The beauty of Pikes Peak has inspired artists since the 19th century, yet only in the past few years has a diverse, truly exciting arts community blossomed in Colorado Springs, the city that lies in Pikes Peak’s shadow. With major museum expansions, new galleries, and a wide range of community efforts to bring fine arts to the fore, the Springs has seen a burst of artistic energy that’s drawing art lovers from all across the state.
You can explore many of Colorado Springs’ best art spaces in a day trip from Denver, but start early—there’s a lot to see. Plan to arrive at the Fine Arts Center (FAC), the Springs’ premier art museum, when the doors open at 10 a.m. Exit I-25 on Uintah Street, then turn south on Cascade Avenue to reach the FAC, which traces its roots to the Broadmoor Art Academy, established in 1919 with instructors from the Art Students League of New York. In August 2007, the FAC unveiled a beautiful 48,000-square-foot expansion to its 1936 art deco building, with extensive new gallery space.
Exhibits at the FAC include a splendid collection of American paintings, whimsical Mexican ceramics, and a fascinating pairing of Dale Chihuly glass and Native American baskets. New exhibitions of contemporary and 20th century landscape painting open in September, and a traveling Smithsonian exhibit of NASA art opens December 19.
Across Cascade Avenue is the one-year-old Edith Kinney Gaylord Cornerstone Arts Center of Colorado College, which includes a gallery for the school’s interdisciplinary I.D.E.A. Space arts program. Stroll over for a look (the gallery opens at 12:30 p.m.), and then, just across Cache la Poudre Street, check out Creature Comforts, a 2008 outdoor installation of towering, hutlike structures by “stick artist” Patrick Dougherty.
When lunch beckons your best bet on weekends is Café 36 inside the FAC (open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.), with a tasty—albeit pricey—lunch menu and views of the mountains. During the workweek, head downtown for lunch. Follow Cascade south to Colorado Avenue, turn left, cross Tejon Street, and park underground on the right, below the orange-brick Plaza of the Rockies buildings. Nosh, a two-year-old casual eatery, caters to local business folks, families, and tourists alike, with a huge outdoor patio away from busy streets. The varied, reasonably priced menu ranges from creative salads and sandwiches to small entrées like a barbacoa tostada or an udon noodle bowl. (Nosh validates garage parking, so don’t forget to get your ticket stamped before leaving.)
Refreshed, turn left in the Plaza of the Rockies lobby to find the three-room gallery of the FAC Modern, the Fine Arts Center’s free exhibit space for contemporary work. You can breeze through in 30 seconds, or you might linger 30 minutes over a challenging work like conceptual artist Atomic Elroy’s multimedia piece Scam, which asks viewers to consider whether the ultimate goal of all art is to make a buck.
Outside on Tejon Street, turn left across a small greenway to find the tower-topped old El Paso County courthouse, home of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. In addition to a fun collection of Native American and historical artifacts—don’t miss riding to the upper level in the 1913 Otis birdcage elevator—the Pioneers Museum hosts two important galleries of artwork. First is the world’s largest public collection of Van Briggle art pottery, a well-known style of Art Nouveau matte-glaze ceramics crafted in Colorado Springs beginning in 1899. Although the designs have evolved, Van Briggle pottery is still made in the Springs; you can visit the company’s brand-new workshop and showroom about eight blocks south of downtown on Tejon Street.
The Pioneers Museum also features an exhibition called “Looming Large: The Artistic Legacy of Pikes Peak,” displaying a remarkable variety of imagery of the broad-shouldered fourteener that resides in the background of this city. The gallery includes Pikes paintings by famous visitors like Thomas Moran and Charles Partridge Adams, well-known pioneer artists such as Charles Craig, and modern locals like impressionist Charles Rockey.
Outside the courthouse, the view of Pikes Peak, framed by El Paso County’s modern justice center, may inspire you to stretch your legs a bit. Stop by the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region (behind the giant red paperclips sculpture outside Plaza of the Rockies) to pick up a map of dozens of public-art pieces scattered downtown. Thirteen of these are jury-selected sculptures in the 2009 Art on the Streets program, including those giant paperclips. (Download the map at www.artonthestreets.com.) It’s well-worth wandering up North Tejon Street, the city’s bustling and pedestrian-friendly main shopping street, to hunt down these artworks.
For now, though, walk four blocks east on Colorado Avenue to find the new home of the Cottonwood Center for the Arts, a vast warren of working artists’ studios that opened in April inside a transformed office building. As you wander the halls you’ll see work displayed outside artists’ studios, and if the doors are open feel free to poke your head inside; you’ll often be invited in for a peek at new work or a lecture on brush strokes. On a Thursday morning in midsummer, about half of the Cottonwood Center’s 78 studios were open and busy.
Now primed for shopping, head back to the car and get ready for some gallery hopping. Just a few blocks south on East Cimarron Street is Gallery Two-Ten, opened in February 2008 by Marianne Gunter, a longtime Springs art figure. The spacious two-story gallery is dedicated exclusively to contemporary Colorado artists.
For more experimental work, such as an entire exhibition of works created from recycled materials, drive west on Colorado Avenue until you see signs for the Depot Arts District and Smokebrush gallery; take a right at the traffic light (Cimino Street) and park under the railway bridge. Smokebrush’s tiny gallery hosts themed exhibits (this month: Greg Block’s wacky machines), and next door is the often-interesting Bridge Gallery. Out back you’ll find the Watch This Space video and “artformance” venue (http://watchthisspacecos.blogspot.com).
You can finish the day with a stroll in Old Colorado City (www.shopoldcoloradocity.com)—the area’s first settlement—which now houses blocks of restaurants, boutiques, jewelers, and galleries. All of the shops are fun to poke through, but don’t miss the Hunter-Wolff Gallery (known for fine art from oil to watercolor to bronzes) and the Squash Blossom (offering paintings, furniture, and sculpture, but known for its stunning jewelry). Of course, the best way to enjoy Old Colorado City is on a Friday night, when this little enclave hosts a friendly First Friday art walk from 5 to 8 p.m., April through December. m
Dougald MacDonald is a contributing editor for 5280. He lives and writes in Louisville. E-mail him at email@example.com.
If You Go
For a lively, comprehensive schedule of Colorado Springs-based arts events—as well as theater, festivals, sports, and more—visit www.peakradar.com. All exhibits and galleries listed below are free except for the Fine Arts Center: $15 adults; $12.75 children and seniors.
Fine Arts Center, 30 W. Dale St.; Tue.-Sun. 10-5; www.csfineartscenter.org.
I.D.E.A. Space, Edith Kinney Gaylord Cornerstone Arts Center, 825 N. Cascade Ave.; Tue.-Sat. 12:30-7; www.theideaspace.com.
Nosh, 121 S. Tejon St.; lunch Mon.-Fri. 11-3; www.nosh121.com.
FAC Modern, 121 S. Tejon St.; Mon.-Fri. 10-4, www.csfineartscenter.org.
Pioneers Museum, 215 S. Tejon St.; Tue.-Sat. 10-4; www.springsgov.com/SectionIndex.aspx?SectionID=38.
Van Briggle Pottery and Tile, 1024 S. Tejon St.; Mon.-Sat. 9-5, Sun. 1-5; www.vanbriggle.com.
Cottonwood Center for the Arts, 427 E. Colorado Ave.; Mon.-Fri. 10-6, Sat. 10-2; www.cottonwoodcenterforthearts.com.
Gallery Two-Ten, 210 E. Cimarron St.; Tue.-Sat. 10-6, Sun. 11-4; www.gallerytwo-ten.com.
Smokebrush, 218 W. Colorado Ave.; Mon.-Sat. 12-5; www.smokebrush.org.
The Bridge Gallery, 218 W. Colorado Ave.; Fri.-Sat. 11-5, Sun. 12-3; www.thebridgeartgallery.com.
Hunter-Wolff Gallery, 2510 W. Colorado Ave.; Mon.-Thurs. 10-5, Fri.-Sat. 10-6, Sun. 11-5; www.hunterwolffgallery.com.
The Squash Blossom, 2531 W. Colorado Ave.; Mon.-Sat. 10-5; www.squashblossom.com.
Can’t Get Enough Art?
Spend the night in Manitou Springs, about seven miles west of Colorado Springs on Highway 24. The town hosts several galleries, the Commonwheel Artists’ Cooperative and Labor Day weekend arts festival (www.commonwheel.com), the Business of Art Center incubator and gallery space (www.thebac.org), and numerous B&Bs and hotels (www.manitousprings.org).