Art is generally the focal point of cultural heritage inside Colorado’s mountain communities. Sure, there is usually world-class hiking, skiing and
fishing no more than a 5-minute fat-tire bike ride away, but it’s the creativity of the residents that give these destinations their unique identity.
Carbondale Arts turned 50 in 2021 as something of a spinoff of the Carbondale Mountain Fair. During the last 5 decades, the organization has aimed to keep the spirit of Carbondale ever-changing creatively by responding to community needs. In those early days, Carbondale Arts was the purveyor of live music, and Mountain Fair was its annual event that held Carbondale together both culturally and economically.
Today, Amy Kimberly is the former Director of Carbondale Arts, and her Colorado story is in many ways symmetrical to the organization she heads up. Amy moved to a magical land tucked deep within in the San Juan Mountains in the early 1990s, having initially found Telluride after attending the Telluride Mushroom Festival. “I was very interested in growing psilocybin,” Amy recalls candidly.
The mountains took hold, and Amy soon became a purveyor of music in her own right as the owner of Fly Me to The Moon Saloon on Main Street in Telluride. This blossomed into a relationship and job opportunity with Planet Bluegrass, where she continued to perfect the art of creating musical experiences that bring communities together. During this time ,she also had a five-year stint as the head of the Telluride Arts Council.
Amy’s story moved northwest to Carbondale after selling the Telluride bar/music venue after 18 years of ownership. Her experience in non-profit work and her uncanny ability to produce events that give destinations their cultural identity made her a natural choice to join the Carbondale Arts team.
Amy and her colleagues consistently use the word placekeeping. It’s a unique term for destination stewardship leaders worldwide, and one without a finite definition. There are tangible essentials (art installations, murals, restaurants, stores events, hiking trails, infrastructure, etc.) and essential intangibles (the soul of the destination’s residents). As the head of Carbondale Arts, Amy has led her team in stabilizing the foundation that the organization has built within the community while stacking on new creative layers that allow Carbondale residents to remain as the keepers of their place.
One such effort is the Carbondale Creative District. As Amy remembers, “Carbondale was good at deciding what they didn’t want, and the Creative District allowed it to create alignment in finding what it does want.”
Affirming this notion, the Carbondale Creative District was formed as a result of the community coming together to protest a big box store that was planned within Carbondale. Amy and her team saw this opportunity and built upon the sense of unity, and since its formation,the Carbondale Creative District has provided assistance for advocacy for art and artists across the Roaring Fork Valley. More impressively, it has led to a commingling amongst neighboring towns, with strong bonds being built between Basalt, Marble, Red Cliff and El Jebel.
The ArtWay is another project that Amy helped develop and maintains as the Director of Carbondale Arts. Various murals and street art that acts as interpretive signage, statues and sculptures along the Carbondale bike path, and the kiosk/mural on 4th and Main all reflect the different forms of art that Amy has left her mark on, all with the goal of ensuring that each installation “is not too refined and captures the funk” of Carbondale.
From a traveler’s perspective, the goal of Carbondale Arts is to create secrets within the community that are easy to find. As oxymoronic as this may seem, this the ethos in marketing to today’s tourist – pointing visitors towards hidden gems while making them think they found them on their own.
Amy has announced that she will be retiring from her post as director of Carbondale Arts at the end of the year. In retrospect, she is thankful for having the Colorado Tourism Office and OEDIT as partners that have allowed communities like Carbondale to define who they are.
And Carbondale is thankful for Amy for being the lynchpin in sustaining and further enhancing this artistic definition.
Art is widely thought of as works with an audio or visual element, whether they be paintings, drawings, sculptures, movies or music. Amy didn’t miss a beat with any of these artistic staples, but it is her expertise in community engagement – the art of bringing residents together – that will leave the Carbondale on an imaginative path to creative and cultural preservation for years to come.
Amy’s Perfect Day in Carbondale: