Street Arts: Patriotica!

Breckenridge Creative Arts gets ready to celebrate the good ol’ US of A with pomp and circumstance on the Fourth of July, hosting old-timey fun at the Breckenridge Arts District from pie-eating contests, tug-of-wars, and sack races to a chalk art contest in conjunction with the Town’s annual July 4 event. The new “Street Arts: Patriotica!” builds on BCA’s earlier festival but reinterprets “street arts” with a European flare to encompass any and all genres where the work is open, inclusive, participatory, or democratic.

“The street arts have a long and colorful history in Europe,” explained festival creator Robb Woulfe, CEO of Breckenridge Creative Arts. “From public processions to street theater, artists have co-opted traditional symbols and art forms to serve contemporary or political messages reflective of a specific place and time. In Breckenridge,” he said, “we look forward to celebrating our independence, heritage, and freedom in a way that is uniquely ours— based in our rich local history while poking good-hearted fun at ourselves.”

That spirit is reflected in BCA’s planned parade float, which will feature a giant mermaid hawking “Mile High Mermaid Altitude Sickness Tonic” in a playful throwback to 1920’s-era snake oil salesmen. “It’s incredibly satirical and as happy as it could possibly be, with all its ecstatic claims of how it could change your life,” said Andi Todaro, the Denver-based creative professional who masterminded the float, which will be assembled during her Arts District residence June 18 to July 7.

Todaro’s satire takes aim at modern phenomena from our obsession with pharmacology—“all our solutions are in pill form,” she said—to the commercialization of mythological creatures like mermaids, who have been transformed from “sirens that kill people” into “adorable loving creatures.” At the same time, the float is meant to be fun and funny; at the parade’s end it doubles as a photo booth, and guests are invited to climb inside for photo opps with the mermaid.

“I sort of resent the title of artist,” said Todaro, whose multidisciplinary work ranges from murals and a stained glass window to engineering a series of harmonographs that “draw the abstract relationship of two diminishing sounds’ waves” as frequencies change. She has created and sold jewelry, modeled in fashion shows, published coloring books, and produced a photography series. “Anything that suits my fancy at the moment, that’s what I’m doing,” said Todaro, who also does her own promotions and window displays. “The term artist pigeonholes you,” she said. “By calling myself ‘a creative,’ I’m making a way for an artist to be what it was supposed to be originally—to challenge the status quo and ask questions and live more freely and make a float with a mermaid on it.”

Breckenridge Heritage Alliance partners on historic costuming for the float’s characters, and Todaro will also contribute her talents to the overall décor of Patriotica, including the “dusty, World War II, antiqued red and blue” color scheme planned for signs and ephemera throughout.

“I think the creative class of any culture is very, very important to its health because it is a mirror and expresser of what that culture is going through,” she said, emphasizing the vital roles of “political art, street art, arts and crafts, street artisans,” and essentially all “people who are proud of what they make.”

“Creativity is a collective responsibility,” she added. “Anybody can use more creativity in their life. You don’t have to be afraid to be creative.”

Another exhibition, titled Barter Boat Trading Post, plays on “America’s love affair with ‘The Sale’” while connecting people across the nation through relinquished treasures. Created by the artist collective Radar Art, Barter Boat is a temporary storefront with an Old West saloon-style façade “inspired by the kitschy cheerfulness of Burma-Shave advertisements,” where visitors can trade anything from small trinkets like keychains and action figures to stories, jokes, and live performances. In exchange, artists Desireé Moore, Robin Schwartzman, and Anna Abhau Elliott trade hand-selected packages they curate and craft using objects from the boat’s previous stop.

“We are those people that keep weird small things. We go to estate sales and yard sales. Any photograph, anywhere—I am going to buy it and add it to my collection,” said Moore, who will be in residence at the Arts District July 1 to 22. “The idea of a family letting go of those memories has always been so sad to me. I think they should have a home, and be cherished.”

This “passionate relationship with stuff” inspired Barter Boat, which the three collaborated on after meeting at an artist residency in 2015. “The art world can be very academic, and it can be very exclusive,” said Moore. “We were all interested in branching out from that and doing something that was more about the process. We are interested in objects, and we are interested in having conversations with people.”

“There is a lot of sentimental value in objects that may not have monetary value,” she explained. Thus with each exchange, the artists share the item’s “origin story,” collected along with the object at the previous stop. In this way, seemingly meaningless objects become catalysts for human interaction, “creating new histories that may have never been there,” Moore said. “We’ve been able to connect people who are very different, with very different beliefs, through these objects. I think it’s a great way to bring people on different sides of the country together.”

Among the packages to be traded in Breckenridge are “gold star” items deemed to be of high value based on rarity, uniqueness, sentimentality, or origin story. These prized objects “go to someone who is really invested in the process,” Moore said. Wrapped in opaque gold packaging, they evoke gold panning, “where one has to sort through the junk to get to the good items.”

“We would love people to think about what they have at home that they are willing to part with,” Moore concluded. “We trade just about everything, so bring it to us. Don’t decide yourself that we won’t take it—bring it to us and we’ll see what happens.”

Other activities lined up for Patriotica include a craft-making booth for kids, an exhibition of children’s artwork from BCA’s summer camp partnership, a blue ribbon ceremony at the days’ end to recognize contest and race winners, a beer barbecue, and some foot-stomping traditional folk music.

“We conceived our Patriotica celebration with the utmost respect and affection,” said Woulfe. “In it, we very intentionally blend parody with homage, mixing high art with home-grown culture in a way that comments on the traditions of small-town America while promising a whole lot of fun for the Fourth of July.”

“It is a ritual in Breckenridge to celebrate,” said Nicole Dial-Kay, BCA’s director of exhibitions and special projects. “We are constantly having festivals and fairs. With Patriotica we are adding to that tradition by offering familiar activities that people can participate in year after year. Our hope is to contribute to the Breckenridge identity—that strong sense of place that makes so many people want to visit and live here.”

Street Arts: Patriotica! //
Andi Todaro //
Desireé Moore //
Breckenridge Heritage Alliance //