For the second year in a row, Breckenridge has ranked No. 4 in an arts vibrancy study released by the National Center for Arts Research (NCAR).
“I think it’s really exciting for not only Breckenridge, but it really reflects our county,” said Robb Woulfe, president and CEO of Breckenridge Creative Arts. “It’s exciting to be recognized for that.”
The Arts Vibrancy Index for 2016 placed the town in the fourth position in the Top 20 vibrant medium and small communities in the U.S., the same ranking received in 2015.
To assess arts vibrancy across the country, the report states that NCAR — out of Southern Methodist University — incorporates four measures under three main rubrics: demand, supply and public support for arts and culture on a per capita basis.
“Demand was gauged by measures of total nonprofit arts dollars in the community, supply as total arts providers and public support as state and federal arts funding,” the report states.
“They look at everything from number of arts organizations to creative workforce and also the big one — public support for the art,” Woulfe said. “That’s a very unique story to Breckenridge, but we are also seeing that over in Silverthorne now. … Certainly Breckenridge has invested significant dollars over the past few years in really wanting to develop itself as a creative destination, and so a report like this supports what that initiative was, but I think it speaks to our greater creative community outside of Breckenridge as well.”
Jackson, Wyoming took the No. 1 spot in the study for medium and small communities with populations under 1,000,000. Glenwood Springs, Colorado was No. 2, with Santa Fe, New Mexico at No. 3. Just below Breckenridge was Edwards, Colorado at five, and Bozeman, Montana took sixth, followed by Missoula, Montana.
“I also take great pride in, you sort of look at the number of Colorado communities that were in the top 10, too, so for selfish reasons, it’s always great to see Breckenridge in there, but I think it’s really impressive what this state is doing,” Woulfe said. “A lot of it is coming from the governor, from the whole Colorado Creative Industries initiative, from the designated arts districts that are happening around the state. I think it’s exciting to be a part of that effort because you really aren’t seeing that anywhere else in the U.S.”
In the large communities category, the top spot was taken by Washington-Arlington-Alexandria (D.C., Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia), followed by Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin (Tennessee), then New York-Jersey City-White Plains (New York, New Jersey), San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco (California) and, in the No. 5 position, is Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale (California). Denver-Aurora-Lakewood ranked No. 10.
ART IN THE MOUNTAINS
The NCAR launched this study in 2015, so it’s a relatively new tool for communities to look at, Woulfe said. He noted the amount of mountain communities in the top 10 arts vibrant medium and small communities.
“It says two things,” he said. “It says these mountain communities are very competitive with each other, and all along the town of Breckenridge — when it launched this initiative — had said it was yes, they wanted to make this a richer place for its residents, but it was also used as a way to attract tourism.”
Established in 2014, Breckenridge Creative Arts was developed by Breckenridge as a department to support and promote arts, culture and creative experiences throughout the town. In January 2015, the department was incorporated as a nonprofit independent of the town, creating an umbrella organization to promote the town as a creative destination. Since its inception, Breck Create has worked hard to develop and experiment with new programming, such as concerts at the Riverwalk, outdoor concerts, festivals and workshops in its arts district.
Other nonprofits and programs in town that have been around for years also contribute heavily to the ranking. Major arts organizations noted in the report are Breckenridge Backstage Theatre, Breckenridge Music Festival (BMF), Riverwalk Performing Arts Center, Mountain Top Children’s Museum, Breckenridge Festival of Film (BFF) and National Repertory Orchestra (NRO).
“When you look at the great work of the (Breckenridge) Music Festival or the National Repertory Orchestra or the (Breckenridge) Heritage Alliance, and I’m speaking just Breck, too, I’m not even speaking our neighbors or our partners in neighboring towns; I think the designation of Breckenridge is really a testament to all of us who are moving that forward,” Woulfe said.
The Breckenridge Cultural Coalition is an organization that was created prior to Breck Create in 2013 and is made up of the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance (BHA), NRO, BMF, Breckenridge Backstage Theatre and BFF. Barbara Vonderheid, past president of the NRO and its current delegate to the Breckenridge Cultural Coalition, said the group was influential in the town council making arts a priority and having the town recognize it as a separate function and independent organization.
She said this designation by the NCAR would help bring Breckenridge the kind of tourism that is financially supportive of all businesses, including restaurants and shops.
“We all have the same mission,” she said. “I love making … Breckenridge an arts and cultural destination, and I think rather than making it, it’s actually we are just continuing it and growing it.”
Karlie McLaughlin, marketing and patron engagement associate for BMF, said although some don’t realize that nonprofits are members of the business community, organizations like BMF employ local people, purchase goods and services in town and are involved with the marketing and promotion of Breckenridge. The BMF presents more than 65 events on a year-round basis, bringing national acts to Breckenridge, which in turns brings guests in from out of town.
“It’s the tourism that takes place within the town that really bolsters the economy,” she said.
Woulfe praises the town for having recognized arts and culture as a driver of economy and for supporting new arts initiatives. Breckenridge is a unique story, he said, in that the town went from zero to 10 in a short amount of time.
“It takes courage for those outside of my office to recognize that and put the funding forward,” he said.
With many Breckenridge organizations working to help foster the town as a vibrant arts destination, McLaughlin said there are many opportunities in Breckenridge for these outlets to work together to present dynamic programming that includes multiple art forms.
“I see Breckenridge as an internationally-recognized destination for the arts in the future, where the experiences curated by our local nonprofit organizations celebrate our mountain culture and environment,” said Tamara Nuzzaci Park, executive director of BMF. “The BMF can help realize this future by continuing to foster collaborative presentations among local arts nonprofits, building upon our core commitment to diverse programming and designing unique music experiences that can only be found here in Summit.”
Woulfe said they are applying for Creative District Designation with the state this year, which, if accepted, will open up a number of doors in terms of funding and marketing support from Colorado Tourism Office. The town should find out this summer if it has received the designation.
For now, Breck Create will continue to focus on its current track of programs, festivals, concerts and activities on its arts district campus.
“I’m never happy with where we are; we are always pushing it and wanting to do, not necessarily bigger but we want to do better, we want to make it more relevant,” Woulfe said. “We are starting to find that groove, and, over the coming years, it is going to get more focused, more successful, we are going to sharpen the message even more.”