Boulder County arts work toward a more inclusive future

Boulder County’s arts scene is vibrant. The local community embraces the arts; artists continue to cluster here; support is strong from city and county governments, schools, audience members and volunteers, as well as the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District.

This embarrassment of riches gives the community room to reflect on who the arts serve now — and who they will serve going forward. As Boulder County becomes more diverse, arts organizations in the community are working to broaden their understanding of the ways in which inclusion can be woven into the fabric of the arts community.

Open Studios, which in 2019 marked its 25th year, was an early player in demystifying art by connecting artists with members of the public through its studio tour. Now, with its Plein Air Festival, members of the public can see professional and amateur artists at work without paying. Open Studios also works with art students and teachers in schools and has a mobile art lab that makes appearances at local festivals.

The number of such festivals has grown in recent years, with Boulder, Longmont, Louisville and Lafayette offering opportunities for appreciating music, dance, art and food from local vendors. The county has also encouraged public art, which puts art into people’s daily lives as they encounter it walking, biking and driving.

“I firmly believe public arts in a city sets the stage,” said Charlotte LaSasso, executive director of the Boulder County Arts Alliance. “Whether you notice or not, you’re taking it in on a subconscious level.

”Boulder County still has a long way to go in including everyone. County demographics have trended toward more ethnic and racial diversity, leading many arts organizations to do some thinking — and acting — on making their groups more responsive to a changing audience. About two years ago, the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District began a big push toward DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) modeling changes in its own operations to serve as a model for the arts organizations it serves and partially funds.

Several Boulder County arts organizations are following suit. The Boulder Phil, for example, is using collaborations with dance groups and others to bring new interpretations to some of its musical programming.

Other arts organizations, such as the Longmont Museum, have long reflected the diversity of the town in which they are located. An event that particularly attracts wide community support is its annual Day of the Dead remembrance and celebration, which will mark its 20th year in 2020. A moving exhibit includes “altars” made by artists and community members to honor the lives of people who have died. The celebratory part, with a planned move to downtown Longmont in 2019, has been embraced by the wider community.

After starting in Longmont in 2016 and moving to Boulder the following year, the Latino Festival has brought thousands of people to learn about and celebrate a wide variety of Latin cultures. In 2019, the event had to be rescheduled due to cold weather, but also because of threatened mass immigration raids by the Trump administration.

by Cindy Sutter