Think of Breckenridge as just a ski or outdoor recreation town? Then you haven’t met Jenn Cram, or experienced the Breckenridge Arts District.
On Jan. 3, 2015, Cram celebrates her 15th year working with the Town of Breckenridge to envision, create and grow a town-wide arts district, partially inspired by Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village.
Cram always has been passionate about art and providing an interactive workspace for both local and guest artists from around the world.
“I feel creativity is what makes us human, what makes us thrive and overcome so many obstacles,” she says.
Cram always wanted to be an artist, but when, like most parents, hers encouraged her to pursue something more practical upon which to build a career, she decided to study architecture.
When one of her professors noticed she loved the art of how buildings relate to their sites, he encouraged her to switch degrees, to landscape architecture. She entered a highly competitive program at Michigan State, where 125 students were accepted, but only 30 — one being Cram — ended up graduating with a landscape architecture degree.
“It fit because I was interested in art and design,” she says.
After graduating and working as a landscape architect, she studied fine art, from 1995 to 1999, focusing on print making.
“The line work and embossment from print was almost topographic to me,” she says, adding, “and I love the smell of a printmaking studio and inks and paper.”
Then, in 2000, the Town of Breckenridge hired her as a long range planner for its public art and urban design projects (see the timeline of the evolution of the arts district below).
After years of extensive planning and implementing the Breckenridge Arts District, results are not only tangible, but also inspiring.
“I get to hear all those students’ successes — to hear a student’s excitement about taking her writing to the next level, or in a holiday ornament workshop, watching kids’ eyes light up when making gifts,” she says. “For me, it’s all about the relationships that I am growing with all of these artists locally, nationally and internationally — all those little moments when you see the sparkle in their eyes and the smiles on their faces. I feel it’s my responsibility to take (the arts district) to the next level and provide more experiences.”
And so she is. The arts district provides a campus featuring completely renovated historical buildings, which host workshops, open to anyone, ranging from life drawing, ceramics, printmaking and textiles to creative writing, painting and more.
So when does Cram, who seems aptly named, as she manages so many professional duties into her life and then crams in her own art in, actually pull off her own artistic pursuits? Well, she calls herself the late-night artist — specifically an installation artist, who incorporates metal, encaustic paintings and more into her ceramic pieces. When she has a show scheduled, she tends to stay up until 2 or 3 a.m. weeks prior, working on her pieces.
“You have to have that fire under you sometimes, to create your best work,” she says.
It’s an attitude that has kept her going during some of the arts district’s most busy, intense growth spurts, as well as one that helps her continue her personal art.
And, her overall passion for art and its extension into the community will serve her well as she moves into the next chapter of her duties at the arts district, which includes a title change, to director of public programs and engagement with Breckenridge Creative Arts.
The evolution of Breckenridge arts
In 2001, The Backstage Theatre, a staple as the oldest theater in Summit County, found itself homeless, so the town helped purchase the rough-and-tumble legendary bar on Ridge Street — Shamus O’Toole’s — and Cram acted as the project planner.
Shortly after, the town purchased land on which the Arts District is now located, between Ridge and Main streets. In 2003 the historic Robert Whyte House was used to start hosting workshops. By 2004, they adopted a master plan, that Cram helped author, and by 2006, they had partnered with the Saddle Rock Society to renovate the Tin Shop, which hosts guest artists — who offer public workshops and hold open studio hours — from around the world. In fact, in 2014, 7,000 people visited the Tin Shop during open studio hours to receive creative inspiration.
In 2008, the Fuqua Livery Stable took off, with its resident artist program to support local artists, as well as its class offerings, from painting to creative writing. It is an award-winning, innovative historical renovation, because it incorporates a glass storefront on the inside so visitors can view the original wood and historical artifacts of the stable.
In 2009, a knotty pine cabin called the Quandary Antiques Cabin became the ceramics studio.
By 2010, the recession impacted the Arts District, so a grassroots community effort financially intervened to keep the Arts District sustainable.
In 2012, town council considered what it would take to build out the arts district campus and decided to infuse the millions of dollars it would take.
In September 2014, the Breckenridge Arts District debuted with a weekend full of free workshops, music, dance and showcases of the renovated historical buildings that make up the arts district.
Now, it offers multiple workshops per day — check out the schedule today.