Armando Silva paints a mural for Dia de los Muertos in October. The changed festival of artists and restaurants shows how the community came together to support Summit County’s culture during the pandemic.
Photo by Joe Kusumoto / Breckenridge Creative Arts
Of all industries, arts and entertainment arguably suffered the most during the pandemic. It became a cultural death sentence as concert halls and theaters across the country closed and sources of income dried up.
Summit County wasn’t immune to studios like Ready, Paint, Fire! The Dillon Amphitheater closed its doors, the Breillonridge Backstage Theater and the Silverthorne Performing Arts Center went dark. Large festivals such as WAVE: Light + Water + Sound and Breckenridge International Festival of Arts have been canceled.
“We were hit like every other company in the county and beyond,” said former Breckenridge Creative Arts CEO Matt Neufeld in March. “I would say there hasn’t been a single arts organization that hasn’t had to completely rethink how they can fulfill their mission and serve our community in new ways.”
These new paths became apparent in the summer. The main streets of Breckenridge and Frisco were full of murals. Groups played outside at pop-up concerts, and actors put on theater cabarets in the neighborhood.
According to Neufeld, BreckCreate has seen hundreds of thousands of budget shortfalls, but federal, state and local funding has helped keep the arts alive, including in indirect ways like the Family & Intercultural Resource Center, which provides rent relief to individuals, including artists.
Breckenridge Music had shaken its year when it canceled its festival and series at the Riverwalk Center. The nonprofit briefly turned to online gigs with its Applause @ Home fundraiser, which combined concerts and recipes like New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp with Bourbon Street Boogie. However, managing director Tamara Nuzzaci Park said the financial return was not ideal. The greatest blessing came from donors and the Small Business Administration’s paycheck protection program.
“The PPP has been an exceptional resource for us,” said Nuzzaci Park. “As a result, we have been able to maintain our workforce and really think about the future … because we have the people here who do that.”
A conservative budget and a little soul searching for how to make the most impact resulted in Breck Music moving from normal music education in schools with gatherings and workshops to scholarships for children.
John Truscelli performs at a concert. Because of the pandemic, the musician played less, but he used the time to write songs and record music.
Photo by John Truscelli
Musician John Truscelli has spent much of the pandemic fueling his creative side with songwriting and recording. The self-proclaimed introvert misses playing for his friends, but he quickly got used to the quiet time with extra studio time.
In more than 20 years of full-time at Summit, Truscelli has not seen a year like this – regardless of the snowpack or the forest fire season. He went from an average of four to five gigs a week to one or two sporadic ones.
“We weren’t as affected as some of the bigger bands and venues,” said Truscelli, who performs solo, as a duo with Jess Rose Moidel and in the band Satellite13. “We didn’t lose our Red Rocks gig, but we lost our normal restaurant and bar stuff. We definitely lost a lot of money because the resorts weren’t open and we couldn’t play there. “
Truscelli also lost his performance momentum with Satellite13, which began booking clubs in Las Vegas with the outbreak of the pandemic. However, he was able to go digital and make money from scholarships, tips, and places like the Summit Musicians Relief Fund. He said he couldn’t really complain as he was fortunate enough to be able to make a living as a musician and have a supportive family.
People gather to watch a drive-in from Breck Film. The organization also used streaming services to keep the community connected through movies.
Photo by Breck Film
Breck Film was adapted by streaming movies online and investing in a mobile drive-in screen that could be set up in parking lots and other places in the county. Ashley Hughes, Marketing and Development Manager at Breck Film, said the year was a success as the nonprofit reached more people not only in the Summit County community but across the country. The films became a conversation starter and a way for people to connect even when they couldn’t be physically together.
Hughes cut their marketing budget by 38% and had to be frugal, but Breck Film was able to launch new programs. The nonprofit opened up the Social Justice Movement by highlighting various filmmakers and received grants to help increase inclusiveness in the industry.
While artists and venues were hit the hardest, that doesn’t mean it was easier for other artists. Jessica Johnson draws on special events like farmers markets or festivals in Summit, Park, and Lake counties, as well as businesses like cafes or breweries to showcase her images.
As the organizer of Art Night on the third Thursday at Highside Brewing, she had to turn around to support herself and her colleagues. The art fair was digitized on social media until Highside reopened for personal dining. A big change came in the fall when she opened the Frisco Arts Collective with other local artists. Johnson said the cooperative gallery had been well received given the restrictions.
She said she is lucky that art is not her main source of income, which is common with the high cost of living in Summit County. She has used the downtime to create larger paintings, do commissioned work, and design neck gaiters.
“We’re lucky here in Summit County,” said Johnson. “It wasn’t exactly a normal business, but people came to enjoy the outdoors and all that it has to offer. It wasn’t as scary as it would have been if I had been elsewhere. “
The summer concert series at the Dillon Amphitheater was canceled in 2020. Dillon City Council has announced that it plans to hold concerts again this year.
Photo by Jenise Jensen
A light at the end of the tunnel
Optimistic planning for personal summer events has begun as vaccinations continue to spread and case numbers continue to improve. The warmer weather means the public can safely gather outside to listen to music or watch a movie.
Johnson is delighted to be able to open the doors of the Frisco Art Collective, distribute displays on the terrace and paint outside in the shadow of Mount Royal. Although she isn’t sure about bigger festivals, she believes she can visit farmers’ markets again.
Neufeld said he is cautiously optimistic that some kind of artistic activation will take place that takes advantage of nature, although this is likely not what residents and guests are used to.
“When we talk about festivals on a WAVE or (Breckenridge International Festival of Arts) scale, I’m still very cautious,” he said, adding that the future depends not just on vaccinations in Summit County but across the country. “Despite all the challenges we had last summer, I felt really good that a lot had happened. We tried to be really innovative in how we can serve our community and I think we learned a lot from that experience. “
Meanwhile, Breck Music is hoping for an in-person festival with contingencies if the public health outlook deteriorates. A full season announcement is slated for May, but Nuzzaci Park said the festival, from August 5th to 15th, is set to be a smaller 10-day experience that will either be normal or slightly customized, with various series of outdoor concerts. “All of our decisions are based on flexibility as a priority,” said Nuzzaci Park.
Nuzzaci Park said it will be a long road to recovery, but she’s glad the year gave the community a clean plan to analyze what events should be moving forward and how, rather than having a plethora of options that are too Fatigue of events and lead to a watered-down audience.
Regardless of what the culture is like in the months and years to come, industry leaders are fortunate to have the support of the community during difficult times. Neufeld pointed out that gastronomy, artists and other non-profit organizations come together, for example in Dia de los Muertos collaborations, which included special menus and offrendas or altars.
“I think the relationships that are strengthened during this time will only get stronger if we have more opportunities to work together,” said Neufeld. “There is hope that things are moving in the right direction. We’re still here, and we’re still committed to Breckenridge and our community throughout the Summit. There is optimism and I am definitely optimistic. … It would have been more difficult to say that maybe six months ago, five months ago. “
This story was previously published in Still Standing: How Summit County Weathered the Pandemic.