) and the dining pods were always intended to be more than a culinary oasis, said Zoe Dohnal, the business development and sustainability director for the Town of Mountain Village. 

“Having them become part of a public art project was always the idea, only we didn’t have enough time to work through it,” Dohnal said. “When we were putting them together, it was like, ‘Red, blue, yellow. Right, done. Move forward.’ Now, we can take the time to really curate these pieces to their full potential.”

That’s where the help of local artists comes in. In collaboration with Telluride Arts and the Town of Mountain Village Owners’ Association (TMVOA), the Town of Mountain Village is soliciting applications to decorate the refurbished cabins in Mountain Village Center. The deadline to apply is July 20 (visit tinyurl.com/475phrsk to learn more).

There’s a small stipend ($500) for the 10 artists whose designs are chosen. More importantly, it’s an opportunity to have your work on view in a place where thousands pass by. 

“It’s an exciting opportunity for artists to participate in a high visibility project,” Kate Jones, Telluride Arts’ executive director, said. “Telluride can be a challenging place for public art, because of the restrictions of living in a national historic district. Not just anything goes in Telluride, and that’s okay: it’s a beautiful place because of that. But it can be a challenging locale for public art installations. It’s wonderful for Mountain Village and TMVOA to step up, and be a healthy place for this to happen.” 

Telluride Arts, too, is seeking assistance with this project: they’re looking for local artists who are not participating in the gondola-cabin project to serve on a peer-review panel, Jones said. 

“We don’t directly influence the selection process; we’ll facilitate it,” she explained. “It’s super-exciting and creative, and seems to be tapping into a lot of artists that I haven’t seen represented in the galleries. This is a different way for artists to showcase their work.” The canvas isn’t, well, canvas. “It’s 3D, and very dynamic,” Jones said, “which perhaps attracts a different kind of artist, and approach. The entries I’ve observed so far have been very graphic: the designs are really bold and colorful.”

Dohnal imagines the gondola-decorating contest could be become an annual, or perhaps every-other-year, affair. 

“With Covid, we weren’t given the luxury of time to concentrate on the cabins’ aesthetics,” she said. “It’s a sign of so many things that we’re able to do that now. We’re going beyond Covid relief, to true joy. This is the beautiful and the fun part.”