Summit County youth have arrived on the art scene. More than 200 people attended the opening of “Cloud of Wonder,” the student-run exhibition at South Branch Library featuring artwork by students from every school in Summit School District. Local shops have a first-time collection of creative writing and artwork by more than 60 students for sale, with proceeds benefiting Mountain Mentors.
“It’s really exciting to see the momentum we are gaining for the arts district-wide,” said Karen Fischer, liaison for the Junior Executive Art Panel (JEAP), a program for art aficionados ages 13-18 that meets weekly at the Breckenridge Arts District and other locations to create art, tour local galleries, visit with artists-in-residence, and plan the South Branch Library shows.
Together with Becca Spiro, Director of Learning and Engagement for Breckenridge Creative Arts (also known as BCA or BreckCreate), Fischer helped JEAP members learn how to curate art exhibitions. “They imagined ‘Cloud of Wonder’ all on their own,” she said of the show, which runs through October 1. It is the first exhibition in more than a decade to showcase work by K-12 students from all nine district schools together.
“We reached out to all the elementary, middle, and high schools in the county and had them pick their favorite artworks,” said JEAP member Chase Byers, who is now a senior at Summit High School. “We made sure it fit the guidelines and was showable, and we presented it accordingly.” Students also took a leadership role promoting the opening on social media.
A highlight of the show was “Imagine,” a debut collection of writing and visual artwork created by the After School Writing Club— another group of young people ages 13 to 18 that meets at the Breckenridge Arts District. The club is masterminded by local parent Sonya Dalyrmple and supported by BCA, which funded the book’s production. It was unveiled at “Cloud of Wonder” accompanied by a live poetry reading.
‘“Imagine’ is a really first-rate collection of written and visual artworks,” said Robb Woulfe, CEO of BreckCreate. “It shows the talent and potential of Summit County youth. We are very excited to engage with, support, and promote our younger generations of artists and writers.” The book can be purchased at Next Page bookstore in Frisco, Gallery@OMH on Main Street Breckenridge, and other local shops, with the suggested $15 donation going to Mountain Mentors’ efforts to match caring adult volunteers with youth ages 8-18.
“I think it’s really nice having something be your own but also be supported by BreckCreate,” said Chase, who worked on selecting art for the opening while his friends put the gallery together. “They allow a lot of freedom and are open to ideas. It’s really cool to see our work pay off with a successful gallery opening, and to see an awesome product come out that benefits a lot of other people too.”
“It was neat to see the families and children come out,” said Fischer. “We really felt like it was a model to look to—to have everyone feel included and to be able to captivate an audience from all over the county.”
The next exhibition, entitled “Museum of Memories,” opens in mid-October in conjunction with the Día de los Muertos festivities, which take place November 1-3 at the Arts District. This show, too, will include work by students of all ages, this time in the form of large canvases “focusing on inclusion,” as Chase put it, “but also really capturing what a lot of artists base their art on—which are memories.” Since there are many children of Latin American heritage in Summit County who have taken part in Día de los Muertos celebrations with their families, Fischer hopes those memories, and the memories inspired by sharing them, will help teachers and students formulate thoughtful contributions to the show while including more young artists overall. Students from Summit High School and Dillon Valley Elementary School will be on hand to lead visitors through bilingual, interactive tours of the gallery during Día de los Muertos.
“We are so thankful for BreckCreate giving us the opportunity to partner, and for having a space for us,” said Fischer, noting that the new Gallery@SBL, located downstairs in South Branch Library, is a perfect fit since it is a county space, inclusive of Breckenridge, Frisco, Dillon, Silverthorne, and other local towns.
Both the Junior Executive Art Panel and the After School Writing Club are open to public, private, and home-schooled students, as well as seasonal visitors and vacationers. They are among a slate of offerings for children, teenagers, and educators made possible by the growing partnership between BCA and local schools.
One notable program for educators is Teacher Academy, now in its second year, which offers teachers the opportunity to earn graduate credit from Adams State University while learning techniques to integrate art into the curriculum. “It’s similar to a docent curriculum,” said Spiro, who teaches the course. Using the Breckenridge public art collection as a launching point, teachers learn how to create and execute lesson plans centered around artwork—whether in Breckenridge or elsewhere—and how to build a creative toolkit to connect students with that art.
“I loved that there was no pressure to feel like you had to be any sort of professional expert in art history, critiquing art, or creating it in order to aptly incorporate art into your curriculum,” said Alyssa Geiger, who teaches English at Summit High School. “After creating sample art-incorporation lessons for the final activity of the Teacher Academy class, I taught my exact lessons the following semester, and loved how well the students connected with the content. The fact that this Teacher Academy course was so widely applicable to all levels and subject areas was a huge draw for me and made for a fantastically diverse classroom of fellow educators.”
“I learned so much about our local art,” said Amy Schroder, who teaches kindergarten at Breckenridge Elementary School. “Maybe I want to teach my class about how our community values reading,” she said. “There’s a sculpture of a girl reading in front of the library. It intertwines what we are trying to teach—but when students can see it happening around them, I think that makes it more powerful.”
Schroder has also taken her kindergarten class on field trips to the Breckenridge Arts District, where students rotate from station to station experiencing art forms from ceramics and printmaking to drawing, or creating their own self-portraits. It connects into the school’s “express yourself” planner, a theme that is part of the district’s International Baccalaureate program. “They are 5 and 6 years old and they can walk by the Tin Shop and say, ‘I learned about poetry in there.’ And that’s right in their town,” Schroder said. “That’s so accessible. It’s a unique opportunity for a small town, I think.”
Other youth opportunities made possible by BCA and its partners include summer art camps at the Arts District and “Catch Camps” offered with Keystone Science School. Each month’s Second Saturday includes family programming, and there are additional programs from after-school and toddler art to teen internships and community projects. Both Snowy Peaks High School and Colorado Mountain College students benefit from Arts District facilities and resources as part of their art programs.
Weighing in on Arts District programming is the Teacher Parent Advisory Committee, which meets quarterly. “It’s a diverse group of people,” said Schroder, who sits on the committee alongside parents, K-12 teachers, and principals.
“Becca [Spiro] has taken our advice to formulate her camps,” said Schroder, whose son took part in the 4-day Ready, Set, Paint! camp in June. “She is really receptive to ideas and appreciates the perspectives of the committee. I think when parents and teachers are given the opportunity to collaborate, we can learn from one another and positive things can happen.”
“I never see students as happy as they are, in the school setting, as when they are sitting in the art classroom listening to music and creating art,” said Fischer, who teaches art classes part-time at Summit High School and landscape painting and children’s summer camps for the Arts District, in addition to her role with the Junior Executive Art Panel. “I think that art experience is critical for everyone.”
“Hopefully we inspire kids to consider careers in the visual arts,” Fischer said, describing JEAP as “resume-building” because the students will have “a handful of exhibits under their belts that they have been involved with from inception to realization,” not to mention exposure “to intellectual thoughts and ideas that are behind the visual arts,” and practical ways to get involved. “There are real options out there in the creative careers,” she said.
“We want to expose the next generations to all that is possible in the creative arts—and getting involved early is key,” said Woulfe. “We are really just now getting started on this rich and diverse palette of youth programming, made possible by vibrant partnerships with our local schools, young people, and teachers. It will be exciting to see what the arts landscape in Summit County looks like in 20 years.”
BCA for teens + tweens // breckcreate.org/teens-tweens
BCA for kids + families // breckcreate.org/kids-families
BCA for educators // breckcreate.org/teachers-educators
Gallery@SBL // Summit County Library // 103 S. Harris St., Breckenridge
Gallery@OMH // 136 S. Main St., Breckenridge
Photos by Joe Kusumoto