In the wake of a recent work session with Telluride Town Council late last month, Telluride Arts has mounted an informational campaign as a means of addressing criticism that the organization had lost touch with the community.
On social media and through email blasts, the nonprofit has released a series of spots touting the benefits and uses the Transfer Warehouse will bring to the community. A recent email with the subject heading “We’re listening!” encouraged recipients to take part in a survey regarding uses of the Transfer Warehouse.
“We love our arts community and strive to stay in touch with your needs and ideas because you are a vital part of our mission. In the last two weeks, we have become aware there has been a disconnect, and we look forward to reengaging and staying better connected,” the email reads, in part.
Telluride Arts is also establishing an Artists Advisory Board, an assemblage of local artists that will, “help ensure our programming is relevant to our local artist community. This group will help ask the right questions and convene artists in a variety of ways so all voices are heard.”
The nonprofit is close to making its final payment on the purchase of the Transfer Warehouse, which is being envisioned as a nexus for various arts events and as a place for the community to gather. Some members of the public who spoke at the Town Council work session noted there was no space in the conceptual design for artist workspace.
In an earlier interview with the Daily Planet, Telluride Arts Executive Director Kate Jones defended the allegations that the process has not been as inclusive as possible.
“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,” she said.
Jones and Telluride Arts board of directors president Penelope Gleason said that the design process has been open and inclusive. And both recognize the need for further input from the community.
“We realized that folks may not know of our continuous work for artists’ spaces,” Gleason said. “Through an open public process and a thorough financial evaluation assisted by ArtSpace, the Transfer Warehouse ‘highest potential community benefit’ was determined to be prioritizing use for many over use for only a few. Carving out private locked off spaces was determined by the majority of participants to be incredibly expensive to artists and the opposite of a publicly accessed space for all to enjoy.”
Telluride Arts was able to enter into a purchase agreement for the historic Transfer Warehouse when the developers of the adjacent property — Telluride Transfer Co. — on South Fir Street had to show public benefit as mitigation for the development proposal. The deal was sealed last April and this year, on April 1, the final payment on the $1.5 million purchase price will be tendered.
Telluride Arts has welcomed continued dialogue in the wake of the February work session.
“This dialogue is extremely important,” Gleason said. “It appears that in our recent focus to achieve the over-riding first goal of securing this hugely important historic landmark for the community, some folks felt left out of touch with the project. We are actively seeking dialogue with stakeholders in our community.”
The recent wave of outreach has been successful in gathering additional feedback, Jones said.
“The lion’s share of the feedback we’re receiving is very positive and in support of the vision as it stands, which is aspirational and will serve the whole community,” she said.
In addition to some members of the arts community who’ve voiced concern about the building’s conceptual design, some council members would like to give voice to, as council member DeLanie Young said, “artists, galleries and arts organizations” within the officially designated Telluride Creative District. “All those people and groups make up the arts district and don’t feel like they’re being heard or helped.”
Gleason said she welcomes the criticism as an opportunity for dialogue. Telluride Arts is open to hearing “all sides of the story.” And she reiterated that the process has been inclusive and open.
“If council members or citizens are unclear about how this project came to be or what the community developed vision is, we invite them to come discuss,” she said. “The planning process has been totally transparent and inclusive, with over 50 public meetings.
“We understand that elections change the makeup of council, and there are many pressing issues that council is addressing. We ask only newer members open their minds to listen and appreciate that truly good faith process has happened and continues to take place. We also understand that some may just not like the outcome of the long public process that got us here today.”
Funding for the purchase of the Transfer Warehouse, Telluride Arts officials said, has been achieved through private sources. The town partially funds Telluride Arts through the Commission for Community Assistance, Arts & Special Events (CCAASE). This year, Telluride Arts received $48,535 of the $60,000 it requested, some of which they’d indicated was for marketing purposes related to the capital drive to purchase and redesign the Transfer Warehouse. Young, who serves as the council liaison on CCAASE, said at the grant allocation meeting in January, “I’m unwilling to give tax dollars to funding their building and advertising,” and expressed disappointment that there was no artist space or housing in the Transfer Warehouse design plans.
“The need for housing is real,” Gleason said. “Yet as one member of the artist community commented at a Town Council meeting about this project, ‘I need culture and the arts as well to feel I have a community.’ We need to stop coming from fear that makes us fight over what we see as limited pieces of a pie. This project truly will help to grow the pie and create more opportunities for all arts organizations and artists.”
Jones added, “This process has revealed concern about our plans, and we relish the opportunity for civil discourse.”
To take the survey or sign up for the Artists Advisory Board, visit telluridearts.org.