The town of Basalt last week approved its public arts commission’s recommendation to fund more than $50,000 in 2020 for one longstanding local organization, two teaching fellows, a theatre troupe and a two-day jazz festival. The funds will be especially appreciated during the COVID-19 pandemic, organizational directors said.

At their regular meeting last Tuesday, councilmembers also unanimously endorsed the Basalt Public Arts Commission’s recommendation to shift $20,000 that was previously appropriated for public art to $500 grants for up to 40 local artists who may need a boost to get by during these exceptional times.

“We are excited about all four organizations,” said Jeff Orsulak, BPAC’s chairman, during Tuesday evening’s virtual meeting. He went on to explain that the $52,210 to be appropriated comes out of a restricted real estate transfer tax designated to the arts and not the general fund.

“We’re not dipping into the kitty. It’s set aside for arts and arts only,” he said.

BPAC’s overall budget for 2020 is $100,000. According to a staff memorandum written by senior planner Watkins Fulk-Gray, the original budget designated $55,000 to $75,000 for a grant program, $20,000 to $40,000 for rotating public arts and $5,000 for an arts master plan, as well as miscellaneous costs.

The new Basalt Artist Relief Fund “would give small amounts to artists with a Basalt residence or studio address,” the memo says. “BPAC believes that helping artists soon in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis is important for keeping arts and culture alive in Basalt.”

‘Focus on 81621’

During BPAC’s April 16 meeting, four projects for funding were shortlisted. On April 30, the board recommended that all four be funded, and the town council endorsed the request last week.

Here are the details:

• Art Base: $20,000 for general operating support. Its mission statement: “The Art Base fosters creative expression in the visual arts for all ages and abilities through education, exhibitions and events.” The organization’s operating budget is $600,000 and “TAB raises approximately $550,000 each year through events, memberships, grants and donations,” information provided by Skye Skinner, interim executive director, states.

• ArtistYear (an organization to help close arts education grants): $20,000 to fund two teaching fellows for the Basalt Schools [for 2020 and 2021] to deliver 3,400 hours of arts instruction. “ArtistYear’s mission is to address the ‘Arts Education Gap’ [in the] Basalt and the Roaring Fork School District by ensuring that every underserved student has arts education though a National Service Arts Corps,” information provided to the arts board says.

• Hudson Reed Ensemble: $3,000 for a series of Shakespeare in the Park productions in 2020. “We are requesting funds from the town of Basalt to help underwrite our 2020 Shakespeare in the Park summer season of ‘Macbeth,’” founder and executive director Kent Reed said in a letter to BPAC. Performances are free. “Last summer our inaugural season of Shakespeare in the Park on the Basalt Regional library lawn drew standing-room-only crowds,” the letter adds.

• The Arts Campus at Willits: $19,210 for Pumpkin Jazz, which will expand last year’s single-day jazz show to two days, Oct. 9-10, “unless prohibited by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” a letter from Ryan Honey, arts campus executive director, says. The plan now is for Pumpkin Jazz to move from one day with 10 performances to two days with 12 performances.

“By spreading the program over two nights, guests will be able to experience more of the acts, spending at host venues will be expanded and staff will be able to better manage the event,” Honey wrote.

The decision to move public arts funding to individuals came in a separate vote. Orsulak called it “a focus on people in 81621,” while adding that the Artist Relief Fund provides grants up to $500.

“We have set aside $20,000. That’s 40 people,” he said. The goal is to “get the money out with as few strings as possible.”

Councilmember David Knight said Tuesday he was excited for the programming the grants will allow and asked how live performances for HRE’s “Macbeth” will work if there are still public health orders in place, including those that limit the size of gatherings.

Knight was told the troupe was “pushing it back as far as they can in the summer” and would abide by public health orders.

Following the discussion, Skinner, of the Art Base, thanked the council.

“I can’t tell you how important this funding is for the art base. How grateful we are for our relationship with the town of Basalt,” Skinner said.

According to Reed of HRE, “A grant from the town of Basalt carries certain prestige and credibility that we feel will help attract additional funding sources.”

Madeleine Osberger is a Contributing Editor for Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at or on Twitter @Madski99