An education in art

Understanding art is an art in and of itself. Contemporary art, in particular, can be confusing if not intimidating to the casual beholder. Sometimes, the reaction is: “Well, I don’t understand it, so I’m going to walk away.” It’s a response that Becca Spiro, Breckenridge Creative Arts’ first director of learning and innovation, would like to avoid. “My goal is to make the art more approachable,” said Spiro, who taught Spanish to schoolchildren, earned a master’s degree in contemporary art, and worked as a Breckenridge ski patroller before finding her “dream job” with BreckCreate.

The key, of course, lies in education. “In many ways with art—especially contemporary art— more information is better, because people feel empowered to break through that outer crust of the art and create that personal connection,” she said.

Spiro manages educational, research, and outreach initiatives that connect BCA programs, tours, studio classes, and exhibitions to the organization’s many audiences, whether they’re on campus, online, or offsite. A member of the curatorial team, she develops new methods to aid visitors’ understanding of art by promoting creative, participatory, and interdisciplinary learning experiences. Her current projects include building out docent-guided and app-driven, self-guided walking tours of the Town’s 31 pieces of public art; creating online educational materials for teachers, parents, and children; and formulating credit-based internships for local students.

“In many ways with art—especially contemporary art— more information is better, because people feel empowered to break through that outer crust of the art and create that personal connection.”

One of the first initiatives to launch is BCA’s field trip program, which offers teachers the opportunity to bring their classes to the Breckenridge Arts District for a guided tour and hands-on art experiences. BCA has scheduled these to take place four times per year, coinciding with its Día de los Muertos—or Day of the Dead—celebration in October; its Fire Arts Festival in January; the WAVE festival in May and June; and the Breckenridge International Festival of Arts in August and September.

The field trips are not only for art students, but any students for whom a cross-curricular connection can be made. For example, in October, a Spanish class from Vail Mountain School made Día de los Muertos lanterns with mason jars and tissue paper, toured the Tony Ortega exhibition at Old Masonic Hall in Spanish (with some English help), and applied their learning with a take-home activity book created by Spiro.

Tony Ortega is the illustrator of the children’s book, “Days of the Dead: Aztec Adventures of “Cholo, Vato, and Pano,” by Dr. George Rivera, which the group of middle schoolers read in advance of their visit. Thus the students were excited to recognize familiar work at the exhibition, which featured 12 of Ortega’s pastel illustrations alongside words by Rivera.

The new field trip program began with middle and high school groups, but Spiro envisions leading college students and families too, not to mention offering tours in English and Spanish. “I’m prepared to get as academic as I need to, or go back to the basics,” she said. “The sky is the limit.”

Spiro has been visiting other towns with comparable art scenes, studying what they do and imagining what could work in Breckenridge. “I think there’s a craving for that educational component,” she said. “It’s fun to think about future possibilities for educational initiatives.

BCA teaching and learning // > learn

Photo: Liam Doran