Wyly carves its niche as Basalt’s art center

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Wyly Community Arts Center/courtesy photoThird-graders from Basalt Elementary School art teacher Lois Devine's class work on sculptures at the Wyly Community Arts Center. The arts center has solidified its place as a community asset since moving to a visible location at the former Basalt library.

BASALT – When 20 third-graders from Basalt Elementary School swarmed the Studio Gallery of the Wyly Community Art Center to check out an exhibition Tuesday, it was pandemonium for a few minutes.

Executive Director Carlyle Kyzer wouldn’t want it any other way.

The Wyly, as it’s commonly known, has solidified itself as a community hub since moving in May 2010 to a much more visible site at the former Basalt library. The center previously was tucked into a tight space on the backside of the Riverside Plaza building. The only people who found it were those looking for it. Now it’s more visible and has the ability to lure people because it is beside Town Hall, embedded in Lions Park and within walking distance of the elementary and middle schools.

Kyzer said it helps to be next to a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus stop and in the geographic center of the valley. The Wyly attracts artists, students and art fans from Aspen to Glenwood Springs.

The arts center also grew in size to 1,800 square feet. It’s got 60 percent of the old library site, while the town of Basalt planning staff takes the remaining 40 percent.

“We’ve dramatically increased our programming,” Kyzer said. “It allows us to serve a broader community.”

The Studio Gallery displays works of valley artists throughout the year. Connected to the gallery is the work area where adults and kids polish their skills in the visual arts. So far in 2012, there have been 164 art programs, 39 children’s art courses, 21 adult art courses and 45 programs for the under-served funded by partners.

The Wyly doesn’t employ teachers, so it hires around 30 artists from around the valley each year to teach classes.

Through mid-November, 5,575 community members have taken part in some program at the center. That’s an increase of 2,000 people served in 2010 and 4,000 in 2011.

Kyzer said 40 percent of registrants are from outside Basalt, so it’s clear that the center is attracting people to the town. More importantly, it is the type of facility that helps Basalt feel more like a community.

Kyzer said it reflects well on Basalt that the use of the facility is growing so drastically.

“I think it says (midvalley residents) care about the community,” she said.

The Basalt Town Council placed a high value on the Wyly’s role earlier this fall. The board voted unanimously to lower the art center’s rent from $1,500 per month to $10 per year. The savings will be plowed back into provided classes through tuition assistance and keeping fees as low as possible.

“The midvalley is still pretty challenged by the recession,” Kyzer said. “We don’t want money to make it impossible to participate in art.”

The Wyly’s budget for this year is $260,000, but the organization anticipates expenses going up in 2013. Teachers aren’t exactly compensated handsomely for their efforts, Kyzer said, so she would like to boost their pay a bit.

Kyzer said she is proud of what the Wyly accomplishes with the help of volunteers and artists willing to teach at a pay rate much below their qualifications. In addition, the organization keeps overhead low. Kyzer and programs administrator Dasa Bausova are the only employees.

“I don’t know of anybody that’s serving that many people with so little staff,” Kyzer said.

She’s already looking forward to the programs and exhibits planned in 2013.

“I see us doing more of what we do, even better,” she said.

The Wyly features a diverse offering of classes, as the next two on the lineup demonstrate. Starting Thursday, Jack Johnson will teach art-inspired knitting for the holidays. The class is from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. three consecutive Thursdays. The cost is $75 for nonmembers and $67.50 for members.

The class description says, “Create amazing knitted art and wearable art that is inspired by your imagination and art forms of painting and sculpture. Sip wine, share conversation, and enjoy knitting.”

The Wyly is hosting a storytelling and ornament-decorating day for families Saturday. Spellbinders will share stories based on Aspenite Jill Sheeley’s Frasier the dog books from 2:30 to 3 p.m. From 3 to 5 p.m., kids can make holiday ornaments with supplies provided by the Wyly and advice from top-notch teachers. The event will happen right before the Basalt tree-lighting ceremony in Lions Park.