A fabulous new home for art in the heart of downtown Basalt
• The Wyly Arts Center was created by artist Deb Jones in 1996. A donation by Charles Wyly funded construction of the arts center on the campus of what is now the Aspen Community School in Woody Creek.
• The Wyly Arts Center relocated to a small space in Basalt in 2005 to increase access to midvalley youth.
• Secured a low-cost lease from the town of Basalt to relocate into the former library building in Lions Park in 2008.
• In late 2015, the nonprofit changed its name to the Art Base to convey that it is a community arts center.
• Approvals were granted for the development in Basalt where the Art Base’s new home will be relocated.
• Summer 2023 is the anticipated grand opening.
The staff and supporters of the Art Base in Basalt know that a good piece of art doesn’t necessarily come quickly or easily.
Twenty-four years after the nonprofit community art center’s founding as the Wyly Arts Center and a handful of years after its vision for the future started coming into focus, it has secured a permanent home.
Basalt Town Council’s approval Feb. 25 of a project called Basalt River Park includes land that the Art Base will purchase to create its 6,500-square-foot home.
“Now that it’s approved, it becomes reality,” executive director Genna Moe said.
The opening of the new facility, expected no later than summer 2023, will benefit downtown Basalt as much as the Art Base, she said.
“I really believe that art brings people together and art celebrates community,” Moe said. “This building is welcoming and iconic and inclusive, and it will be a landmark in downtown Basalt. We can do a lot more for this town by opening the doors of this building (and creating) a place to have ownership of as a community.”
The community arts center is currently shoehorned into a 1,800-square-foot space leased from the town government in the former library building in Lions Park. The gallery and lone classroom bleed into one space. Offices and storage fill nooks and crannies.
“Right now our education programs, youth and adult, compete with each other for space, and then education and exhibition are competing with each other for space,” Moe said.
The dilemma limits the programming available for kids, which is offered for free through scholarships, as well as the revenue-producing adult programs.
“It’s about what we can offer the community and we’re not offering them the best product because we’re not able to program efficiently,” Moe said. “We can do a better job.”
The future home site is just across Two Rivers Road from the existing site, but it might as well be a world away. The building will be designed by CCY Architects in Basalt. It will have a youth and adult classroom, exhibition space, studio space that will be utilized by a future artist-in-residence program and a rooftop terrace.
Even in cramped quarters, the Art Base is spending $275,000 per year on education programs. More than 10,000 people pass through its doors. That will increase in the new space.
“The outside of this building doesn’t match what we’re doing on the inside,” Moe said. “This new building will be able to send a bigger marketing message of, ‘Come in, check us out, be a part of this.’”
There will be a big emphasis on technology to engage kids — everything from graphic design to 3D printing to laser cutting.
The gallery is 1,500 square feet.
“This new space will be museum-quality, premier exhibition space for artists based in the valley,” Moe said.
A rooftop terrace will be used for art events but also rented out for community and individual uses. The 875-square-foot space “has a really fantastic view of the river, covered roof, open-air sides, ability to tent those sides if we need to,” she said. It can accommodate roughly 145 people standing or 100 seated.
“This becomes an attraction for downtown Basalt,” Moe said. “It will boost vitality, complementary to local restaurants in terms of catering a local event up there. It’s great for us because it gets people in the door.”
When not in use, the terrace will be open to the public for lunch or hanging out.
The building will have an open design. A grand staircase to the terrace doubles as seating for art talks. The building also can be closed off from the terrace, which can be accessed by an exterior stairs when it is rented out.
The new space will allow the Art Base to do all the things it does, better, said Skye Skinner, strategy and development consultant for the Art Base.
“The three tiers we talk about here are education, exhibitions and events,” she said.
Moe added, “Each one of them significantly grows in the new space in terms of what we can offer.”
The Art Base building will be freestanding, with the gallery located in an inviting spot closest to Two Rivers Road and the kids’ classroom closest to the town’s riverside park. Kids will be able to spill outdoors to play.
Art Alley will be to the west of the Art Base. It will provide access from Two Rivers Road and the sidewalk to the riverside park. It will be wide enough for public art installations and occasional events.
A restaurant will be to the east, toward downtown. The park will be to the south, right outside the Art Base door.
A development group headed by local businessman Tim Belinski proposed the Basalt River Park project and modified it through lengthy negotiations with the town. In addition to the restaurant and Art Base, the 56,000-square-foot development includes office space and a mix of free-market and affordable housing.
The development is oriented on the west side of the former Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park property, and along Two River Road. Farther to the west are Rocky Mountain Institute and the Roaring Fork Conservancy in their new headquarters.
“We’re excited to be part of the whole continuum along the river because there’s extraordinary work being done,” Skinner said.
Moe anticipates the Art Base and its neighbors will have amazing drawing power.
“It becomes the dream field trip destination between Rocky Mountain Institute, the Roaring Fork Conservancy, the library (across the Roaring Fork River), the Art Base and the park,” Moe said.
Just as the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and Aspen Art Museum tag team for field trips, she anticipates similar opportunities among the nonprofits in Basalt.
The Art Base will purchase its site simultaneously with Belinski’s group’s purchase of the larger parcel. Once a fundraising threshold is reached, construction will start on the new structure in 2021.
“We are saying we need $5 million to open the doors, fully functioning,” Moe said. “Our goal is $8 million to include an endowment and capital reserve, and I imagine part of this campaign will continue after we open the doors to make sure we get those reserves we need.”
They know the fundraising will be a challenge, but “doable,” based on successful campaigns mounted in the valley but other nonprofit organizations, according to Moe and Skinner.
“We’ve had a lot of artists approach us just feeling this super buzz of energy and gratitude because they know this is for them,” Moe said. The exhibition space is sorely needed in the midvalley.
Art supporters are equally enthused, she said. The Art Base will rely on its relationships rather than fancy events to appeal to prospective donors.
“The bulk of the people who support the Art Base really care about the programs we offer and how far their dollar goes here, so they’re not looking for a fancy event to coincide with their gift,” she said. “I think we have a lean and mean budget and a dollar goes a long way here.”
Moe sees the future Art Base as a place that capitalizes on the magical ability of art to bring people together — recent immigrants, longtime residents, people using arts for healing and artists of all ages with creative vision.
“It becomes a really wonderful message to the community that art is literally in the heart of downtown,” Moe said.