The Spanish Peaks region in Southern Colorado is quickly becoming a hot spot for the state’s local art community. Two towns, in particular, La Veta and Walsenburg, have found themselves at the forefront of creating something special within Colorado’s creative scene.
New programs like FAROUT Murals and the latest designation efforts to make La Veta a Colorado Creative District has been created out of the need to pump some life into these small communities after the hardships of COVID and the Spring Creek Fire in 2018. So, while you make plans to explore the outdoor landscape of the Spanish Peaks region be sure to also include these artful stops along the way.
La Veta Arts District
Home to several art galleries, including the Spanish Peaks Arts Council (SPACe) Gallery and the La Veta School for the Arts, La Veta is making a name for itself in the Colorado art community. So much so, the La Veta Creative District (LVCD) has made tireless efforts over the years to be awarded the Colorado Creative District designation. This recognition would put them in the same space as others like Salida, Paonia and Denver’s Santa Fe Art District.
The Colorado Creative District designation will provide the funding for highway signage, marketing and future creative projects. This process has been several years in the making, finally receiving the formal application from the state office of Colorado Creative Industries this past summer.
The LVCD was expecting to have a word of the designation by end of July, but once again they will need to wait until November 2021. “The LVCD is keeping our hopes and spirits up for a potentially positive outcome. We are looking forward to finally gaining a Creative District status,” says Susan Hanneman, president of LVCD.
Spanish Peaks Arts Council (SPACe Gallery)
The Spanish Peaks Arts Council rests at the heart of it all in La Veta. First founded in 1975 by 10 local women artists, it is now a nonprofit organization dedicated to art for the community through classes, exhibits and an annual Art in the Park event.
Showcasing local artists, the gallery hosts regular shows, such as their most popular Western Rendezvous — a 15-year-old exhibition highlighting the culture of the West, Native Americans, the Spanish, cowboys and ranchers. Other popular shows include the Clay, Glass and Fiber Show and the photography exhibit in August.
But their biggest event and annual fundraiser is Art in the Park, always held the weekend closest to the 4th of July. The art fair features handmade crafts, jewelry, apparel, photography, ceramics, glass, paintings and more.
Be sure to also stop in at the other galleries in town including the Gallery on Main, Shalawalla Gallery — selling batik art and the Silver Shoe Gallery.
La Veta School for the Arts
Of course, one of the best ways to experience art is to immerse yourself in it. You can do just that with classes at the La Veta School for the Arts. Run by Peggy Zehring, an avid admirer of the abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky, the school has been a creative space for aspiring artists from all across the country.
Transplants from the Northwest, Zehring and her husband moved to La Veta in search of an “easier” life out west. In 1999, she bought the building of what is now the La Veta School for the Arts and has been offering classes ever since. Placing an emphasis on creativity over skill and truth over beauty, she focuses on personal expression, creativity and originality with her students.
The classes and workshops include topics such as sand painting, kinetic sculpture and painting workshops. Instruction lasts just a few days while longer workshops run as long as 11 days. Classes are limited to 10 students each, and fill up fast.
Beyond the studio, via the school’s Teenage Public Works Project, visitors to the area will discover various murals throughout town created and painted by those involved in the project. The program has created two public park benches, 16 banners for the main street, four murals and more.
To sign up for classes and to view their workshop schedule visit thelvsa.org.
Walsenburg’s latest art endeavor comes from the collaborative work between the Huerfano County Placemaking Committee and SPACE Studios. FAROUT Murals is Huerfano County’s first annual mural program. Last year, six talented artists and teams came to Walsenburg to paint the alley between 5th and 6th street. The mural project promotes public interest in art, develops community pride and enhances the visitor experience around Walsenburg and the Spanish Peaks Region.
Local artist Yul Jorgensen, the creator behind FAROUT Murals, says, “It’s about empowering artists and creating amazing opportunities in the area.” He aims to bring communities together by creating low-cost, high-impact art programs that directly put the money back into the local businesses and in the hands of artists.
“Huerfano County and many rural communities across the state may be sanctuaries away from city life, but they are also some of the poorest and underserved counties in Colorado. Limited funding and resources are far too common, and budgets are stretched too thin to heavily invest in education, art and community building,” says Jorgensen. With FAROUT, he hopes to bridge that gap by creating a supportive and creative community environment.
The next mural event is scheduled for May 27 – 29, 2022 where they will host 12 to 24 artists to make large-scale murals, with an interactive art piece for the local community to work on over the week. Plus art workshops for all ages and multiple alley and park cleanups. To learn more, visit faroutmurals.com.
Walsenburg Mural Project
But FAROUT Murals isn’t the first group of artists to paint murals in the town of Walsenburg. Over the last few decades, Walsenburg has transformed into an unexpected cultural hub for the arts with its in-town historical murals. Local artist Ken Martinez, along with artists Jason Crum and Dean Fleming, are the creators behind the mural at 418 Main Street, next to Heritage Park, one of the town’s most recognizable pieces.
This mural ignited the beginning of what is called the Walsenburg Mural Project. The first official mural of this project is behind the Safeway building in town. The community project involved anyone in town who signed up to came out to help create this colorful piece of work.
Museum of Friends
Public art isn’t just accessed in the streets of Walsenburg, it can also be viewed at the Museum of Friends. In October of 2007, the Museum of Friends opened its doors with the purpose of sharing its outstanding collection of contemporary art with the residents and visitors of Walsenburg.
Over 20 years ago, co-founder and talented artist Brendt Berger came from New York to Huerfano County to work with fellow artist Dean Fleming, an original member of the counter-culture artist community, Libre. With his friend’s help, Berger and his wife Maria created MOF to support the extraordinary lineage of artists who have contributed to the arts in the area.
Brendt and Maria Berger named it Museum of Friends because the museum’s initial collection of over 600 pieces were donated through their friends and friends of friends. Because of Berger’s connection to the artist “hippie” community of Libre, visitors can view photos, sketches and paintings of the commune’s notable geodesic domes, found on the second-floor gallery. The downstairs collection showcases rotating exhibits, while the upstairs features their permanent collection. And over the years, they have added near 1,000 more pieces to their overall collection.
Publications such as Modern in Denver and Art in America have featured the impressive collection of contemporary art the Bergers brought to Walsenburg. While the couple certainly isn’t the first artists from NYC to pick up and move out west, they are the first to attempt this sort of project in Huerfano County.
The Museum of Friends is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
To find out more about how you can experience the arts in the Spanish Peaks Region, visit the Spanish Peaks Arts Council website.