Weehawken Creative Arts has become such an important institution in the Uncompahgre Valley. Please tell us how it got started.
Weehawken was established in 2004 as “Ouray County Arts Center” after our founder, Susie Opdahl, participated in an economic development committee for the region. The concept was that our organization would help to stimulate the economy and increase tourism to the region (especially in the off season) through the planning and marketing of national-level arts classes for adults here in Ouray County. Of course, the organization has shifted and evolved in 17 years – and is not only now known as Weehawken Creative Arts, but also serves several communities and a broader range of ages. We changed the name from OCAC to Weehawken early in the game, honoring the local Native American (Algonquian language) meaning of the word, which is “eternal spring of life.”
What is the full range of what Weehawken offers the community today?
Weehawken offers over 350 arts and cultural classes to adults and children in an array of subjects from fine arts to dance, theater and karate. We also coordinate and organize a multitude of cherished community cultural events and annual programs in Ridgway, Ouray and Montrose, including: Ridgway Rendezvous Arts and Crafts Festival, two full-scale public ballets by Weehawken Dance, Gingerbread House Workshops, Sneffels Fiber Arts Festival, Amateur Sculpting Contest, Ridgway 1k/0K Rally Thru the Alley Fun Run, and at least six children's theater productions.
Weehawken is also the managing organization of the Alpenglow Arts Alliance as well as the new Ouray County Community Calendar. Plus, Weehawken and the Ridgway Chautauqua Society operate the 610 Arts Collective, a retail gallery space that features and celebrates many regional artists in the heart of downtown Ridgway.
Who are the hardworking staff members that keep it all going through thick and thin?
First of all, we should note that we are in a unique nonprofit shared staffing partnership with the Ridgway Chautauqua Society that has been in place since 2014. Our half-time executive director is Ashley King-Grambley (a rural arts administrator for 21-plus years) and our half-time programming director is Trisha Oakland (a dynamo who was born and raised in Ridgway!). Additionally, we have a full-time artistic director for dance, Miss Natasha Pyeatte, and a half-time artistic director for children's theater, Kathleen O'Mara.
Our education programs also boast a staff of 10 that teach in Montrose and Ouray County, with nine exceptional dance teachers and one beloved sensei for our karate program. The remaining talented instructors are contractors for specific programs.
What is something people would be surprised to know about your organization?
People are oftentimes surprised to learn how small the organization and staff are, and that Weehawken owns no spaces. It seems also that people are shocked when they learn that Weehawken also coordinates and runs many of the cultural events and endeavors in our community. We also have a wonderful youth scholarship program that many adults without children do not know about, but are excited to learn about when they are looking for ways to support area youth and a great area nonprofit!
How have you altered operations during the COVID-19 pandemic?
We took a big pause last year in March and were not able to resume in-person programming until June. We also had to cancel all of our cultural events in 2020. Those necessary decisions were big financial hits to the organization. As we went back to in-person programming, we have been limiting participation and keeping distancing in-place, as well as enforcing mask-wearing at the gallery and in our classrooms in all locations. We successfully shifted our 1k fun run to a virtual run and had incredible community support last year.
Our outlook for 2021 is that “the shows will go on” – but slightly altered to accommodate for COVID protocols and rules. We keep up with the rules and pay attention to trends and have become masters of the pivot! Tanner (Ouray County’s public health director) has been a great resource over the past 12 months!
What can people do to support Weehawken?
The greatest need right now is financial support for our youth scholarship programs. Demand is high, and our aim is to never turn any students away from participating. We, of course, also love donations for general operations or directed to programs or cultural events. The other thing people can actively do is shop the 610 Arts Collective. Shopping at the gallery supports the artists as well as Weehawken and the Sherbino – and lets the art buyers take home something they love or they can give to someone with love! As extra incentive during March, shoppers will get an EXTRA 20% off the Sale Section at 610 when they mention the member of the month promotion.
What do you value from being a Ridgway Chamber member?
People get their information mostly from digital media these days. The Chamber offers a strong resource to visitors and locals through their website and e-blasts. We love that they have tools that help people find Ridgway and the many great businesses and organizations that are here!
Weehawken Creative Arts
610 Clinton St., Ridgway, CO 81432
For information about arts and entertainment organizations and businesses in Ridgway, go to https://ridgwaycolorado.com/businesses/arts-entertainment.
The Ridgway Area Chamber of Commerce promotes business and community development in the Town of Ridgway and the surrounding area. The chamber operates the Visitors Center, which is currently closed until further notice due to COVID-19, and is located at 150 Racecourse Road, Ridgway, Colorado 81432 (across from Citizens Bank off of HWY 62).
P.O. Box 544
Ridgway, Colorado 81432