The Wheat Ridge arts community is growing rapidly, and this growth can largely be credited to its interconnectivity and diversity.
“This is really just a group of artists that support one another,” said Sandra Davis, a local Wheat Ridge artist, member of the Wheat Ridge Art League, and board member of the Wheat Ridge Cultural Commission. “There’s not a competitive edge to this at all. It’s really about artists sharing information to give each other a hand up all the time.”
The Wheat Ridge Cultural Commission is at the forefront of these developments, focusing on revitalizing local arts with new programs and grant opportunities. The Commission spent the last two years determining their focus areas, said Chair Kathleen Martell.
“We’ve landed on three pillars: programming, grants, and community networking,” Martell said. “We want to use our budget to actually support programs and artists in our community, and that’s where this grant program really came out of. We’re hoping we can be a little more neutral and help spread resources around, get people talking to each other.”
The Commission’s grant program is focused on equally distributing funds to a variety of local art initiatives. The grants target a wide array of creative projects, with strict guidelines to support artists within the borders of Wheat Ridge and foster local talent, said Marianne Schilling, assistant city manager for the City of Wheat Ridge.
“Any opportunity to support artists and provide funding is a step in the right direction toward building more creative momentum in the community,” Schilling said. “Funding is always hard to come by, so we are thrilled for this grant opportunity and we know it will lead to great work.”
The application period for grant projects scheduled between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2024, has already closed as of Dec. 1, 2023. However, it will reopen this fall, and interested parties can access the application through the Commission’s Facebook page.
Since launching in late 2022, the grants have funded diverse initiatives, including Ridgefest’s chalk art, the Colorado Folk Arts Council’s festivals and the Wheat Ridge Theatre Company’s Pride Parade float.
Emily Helsel, president-elect of the Wheat Ridge Art League, has high hopes for the future of collaboration and diversity in the Wheat Ridge arts community, particularly in light of the new grants. The Wheat Ridge Art League, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2024, is made up of more than 40 artists focusing on art appreciation and promotion through events and meetups.
“My biggest goal as the 2024 president is to encourage more young artists to join the league,” Helsel said. “Art is nothing without new ideas.”
Helsel also highlights the importance of community and connection among Wheat Ridge artists, as the sense of camaraderie in many arts communities is still recovering from the COVID pandemic.
The Commission’s new grants bring with them a cautious optimism about enhanced collaboration among local artists and art groups. If managed effectively, the grants could encourage a more interconnected community of artists in an already tight-knit Wheat Ridge arts scene.
Paige Piper, executive director of We Are LocalWorks, attests to this cautiously optimistic point of view.
“I definitely think the grants are a tool to help make collaboration between all of the different art entities in Wheat Ridge easier,” Piper said. “I think that there’s a large appetite for collaboration in the city of Wheat Ridge when it comes to the arts community. I just don’t think that there’s been the right forum yet.”
We Are Localworks, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, works closely with other local organizations like Wheat Ridge Creates to plan cultural events and increase networking and collaboration among Wheat Ridge creatives.
Maru Garcia, executive producer of the Wheat Ridge Theatre Company, provided insights into how performing arts fit into the local creative scene and how the new cultural grants have helped bolster local theater. The Theatre Company organized a float for the 2023 Pride Parade, funded by a Wheat Ridge Cultural Commission grant, and is set to present a dynamic 2024 season with eight shows.
“The Commission has been wonderful to work with,” Garcia said. “They’re really trying to increase the presence of performing arts in Wheat Ridge.”
Garcia also voiced a desire to increase partnerships between Wheat Ridge performing arts companies moving forward.
“After the pandemic we have not collaborated,” she said. “So hopefully, it will happen in the near future.”
Two notable projects could further increase growth and collaboration in the Wheat Ridge arts community: the Arts Drop program and the Clear Creek Makerspace. Arts Drop, organized by the Wheat Ridge Cultural Commission, engages the public in art distribution through scavenger hunts, supporting local artists. The Makerspace, opening in March 2024 and developed by Wheat Ridge Creates and LocalWorks, will offer a collaborative workspace for local creatives.
“I think really, the Makerspace will include people in the art space that had never been included before, those people that felt like they didn’t have a community before in Wheat Ridge,” Piper said.
The introduction of the Wheat Ridge Cultural Commission grants, alongside the Arts Drop program and the Clear Creek Makerspace, reflects a growing emphasis on the arts in the Wheat Ridge community. As these efforts continue to unfold, local artists are cautiously optimistic that there will be an increase in artistic collaboration and diversity.
“Many people have been in desperate need of a place of connection and community, especially since the events of 2020 and onward,” Helsel said. “That is a theme I wish to see trending in the upcoming years: community and connection.”