Basalt’s Wyly Art Center’s En Plein Aire benefit on Thursday |

Basalt’s Wyly Art Center’s En Plein Aire benefit on Thursday

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times

En Plein Aire, a benefit for the Wyly community Art Center

Today at 5

Roaring Fork Club River Cabin

With a certain discussion heating up around Basalt — how do you keep downtown Basalt energized when the shops and restaurants of Willits are just minutes down the road? — answers are coming from the usual suspects: the artists.

“You hear this story over and over — a town gets revitalized because artists move in. That’s our job,” Dasa Bausova, an artist who lives in Aspen but works in downtown Basalt, said.

On select nights since spring, parking spaces along Midland Avenue have been filling up and restaurant tables are hard to come by. Not coincidentally, those occasions have happened during Art Walks, events coordinated among two galleries in downtown Basalt — the Ann Korologos Gallery and Toklat — and the Wyly Community Art Center, which occupies the former Basalt Public Library space. At the last Art Walk, in mid-July, Basalt hopped with art lovers, and with people simply attracted by the sense of community and activity.

“We were competing with major events in Aspen and Glenwood that night. And we filled the town with people from the arts community, art collectors,” Bausova said. “I was amazed by the people who came here. And when people come in, they dine, they shop.”

Thursday night could be another of those occasions. The Wyly is throwing its major annual benefit event, En Plein Aire. The event is not in downtown; it is at the Roaring Fork Club River Cabin. But it runs from 5 to 7 p.m., with a cocktail hour and hors d’oeuvres, and Bausova, who is in charge of programs at the Wyly, figures much of the crowd will head from the fundraiser to dinner in a downtown restaurant. (Some of the attendees will want to check out the latest addition to Basalt’s art scene: Art Works, a pop-up gallery on Midland Avenue run by local artist Dick Carter. A show of Carter’s new work opened earlier this week.)

Along with a silent auction, En Plein Aire will feature the presentation of the Wyly Art Excellence Award to Basaltines Karen and Bayard Hollins. The couple was instrumental in relocating the nonprofit Wyly Center to its current space, a move that has allowed for a significant expansion in programming. The Hollinses have also supported Aspen Film, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, the Aspen Writers’ Foundation and the Carbondale Clay Center. Bayard Hollins is a painter and sculptor whose work has been exhibited from California to Maine, and has taught classes at the Wyly.

Bausova says that art doesn’t just draw bodies to a downtown; it brings people in with a distinct frame of mind. “The process of art-making stimulates the brain in a way that allows you to use creative energy in other parts of your life,” she said. “Standing in front of a canvas, beginning a sculpture, looking at art, puts us in touch with parts of ourselves that we can’t otherwise access.”

While the Wyly partners with local galleries to throw the occasional Art Walk, the organization also maintains the more day-to-day function of educating people in the visual arts. It offers classes in painting, watercolors and more to people of all ages, and presents classes for people with special needs that are designed to integrate those artists into the community. It brings visiting artists to local schools and exhibits work in its gallery by local artists.

Bausova points out just how vital the need is for a place like the Wyly. The Basalt Elementary School, she notes, has just one at teacher.

“Here in Basalt, we are it,” she said. “We are the arts organization.”