Our view: Supporting the arts in Steamboat Springs | SteamboatToday.com

Our view: Supporting the arts in Steamboat Springs

The Chief Theater has become a community cultural institution so rapidly this winter that it's almost difficult to recall that it was until recently a small cineplex movie theater. At the end of ski season, the Chief already feels like it belongs to all of us.

And we think the accomplishments of the Friends of the Chief, its anonymous donors, the board of director and in particular, Jim Cook, who would not let go of this dream, deserve high praise.

Executive Director Scott Parker, who came on board in early August understands Steamboat Springs and quickly set about booking the theater with reasonably priced music, drama and documentary films that often packed the house of the 135-seat theater.

Nonprofits and schools have been made to feel welcome at the Chief, and that sends a strong message — this is a community asset.

Mainstreet Steamboat Springs Manager Tracy Barnett, who has invested a decade of work in ramping up the vibrancy of the downtown commercial district, said it's the variety of programming at the Chief that has led to its rapid ascension.

"There's obviously a need for a venue like this," Barnett said Friday. "So much of the public has not been in there, but those who have been have embraced it. There are no restrictions. It can be anything anybody wants it to be. It's crossing all generations. It would be horribly missed if it went away."

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Parker reported this month that when you count people who attended free events, 10,000 people came through the doors of the 135-seat theater since Nov. 1. Of the 10,000, about 7,500 paid to get in.

To be fair, the theater also brought people to downtown during its days of screening first-run movies. But there's no mistaking that the reborn Chief has more vitality than it did back then.

We're also aware that there are members of the business community who think that a commercial building in the Chief's prime location at 813 Lincoln Ave. should be devoted to generating sales tax. However, we're persuaded that great downtown commercial districts are anchored by cultural venues, from universities with their libraries and museums, to sporting venues and performing arts theaters.

Aspen has the Wheeler Opera House, Telluride has the Sheridan, Jackson has its modern Center for the Performing Arts and Steamboat is blessed to have Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp, the Strings Music Pavilion and now the revitalized Chief Theater.

Built in 1926, the Chief was purchased by the nonprofit Friends of the Chief for $1.45 million in October 2012 with help from private investors who expect someday to be paid back. For the time being, though, they are content for it to put on additional muscle.

Friends of the Chief Board President Alice Klauzer told Steamboat Today that the theater has managed to match the first $110,000 of a generous offer of a $150,000 matching grant from a Steamboat couple. Seeing further progress on that matching grant also could persuade another tentative donor to fund the removal of the upright column from the middle of the Chief's seating area.

On Thursday this week, the Chief received a $500 IMPACT 100 grant from the Yampa Valley Community Foundation. Five hundred bucks puts the theater board that much closer to its goal.

Even modest donations would demonstrate that support for the Chief is broadening. We think it's a good investment toward elevating Steamboat's quality of life.

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