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Performing arts center, Wyly arts center expansion proposed in Basalt

Arts patrons attend a dinner earlier this winter at the Annex in Basalt, a gallery operated by the Wyly Arts Center. The town government rented gallery space and the Wyly organizes art openings, artist talks and dinners honoring artists.
Wyly Arts Center/Courtesy photo |

Arts enthusiasts in Basalt are working on separate but complementary proposals to build a performing arts center in Willits Town Center and create a visual arts campus downtown.

A group called The Arts Center at Willits is advancing a long-anticipated proposal to build a facility that would have a multipurpose space that seats up to 350 people and a movie and lecture hall that seats about 80. The performing arts center would host dance, comedy, theater, music and food events as well as other types of attractions.

The proposed site is at the intersection of Lewis and Willits Lanes on property reserved for use for the arts as part of its land-use approval. The Town Council would have to approve the specific use.

Meanwhile, the Wyly Arts Center — located in the former library in Basalt — is proposing expansion into outdoor areas of Lions Park and, someday, a takeover of Basalt Town Hall if the town government relocates. The Wyly center also wants to expand in its existing space, taking over offices now used by the town’s Planning Department. The town government is letting the Wyly use the existing space free of charge on a long-term lease.

Wyly Executive Director Kelly Alford said an attractive aspect of the plan is it repurposes existing buildings rather than undertakes a capital campaign to build new ones.

“Fiscally, we can’t make too big of a leap,” said Julia Marshall, who is helping with the Wyly expansion plan. Marshall also is president of the board of directors pursuing The Arts Center at Willits project. There is a lot of cross-pollination among arts enthusiasts working on both projects.

“We’re not in competition,” Marshall said. “The Wyly provides strength in the visual arts. There isn’t a real strength in the performing arts.”

Wyly wants outdoor spaces

While the availability of Town Hall is an unknown, Alford said there are steps the Wyly could take this year to expand its visual arts campus.

The Wyly board’s vision includes creating an outdoor courtyard where artists would paint, sculpt and draw. The area located between Wyly and Town Hall would remain open to the public. A modest outdoor performing arts stage area would be completed with seating and a projection screen would be installed for outdoor movies. In the longer term, an art display pavilion would be built on the north side of the pavilion. Local artists’ works would be on constant display.

“There are opportunities right under our noses that could happen at the park,” Alford said.

The Wyly would use Town Hall for new classrooms and studios. The proposal would turn Lions Park into “The Wyly Triangle, a creative crossroads that is open and easily accessible to everyone, a beacon of the town’s dedication to creativity, the arts and to making Basalt’s public spaces more beautiful,” according to a draft of Wyly’s proposal.

High-use for arts center

The board working on The Arts Center at Willits believes there is already high demand for such a facility in the midvalley. Marc Breslin, former chief operating officer of Jazz Aspen Snowmass, is part of the board and helping plan the facility.

He told the Basalt Town Council on Tuesday night that the facility likely would be used close to 240 days or nights by year two. It would include a small commercial kitchen so food and cooking events could be hosted.

The town government has collected a real estate transfer tax since Willits subdivision was approved and property sales started. A portion of the fund is dedicated to the arts facility. So far, it’s raised more than $600,000. Willits Town Center and the adjoining residential area is less than 50 percent built out, so that fund will grow.

Marshall said additional funds would be sought from private donors to construct the building. The initial plan envisions a building of about 10,250 square feet. The plan is open to review, according to Marshall.

feasibility STUDY

The arts groups hired a consultant to perform a feasibility study of their plans. Work started Wednesday and is expected to take about two months. Alford and Marshall said the results of the study could influence the plans.

Both plans depend on town government approval since they involve town assets. There has been no formal response from town officials, yet, but Town Manager Mike Scanlon urged both groups to prepare plans that promote the arts and economic vitality in Basalt.

The Wyly’s proposal says its plan would make downtown “an artistic hub of the valley.” Alford, who has been the executive director of the Wyly for one year, said the town already is assisting the arts center in an experiment to spur vitality through the arts. The town rented vacant commercial space on Midland Avenue, the town’s main street, and the Wyly organizes exhibits of new art every six weeks. There are openings, artist talks and dinners honoring the artists. Alford said the Wyly can build off that success.

“We can create vitality right away,” she said.

The discussions about the facilities are expected to intensify after the feasibility study is complete. The town government also is in the process of appointing an arts council to keep arts development on the front burner.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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