The Art Base under contract for downtown building, leaving Basalt River Park project |

The Art Base under contract for downtown building, leaving Basalt River Park project

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
The Art Base in Basalt.
Courtesy photo

The Art Base is under contract to purchase a two-story building on Midland Avenue in Basalt to make its new home for exhibitions and education, executive director Skye Skinner said Monday.

The nonprofit’s plan to move into the Three Bears building — former home to the Art Base Annex gallery — casts doubt on its relocation to the Basalt River Park development, where a 6,000-square-foot parcel had been earmarked for a new Art Base building. The redevelopment project was approved earlier this year by Basalt Town Council to include a mix of residential, commercial and nonprofit buildings in addition to a 1-acre park.

Skinner said the contracted price for the Three Bears building was $1.7 million.

The Art Base, currently headquartered in a town-owned, 1,400-square-foot building in Lions Park, had been planning an $8 million fundraising campaign to pay for construction of the new River Park facility, operating costs and the beginning of an endowment.

The novel coronavirus pandemic and its attendant economic crisis, which has led to financial challenges at many local nonprofits and small businesses, soured the prospects for a large capital campaign for an art center.

The public health crisis also has made the limitations of the current Art Base space clear, as social distancing is difficult in its cramped current space. The Three Bears acquisition from owner Stan Clasen, Skinner reasoned, would allow the Art Base to move into a new home sooner and with a lower price tag.

“This could be a viable solution for us right away at a fraction of the cost,” Skinner said. “The realities of COVID has made our space issues even more apparent and pressing. Right now we can only have six kids in an after-school class. There is no way we can meet the community’s demand.”

The Three Bears building has 2,400 feet of space on its first floor and another 2,400 on its second, with storage space in the basement. The ground-floor space proved popular with crowds and with artists several years ago during its run as the Art Base Annex, when the nonprofit rented the space on a short-term lease and hosted shows by locally based artists including Lynn Goldsmith, Wewer Keohane and Glenn Smith.

The second floor, Skinner said, would be an ideal classroom and workshop space.

“We are excited about the idea of getting more space and doing more,” Skinner said. “We are excited about what might be possible here.”

If the nonprofit is able to close on the sale, Skinner is hopeful they could have exhibition and education up and running in their new home by summer 2021. The Art Base’s lease on its Lions Park building runs through April. Skinner said the Art Base had already raised $750,000 toward the purchase and would likely launch a public fundraising campaign after closing the sale.

Town Council approvals for the River Park had built in the possibility that the Art Base would walk away, Basalt Town Manager Ryan Mahoney confirmed Monday. He expects the town to purchase the parcel that had been earmarked for the Art Base and set it aside for a visual arts nonprofit, whether that is the Art Base or another entity.

“The council also has the option of changing that condition, where we could make it available to another community-serving nonprofit,” he said. “Though I sincerely hope in the future we can get the Art Base to locate there.”

Tim Belinski, developer of the Basalt River Park, echoed the sentiment.

“We are going to support the Art Base through thick and thin,” he said. “The Art Base brings vibrancy and community to wherever they are going to be set up, and we hope that will be at the River Park project.”

Skinner added her support for the River Park as it moves forward without the Art Base: “We don’t want any decision we make to undermine that project. I’m heartened to know that they understand the situation the Art Base is in and that everything can change. We wish them great success.”