Steamboat Springs As executive director of the Steamboat Springs Art Council, Marion Kahn said she feels the need for a true performing arts venue every day.
Kahn said a lack of rehearsal and performance space in Steamboat Springs has put the arts community at critical mass.
"You can't put one more drop in that cup without it spilling over," Kahn said.
On Saturday, several of those groups will come together to stage the town's first professional production of Handel's "Messiah." A holiday tradition that often has a roster of more than 100 people, the "Messiah" is a joint effort by five of Steamboat's largest performing organizations.
John Fairlie, executive director of the Steamboat Springs Orchestra, said the production is a testament to both the quality and collaborative abilities of Steamboat's performing organizations.
"A lot of the same people who are interested in putting together a performing arts center are working together to put on this 'Messiah,'" Fairlie said.
Colorado Mountain College underwrote the funding for the show and has several students in the 100-person "Messiah" choir, which is filled out by the Community Chorus. The Steamboat orchestra will provide instrumental accompaniment, and Emerald City Opera is bringing in top-notch soloists. The Arts Council is handling publicity.
Each of those groups envisions a multi-use performance and teaching facility to meet the arts community's needs.
"Steamboat Springs could be a prime arts center, and I think we have a proven need to have this additional space. Now the question is, how do we get together and make this happen," Kahn said.
The idea isn't a new one. But while nearly everyone in the local arts community says additional space is an immediate need, varied interests present varied goals for that space.
"I think that the prize at the end would keep everybody at the table," Fairlie said. That prize would be one structure everyone could use, instead of "seven structures that are just OK," Fairlie said.
In 2000, the Arts Council put together a task force to assess the needs of Steamboat's arts community. Many of the spaces and performing groups included in that assessment no longer exist. At the time, the task force estimated a $10 million to $12 million building cost for a performing arts center, with an additional $2.5 million to $3 million for equipment and technical costs.
Those estimates account for a community arts center of at least 25,000 square feet that would include a venue with up to 550 seats and full wings, fly space, backstage, load-in areas, dressing rooms, a sprung floor and an orchestra pit; five practice rooms and two large music classrooms; three to 10 individual visual arts studios and classrooms; three dance rehearsal rooms and a dance studio; a visual arts gallery; and storage and office space.
Most of those needs have increased, Kahn said. She guessed construction and operation of a full-fledged performing arts and rehearsal space would now cost closer to $40 million.
To foot that kind of bill, Kahn suggested a partnership between public and private interests and building in phases. Because the space would need to be in constant use to be sustainable - the performing arts, no matter how successful, do not make enough money to support themselves - Kahn suggested renting out theater space for conferences and meetings during the day.
A lack of designated performance and practice space limits what the town's varied arts groups can do, Kahn said. Trying to book dance, music, theater and visual art in multi-use rooms, such as those at the Depot Art Center, makes scheduling a headache.
"You end up in trade-off situations," she said.
When existing spaces are available - such as Steamboat Mountain Theater, the Steamboat Christian Center or the Depot - few are capable of handling big touring acts or full-fledged dramatic productions. Keri Rusthoi, founder of Emerald City Opera, said building a new space will attract enough talent to keep it booked every day of every week.
"It's kind of like 'Field of Dreams' - if you build it, they will come," Rusthoi said. "They built a half pipe on the mountain, and they built a really great freestyle run. They had to put the money and the effort into it first, and now they get to host really great stuff."
The Opera is especially limited by what's currently available, staging its annual summer productions at Steamboat Springs High School.
"Until there is a true performing arts center in town, we really can't expand," Rusthoi said.
Collaborating with CMC
Kerry Hart, dean of Colorado Mountain College's Alpine Campus in Steamboat, said he wants to bulk up arts education at the college, then work toward building a facility to house those programs.
"One of the things we've done this semester to jumpstart the music program is collaborating on the 'Messiah,'" Hart said.
If the college were involved in building a performing arts center, Hart said it would have to be for students first but still could fill community needs.
"Everybody is interested in pooling our resources to make something bigger that would be for everybody," Hart said. Venue space at a CMC facility could be used for student, community and touring artist performances, he said.
An arts destination
Kahn, like Fairlie, Rusthoi and Hart, is adamant that Steamboat Springs can become an arts destination.
"From the first time I hit the ground here to get involved with the arts, I've been saying that (the arts) are the second reason you come to Steamboat. I even put it on our new business card," Kahn said.
"I still believe that sports and the outdoors will always be the first reason people come here, but arts can be the second reason."