Bruce Roemmich glances at a series of Navajo pottery items on display at the Depot Art Center in Steamboat Springs on Friday.

Photo by Brian Ray

Bruce Roemmich glances at a series of Navajo pottery items on display at the Depot Art Center in Steamboat Springs on Friday.

For arts community, First Friday is a collective effort

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A Navajo bronze sculpture entitled "Large Peaceful Meditation" sits on display at the Depot Art Center in Steamboat Springs on Friday evening. The piece, by artist Ed Yazzie, is listed for sale at $8,200.

If you go

What: First Friday Art Walk

When: 5 to 8 p.m. Friday

Where: Downtown galleries and businesses

Cost: Free

Call: 879-9008

— The Steamboat Springs art community is getting organized.

This week, 15 galleries, studios, museums, restaurants and businesses will come together for a First Friday art walk. The event is a way to draw attention to "a critical mass" of art spaces "that we didn't have before," said Linda Laughlin, director of visual arts for the Steamboat Springs Arts Council.

There's no expectation that the event will be wildly popular on its first go-around, or that everything featured will be world-class work, Laughlin said. For now, the plan is to involve as many art spaces as possible and consistently have galleries open on the first Friday of every month.

"A lot of this art is not going to be highbrow, but it's going to be somebody local," Laughlin said. "I'm particularly interested in keeping the heart of the community."

The goal of a First Friday event is not to give more exposure to established artists, or to drum up business, or to sip wine and philosophize about what defines art. The goal is to put new work on the walls on a regular basis and get the community excited about that in itself.

"It's not just a hoity-toity, high-end business. An art walk really needs to be for emerging artists and new art," Laughlin said. "Historically, art walks and what we call "alternative venues" - like coffee shops - are really, really valuable for emerging artists."

While it's not abnormal for art walks to be lucrative for restaurants and retail outlets that display works or sit between galleries, Laughlin said the First Friday event isn't designed to be a moneymaking venture - at least not primarily.

"It's not just some kind of downtown retail event, it's more philosophically about presenting art," Laughlin said.

In October, Laughlin presented that argument to Julie Niemi, who owns Spill the Beans Espresso Bar, across 13th Street from the Depot Art Center.

Niemi wasn't especially familiar with art walks, but told Laughlin she had an open wall in her store she wanted to make available for local artists to rotate their work. In researching similar events around the country, Niemi found that coffee shops and non-traditional art spaces are included more often than not.

When Laughlin asked her to be part of Friday's event, the espresso bar owner said, "Shoot yeah."

"It's a good way to distribute art around the community instead of just in galleries," Niemi said. "I think some people are maybe a little bit intimidated by galleries."

Bringing other businesses into the picture could encourage people who "might feel like they're not really the artsy type" to be around art, she said.

Getting things organized in the arts community has been more of a logistical hurdle than a philosophical or business one. As the event came together during October and November, gallery owners and representatives expressed their support.

"Anything like that, that will bring awareness and exposure to the community and to visitors, we're definitely in support of it," said Rod Hanna, a local photographer and board member of the Steamboat Art Museum. On Friday, the art museum will offer free admission to its exhibition of Western art by E.W. "Bill" Gollings.

Sandra Sherrod, founding director of the Artists' Gallery of Steamboat, said in early November the walk would be a "good step to getting our art community to be a little more of a cohesive group." The Artists' Gallery has scheduled first Friday openings for its shows throughout its year of existence.

"Everybody's been kind of on their own, and we're really trying to make this an art destination," Sherrod said.

More than that, Laughlin said an established art walk could play a role in maintaining the character of a developing resort destination.

"Art walks - if we let this kind of stuff disappear, we're going to become like every other tourist town," she said.

"We need to continue to find the stuff that is unique to us, that is important to us and is really about the community that lives here, and not about our part-time residents."

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