Steamboat Springs For some, buying art isn’t an extra or frivolous expense. It’s a necessity. And it’s those types of people who, despite an economic recession, continue to support the artists and galleries of Steamboat Springs.
“I think it’s because art makes people feel good,” said Shirley Stocks, co-owner of Wild Horse Gallery and curator of the Steamboat Art Museum. “It’s not a luxury item. People buy it because they love it and because it makes them feel good.”
So despite a still-struggling economy, she and several other art gallery owners and artists said this week that people still are buying art.
“It’s better than it was, but it’s not the market it used to be,” Stocks said. “We had a good holiday season, and it helps that it’s starting to snow.”
She wasn’t the only one to report strong recent sales as tourist season kicked into high gear.
Linda Laughlin, executive director of the nonprofit Steamboat Springs Center for Visual Arts, said she sold $15,000 worth of local art during a busy Christmas week.
Laughlin said she’s not sure about the reason why. She thinks it’s possible that a dry December drove visitors downtown to shop or that there were simply more visitors here than the year before. She said the gallery of local artists doubled its sales in 2011 compared with 2010.
“What it does say, is people like their art,” she said. “We’re happy that perhaps the lack of snow drove people down here, but the second half of that is we’re happy they found something to buy here.”
While a lack of snow might have sent visitors into the stores to pass the time, there’s a catch-22 at play because it’s the promise of snow, and all of the activities that go with it, that brings most visitors here in the first place.
And most galleries rely on visitors.
Laughlin said her clientele is 90 percent visitors. At the Sheraton Steamboat Resort, RED Contemporary gallery co-owner and artist Susan Schiesser said she sells to about 80 percent visitors.
The Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association lodging barometer shows that visitor numbers are generally up this winter compared with last year.
“I would suspect that people traveling have probably a little more disposable income now,” Schiesser said. “The people that are attracted to art galleries, they’re art lovers; they’re art aficionados. They’re interested in the work, and they want to have dialogue about the art. It’s a different kind of market than it used to be.”
Schiesser said December also was a strong month for RED. Just before the end of the year, the gallery sold a $9,500 and a $12,000 painting.
These reports align with a recent report from the Conference Board, which announced its Consumer Confidence Index had surged to 64.5 during December, up from 55.2 in November and approaching the post recession-peak seen in spring 2011.
But she also attributes that to the increased quality of work at the gallery in its third year and the town’s blossoming arts culture as a whole.
“I think the art community in Steamboat is growing up,” she said. “Everybody is finding their stride, and the artists that are beyond emerging, their styles have gelled.”
Sandra Sherrod, founding director of the collaborative Artists’ Gallery of Steamboat, said it’s a good time to be an artist in the area.
“There’s so many more venues for people that are coming in new, and a lot of the boutique places are having artists come in and display their work,” she said. “It’s opened up considerably as to how many artists can show.”
Sherrod said jewelry and photography sell particularly well, and Stocks said bronze sculptures have been popular lately at Wild Horse.
Kimberly Saari, the owner of K. Saari Gallery downtown, said a difficult fall gave way to a good holiday season and strong sales in January.
But there always will be the ups and downs, the cycles of economic growth and hardship that comes with selling art in a seasonal town.
“It’s always a hustle, whether you’re in a recession or in a good economy,” she said.
“One of the things about being in a resort town is riding those waves of ebb and flow.”
To reach Nicole Inglis, call 907-871-4204 or email ninglis@SteamboatToday.com