Anderson Ranch Arts Center looks toward the “new normal”
Snowmass Village arts center keeps spirit of creative community alive
A sense of place is fundamental to the artist community at Anderson Ranch Arts Center.
“We are so much about place, we are so much about this space and inviting people in,” said Artistic Director of Painting, Drawing and Printmaking Liz Ferrill, who also oversees the artists-in-program at the campus. “We have been kind of clinging to that from the very beginning.”
So in the months after the pandemic hit last March, the wheels were already turning among ranch staff to figure out how to maintain that energy within the parameters of COVID-19 restrictions and public health guidelines.
“We really did jump on that the moment we could, because though we care so much about safety, we also wanted to make sure we kept the ball rolling,” Ferrill said.
Discussions to bring back visiting artists to campus began as early as June.
“Everybody talks about the ‘new normal,’” Ferrill said. “We have been trying to kind of evoke a sort of sense of normal even through the worst of … the pandemic.”
One year on from the start of the pandemic, it seems as if the Snowmass Village artists community on Owl Creek Road finally has a view of what that “normal” will actually look like.
Artists-in-residence returned to the campus for the first time since last spring Feb. 3 with 14 creatives participating in the Oolite Home and Away program, and the Anderson Ranch artists-in-residence program begins next week after more than a yearlong hiatus; the last cohort from that program came in fall 2019, and the spring 2020 session was canceled due to the lockdown.
A fuller slate of in-person workshops could return as early as this summer, Ferrill said.
And the ranch now has a ”constant flow” of visiting artists coming to campus this spring after a sparse summer, fall and winter with only the occasional artist visit, said Anderson Ranch Director of Marketing and Communications Katherine Roberts.
“Our residency program is about community and it’s all about people getting together in a way that maybe isn’t quite conducive to COVID-19 protocols,” Ferrill said. “We had to really rethink and restructure the experience but still make it one of a community of artists.”
The arts center isn’t quite back to pre-pandemic status just yet, though.
Most programming, including visiting artist lectures, artist-in-residence studio visits and workshops remain virtual for now; campus tours are limited compared to the “free-for-all, open-door” policy of years past, Ferrill said.
Artists-in-residence and visiting artists are frequently tested for COVID-19 using a concierge service that comes to the campus; artists are free to leave campus to explore their surroundings but program coordinators hope artists stay close to home base during their residencies. So far, there haven’t been any outbreaks on campus, but the ranch is equipped with the facilities to quarantine residents as needed; each dorm has its own bathroom, and campus staff could deliver necessities to any artist in isolation.
Ranch staff are in “constant communication” with local entities including the town of Snowmass Village, Snowmass Tourism, Pitkin County Public Health and the Aspen Chamber Resort Association to ensure that campus programming abides by all local COVID-19 protocols, Roberts said. The center also connects with other arts organizations and nonprofits.
“It’s an ongoing dialogue with our community,” Roberts said.
“We’re not an island — we are very much part of an ecosystem.”
And masks are still required, as are temperature checks, for anyone who tours the studios.
“I think there’s alway going to be a sense of caution in everyone’s minds,” Ferrill noted.
But for all the protocols in place, “it’s going to still have a sense of the ranch,” she said. “I really believe that everybody’s ready for that, and people are willing to do it safely.”
Along with caution comes a strong desire to stay connected and keep the spirit of the ranch’s creative community alive.
“I’m kind of amazed at the community that’s been able to be created here even with social distancing,” Ferrill said.
“People are willing to do anything to create community, be at the ranch, be a part of an artist’s dialogue,” she said. “In order to do that, we have to be safe and do a couple of things that aren’t as easy as before.”
It took “innovation” to keep the spirit of the Anderson Ranch community alive over the course of the past year, Ferrill said: adapting nearly 80 of the 150-odd workshops that typically happen in person for virtual platforms is no easy feat, nor is reconfiguring residency programs to meet the ever-changing guidelines
But it’s more than creative ideas and quick thinking that has allowed the connection many feel to Anderson Ranch to persist regardless of the color on the state COVID-19 dial, Roberts noted.
“The ranch never really shut down. We never gave up,” Roberts said. “We had to make an enormous amount of changes in a very short period of time, but those changes and that persistence and that insistence that we were not going to let our community down, we were not going to just throw up our hands and not offer programming, allowed us to make really smart decisions to put safety practices in place in real time. … We have it pretty dialed.”
Sculptor Rogan Gregory is among the lineup of visiting artists at Anderson Ranch whose presence in Snowmass indicates that return to somewhat more normal times. His trip to the valley from Santa Monica, California, will be his first time on a plane since the pandemic began and one of the few times he has left home base in nearly a year, he said.
Gregory arrives at the campus Thursday and will spend just over a week working with clay and stoneware as he explores the blurred line between natural geological change in the landscape and human manipulation of that landscape.
For Gregory, the mountainous topography of the Roaring Fork Valley is “mind boggling” compared to the hillier layout of southern California and the flatness of coastal New York, where he grew up and spent years working surrounded by glacial moraines before moving west.
“It’s endless inspiration,” Gregory said of the exposure to different geological features here in the valley. (He has visited before, in the summer of 2019). “It absolutely has an effect on the work.”
He intends to spend most of his time “learning by doing” and working with local masters in the Anderson Ranch community during his visit, Gregory said.
He will discuss his practice and the ideas he explores in a March 16 virtual lecture hosted by Anderson Ranch.
To register for Gregory’s visiting artist lecture and explore upcoming virtual events at Anderson Ranch, visit andersonranch.org.
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Break out the neon windbreakers and the ski jeans for the last week of the at Snowmass: the lifts stop turning at the end of the day April 25.