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Jenny Henry, of Voices’ youth advisory board, test drives the ARTery stage last week. She’ll get her moment in front of an audience on June 30. Tonight, local musician Natalie Spears will spearhead the installation’s debut at Basalt’s Wednesday Night Live series.

It may be small, but the energy behind Voices' new ARTery stage is anything but.

The idea first came to Voices Executive Director Renee Prince when considering how to re-emerge in the not-quite aftermath of COVID-19.

“Just the thought of, ‘Well, if we could perform outside, is there a way for us to just think about the intention of that?’” she recalled Tuesday. As is often the case with inspiration, though, the seed idea for what became the tiny, portable stage that will serve as a literal platform for local artists dubbed the ARTery didn’t come from Prince alone.

“I was having a conversation with a friend,” she said. “It was inspired by some of the projects we’ve talked about — there’s an organization in Denver called the Handsome Little Devil. They had a tiny little stage that they used that I thought was really so beautiful.”

With the help of some local underwriting from Alpine Bank, Prince was able to engage with local theatrical designer Sean Jeffries, who crafted the final product. That arrangement, too, fit with the larger vision for the ARTery, which is to create employment opportunities for Colorado artists, especially after so many took financial hits from the pandemic.

“We also worked with Sean and it’s just wonderful to have a local artist create the space for us. The curtains you see on the space were created by a Colorado-based textile artist,” Prince said. “We amplify local, regional voices in every sort of depth of this process. And give artists gigs! We’re also really trying to get artists some paid work, frankly.”

And by “artist,” Prince said Voices takes a wide lens when recognizing the definition of the term. From the design and welding of the stage itself to the textiles that adorn it to the performing artists who will light it up with their presences, the idea behind the ARTery was to formalize an artistic space that could travel to where such energy is needed.

“There’s something about creating a little sculptural venue that feels almost that itself is a little piece of art. It could be very useful at this moment … using that to bring local artist voices,” Prince said.

To that effect, the summer’s first Wednesday Night Live — a free weekly series from 5-8 p.m. with pop-up entertainment throughout downtown Basalt and Willits in partnership between the town of Basalt, the Basalt Chamber of Commerce and The Arts Campus at Willits — felt like the right time for the ARTery to make its debut.

Musician Natalie Spears will be “running the show” today, complete with performance and the creation of a new “crankie” in collaboration with the Roaring Fork Drawing Club.

“A narrative or song is illustrated across a long scroll of paper which is rolled up and attached to two dowels,” Spears describes on her website. “The dowels are fastened inside of a box frame and a hand crank, hence the name ‘crankie,’ is used to spin the dowels which unfurls the story across an open viewing area in the frame.”

Raleigh Burleigh, a member of the Roaring Fork Drawing Club, remembers the first time he’d ever been exposed to the idea of the “crankie,” several years ago when Spears was releasing a single.

“It’s really great to see it back in action and exciting to be creating a new one with anybody that shows up and decides they want to contribute — a cartoon or a whole scenery,” he said. “It’s good to be back in action with the Roaring Fork Drawing Club and great to be partnering with Voices, doing all this great work to support artists in this community.”

Spears will be the first of 28 artists slated to make their own appearance on the ARTery through the summer, from Wednesday Night Live to farmers markets in Carbondale and Glenwood Springs to Carbondale’s 50th Mountain Fair. 

TACAW Executive Director Ryan Honey emphasized that Wednesday Night Live is only the beginning for the ARTery and future collaborations between the two entities.

“This will be the beginning of many collaborations with Voices at the Contemporary. We love their work; we love their community spirit and the ability to showcase local performances,” he said.

Prince said that the ARTery was built to be in perfect harmony with the visions of myriad other entities. 

“The space is tiny and portable,” she said, “and it’s vibrant yellow to represent the joy we feel to reunite as an arts  community after a difficult year of separation.” 

The yellow is also symbolic of the sun, which is appropriate — thanks to a grant from the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, or CORE, the mini-stage is powered by a solar generator.

 

Megan Tackett is the editor for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at megan@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @MeganTackett10.