Steamboat welcomes Mexican consul general

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With the installment of Mexican Consul General Juan Marcos Gutierrez in Denver last year, rural Western Colorado found a renewed link to a bordering country's culture and heritage.

On Thursday, Gutierrez will make his first visit to Steamboat Springs as part of the region's first-ever Northwest Colorado Mexican Cultural Festival. A reception featuring live entertainment, visual arts and food at Centennial Hall is designed to introduce Gutierrez to the local and regional community and bring Mexican culture into the Western Slope community spotlight.

What: Northwest Colorado Mexican Cultural Festival -- A reception for Mexican Consul General Juan Marcos Gutierrez, mariachis, food and film When: Reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday. A screening of "Like Water for Chocolate" starts at 7:30 p.m. Where: Centennial Hall Cost: Free

"It's so important that we do things like this in Steamboat that recognize our diversity," said Linda Kakela, the city's director of intergovernmental services, who was instrumental in pulling the celebration together.

During Thursday's reception for Gutierrez, a mariachi group named "Trio Fiesta" will sing and play requinto (small guitar), guitarron (a large guitar) and bajo (bass). The band performs Mexican folklórico, rancheras and traditional romantic songs. The Cantina will donate Mexican food, and a screening of the crowd-pleasing 1992 Mexican film "Like Water for Chocolate" will follow the gathering, Kakela said. The film, in Spanish with English subtitles, will start at 7:30 p.m., with seating available for the first 120 people.

Thursday's "meet and greet" affair is also an opportunity to wander among the pieces of Mexican sculptor Yvonne Domenge's large-scale, contemporary steel and wood sculpture collection called "Forgotten Cosmos." It was installed in the courtyard and foyer of Centennial Hall last month as the kick-off for the Northwest Colorado Mexican Cultural Festival. The public art exhibit is a collaborative effort among the Steamboat Springs Arts Council, the city of Steamboat Springs and the Mexican Consulate in Denver. It is the centerpiece of the ongoing Mexican heritage celebration in Northwest Colorado and is set to remain at Centennial Hall through late September.

"This is a great way to honor the Mexican nationals who are living here -- a way to express their culture and heritage," Kakela said as the eye-catching exhibit arrived last month.

In a cultural-outreach effort, the Mexican government leases collections of Mexican art by artists such as Domenge, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera to communities around the world for temporary exhibitions. Domenge's exhibit is the first show on Colorado's Western Slope, and it is just the beginning of an ongoing focus on Mexican arts in Steamboat that will include music, film and opera in the coming months.

The opportunity for a high-caliber cultural exchange was not missed on Steamboat Springs Arts Council Executive Director Nancy Kramer. She predicted that the Domenge exhibit would be the first of many dealings with the Mexican consulate, including the possibility of an exhibit of Kahlo and Rivera paintings next winter.

As an ongoing component of the Northwest Colorado Mexican Cultural Festival, the arts council also plans to incorporate Mexican films into the ever-popular Friday film series this fall.

Kakela and Kramer noted that some of the world's best films are coming out of Mexico. In preparation for the fall's free Friday film series, aficionados have viewed more than 20 Mexican films in their selection process, Kakela said.

An infusion of Mexican cultural treasures continues Dec. 11, when the Emerald City Opera brings Mexican opera singer Oziel Garza-Ornelas to Steamboat for a guest performance at St. Paul's Episcopal Church. Plans are in the works to do a collaborative arts program with area schools Sept. 16, Mexican Independence Day.

The ongoing Northwest Colorado Mexican Cultural Festival is intended to raise awareness of Mexico's deep intellectual and artistic traditions.

The reception for Gutierrez is from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Centennial Hall. It is open to the public. Kakela said she strongly encourages Northwest Colorado residents of Mexican heritage or with interest in Mexican culture to attend the event and get acquainted with the new consul general and a sampling of Mexican arts.

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