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Monday, September 29, 2014
Jenn Cram spent 14 years making her Breckenridge Arts District dream a reality
She fought back tears as the crowd showed up.
After investing almost 14 years in the effort, Jenn Cram’s most impressive art project to date was unveiled last Thursday in Breckenridge.
“My back is really sore right now, my hands are raw, my eyes are tired, but I’m so excited my adrenaline has just kept me going,” Cram said the day after the unveiling of the Breckenridge Arts District. “I was borderline exhausted, proud, excited, honored and a little teary-eyed.”
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For Cram, the Arts District preview this weekend in Breckenridge was the pinnacle project for a lifelong artist and a longtime town employee.
“It’s been more than 13 years,” she said. “And in the last three weeks I’ve been working 15- to 16-hour days six to seven days a week, but I have loved every moment of it.”
Originally from Michigan, Cram moved to Breckenridge 16 years ago on a whim. She had earned a bachelor’s in landscape architecture from Michigan State University.
“I was considering art after high school, but my parents told me I had to major in something in school that I could make a living at,” she said. “I started out majoring in architecture. One of my professors noticed early on that I paid particular attention to the site and how the building relates to the site. So he suggested I look into landscape architecture. I looked into it and it was an amazing fit.”
It was that career turn toward something unexpected that helped make her so instrumental in creating the new Breckenridge Arts District.
Cram labeled herself at that time as a professional student. In graduate school she dabbled in engineering before going back to fine arts, where she focused on printmaking until she moved to Breckenridge. Her first job there was a position in Summit County government. Six months later she was recruited to work for Breckenridge.
Working for the town she had a chance to pursue artistic ends while climbing the administrative ladder.
She started out as a Planner 1, then moved on to Planner 2 and Planner 3, doing long-range planning. Today she is manager of the Breckenridge Arts District and of the town’s public and cultural arts programs. In 2015, she’ll be in charge of Breckenridge Creative Arts, an independent 501c3, still supported by the town, that will manage local cultural assets.
In 2003, Cram started conducting art projects and workshops in the Robert White House.
“We did printmaking and ceramics in a tiny studio,” she said. “I had no budget. I scrounged for scissors and things to put the studio and workshops together. The council heard about it and gave me a little budget to continue the workshops.”
Next she partnered with the Saddlerock Society to resurrect the Tin Shop building as an art studio. That has become one of the most popular spots for artists in residence in the Arts District.
Cram helped develop a master plan for the district back in 2004. Keeping a long-term goal like that on track through ever-changing elected officials and town priorities was challenging.
“A town council is constantly juggling responsibilities,” Cram said. “There are streets to repair or putting a new roof on the rec center. There is always something pressing. This really could have sat on the shelf.”
But thankfully, town council members over the years understood and appreciated the need for cultural arts.
“When I first moved here, I wondered where I was going to create art,” Cram said. “I learned there were a lot of artists in the community, but everyone had kind of been going it alone. And so I had this vision of creating an arts campus to bring artists together to work — building relationships with artists around the nation and internationally to bring here. We are building an artists community. They can all bounce ideas off one another. For me, as an artist, it was important.”
MAKING ART ACCESSIBLE
The Arts District became much more than a plan on a shelf. This week it became reality.
What appeals so much to Cram is the potential of the district to draw more people into the art world. That starts with transforming historic buildings into studios.
“One of the things that I see as an artist, is when I talk to people, they always say, ‘Oh, I’m not an artist,’” she said. “But I believe that everybody is artistic. But because people believe they aren’t an artist or creative, sometimes they are intimidated by art.
“I think one of the wonderful things about the Arts District is there are these quaint buildings. People are curious. They get pulled in. Then they are asking questions, and suddenly they are involved in a conversation with an artist from Brooklyn or L.A. They realize this isn’t scary. This is fun. This whole arts campus makes art accessible to people that might normally feel uncomfortable talking to artists or about artwork.
“That is something that has been a priority and a passion to me — to make art accessible to everyone. Now anyone can come and hang out and watch and be part of it.”
Cram’s passion for the project has been contagious, spreading from volunteers and town staff to artists and contractors.
“It was great to use so many local subcontractors on the job,” Cram said. “Alpine Engineering, Mary Hart Design, 2V’s Landscaping, All Electric, Zoni Concrete … The site was chaotic at times and everyone got along fantastically and put forth a great effort to get everything done for the preview. The guys doing the pavers had the hardest jobs. I really respect them. This is a legacy project and everyone gave their best.
“I would like to thank the team at Base Building Solutions,” she added. “T.A. Rosko guided the project and made it all happen within an aggressive time frame and assisted me with all the fine details to complete the vision. Nick Farkouh was the man behind the scenes, but integral to the project. And Stanley Vrba is an excellent carpenter and handyman by day and amazing climber in his free time. He helped me with so many things I can’t even begin to list them.”
LASTING CULTURAL LEGACY
Cram recently had a showing of some her artwork at a local business. She said she hopes to get into the studio more now that the Arts District is completed, but right now she can enjoy the success of her greatest art project, the transformation of a historic slice of town into a lasting cultural legacy.
“My artist friends asked me what I’d been working on,” Cram said. “So I tell them I’ve been building this Arts District, and it’s my biggest art project ever. I designed the metal fence and the walkways. Worked on the angles and views. I worked on every little detail from colors on the building to light fixtures to counters. I feel so honored the town trusted me with that responsibility, and I took it very seriously. This was the biggest accomplishment of my career as an artist and as someone who loves this community.
Everyone was proud and excited to be part of this project. It’s a legacy project for the town.”
The final day of the preview event continues today.