Nestled against the Rocky Mountains sits the bustling and busy college town of Fort Collins, Colo.; a town mixed with families, college students, and artists. The natural beauty, spectacular scenery and historic landmarks are all wonderful things that make Fort Collins so great, but residents and travelers alike can enjoy a vibrant art scene in the heart of Old Town, Fort Collins.
The best way to begin an Old Town art experience is to attend a First Friday Gallery Walk.
According to the Downtown Fort Collins Arts District, First Friday is a once a month event where Old Town Art Galleries in Fort Collins remain open for self-guided tour, refreshments are served, and many galleries offer changing exhibits so there is something new to see each month. The walk takes place the first Friday of every month, from 6-9p.m.
Not wanting Fort Collins to be perceived as a â€œsecond-class arts community,â€ Marcy Oliver, owner of Old Town Art and Framery, founded the First Friday Gallery Walk in 1997, describes the Fort Collins Downtown Business Association.
The best way in Dawn Putneyâ€™s opinion to experience the Old Town art scene is to get out on First Friday and experience the magic. Putney is the self-described Art Lab fairy God Mother and official overseer.
â€œResidents will get a taste of everything the art community offers through First Friday,â€ said Putney
Old Townâ€™s Art Lab is a unique experience in that it is a â€œblank canvas,â€ describes Putney, â€œIt is anything that anyone wants to do.â€
There are only two rules at Art Lab, a gallery located in Old Town. Do not get the cops called and do not burn the place down.
â€œWe also like artist to leave the place in better shape then when they found it,â€ said Putney.
Art Lab turns empty store-fronts into vibrant art-spaces. Art Lab temporarily fills empty buildings with wonderful art, music, performances, and is a gathering place, until a new tenant comes along. When a new tenant decides to move in, Art Lab just moves on to the next empty space. They space promotes creativity and innovation.
â€œWe truly believe with Art Lab that we need to have traffic and be in the heart of Fort Collins. The community space seems to add to Old Town because people will come across and find (Art Lab),â€ said Putney.
â€œWe want Art Lab to keep enhancing and growing the community, we rely on the community for help,â€ said Putney.
The Art Lab is a great experimental art space. The space is free to use and a new artist is assigned every month. There is a gallery opening in the first week, the show is up for two weeks, and then the next two weeks of the month are dedicated as an open space for classes and performances.
But this Old Town art space offers more then just a space for artist. It also offers Fort Collins residents a place to escape.
â€œWe had our first location on Mountain Avenue and we would have these open mic nights, said Putney. â€œ This guy would come in, jump on stage with the band, and start playing the piano. He would usually be at the bar next door but instead he had the Art Lab to come to.â€
The Art Lab then moved to their current location on 239 Linden Street. Putney feels that the community around Linden Street has embraced the Art Lab.
â€œResident were happy to have us move in and since we have moved there are more galleries and businesses because of Art Lab. We made the neighborhood strong,â€ said Putney.
And despite the down economy Putney is happy to see that Art Lab is selling art. Good art is selling and breaking the typical stereotype that artist are poor and starving. People touring the gallery during First Friday can purchase the art, putting money back into the local community.
â€œHonestly this is a space for artists to use. We have really great artists and some amateur artist. In one week we can have all medias,â€ said Putney. â€œPeople can have meetings for free and we can let them get out there and take risks; we can use art to promote all causes like the humane society for example.â€
The Art Lab is not the only Old Town gallery that can provide for a great experience.
The Center for Fine Art Photography is a gallery nestle at the edge of North Old Town that promotes the art of photography by supporting the growth of creative artists through exhibitions and educational programs as described on their websites home page.
The Center has three galleries. The Main Gallery features international juried group exhibitions while the South and North Galleries promote individual photographers with solo and group exhibitions.
â€œI like that we bring a unique perspective to art in Old Town,â€ said Nicole Stahly, programs manager and volunteer coordinator at the Center. â€œThrough that uniqueness we get a diverse audience through our doors.â€
The Center is more contemporary and provides a new look and experience instead of the same old mountains and aspen tress that are typical subjects of art in Colorado, describes Stahly.
When it comes to experiencing the Center through First Friday, Stahly had a different opinion to make the most out of the Centers gallery visit.
â€œFirst Friday is a great way to see everything but the best way to see the show is when itâ€™s quieter,â€ said Stahly.
And Executive Director of the Center, Hamidah Glasgow agrees.
â€œGo back and spend time with the work. With art we donâ€™t take time to spend with the work, so come back and see what you enjoyed again,â€ said Glasgow.
Another stop along the First Friday walk is the Fort Collins Museum of Art (FCMOA).
According to the museums website, â€œThe mission of the Fort Collins Museum of Art is to engage our community in cultural experiences that promote an awareness and appreciation of the visual arts.â€
Executive Director, Mary Ann Lorenz explains how the FCMOA mission is to present the community with a high quality art experience through exhibitions.
Lorenzâ€™s idea of experiencing First Friday takes on a different perspective.
â€œIt is nice to combine art with another experience,â€ said Lorenz. â€œCome see the art and then go to dinner, or see a concert and then come look at the art.â€
The museum is supported by donations from the community and can then give back to the community through events, publications, and educational programs for children and adults.
â€œWe wouldnâ€™t be here if the community didnâ€™t support us,â€ said Lorenz. â€œOur existences relies on the community.â€
Therefore, whether it is photography, drawing, mixed media, or even performances, Old Town offers the Fort Collins community a great variety of galleries, studios, and museums, to help anyone explore the unique art experiences seen nowhere else.
â€œWe have a lot of community support,â€ said Glasgow. â€œThey show up and appreciate what we do. We wouldnâ€™t be here without the community support, they are curious and opened minded.â€
So it seems the Old Town art seen knows what works in order to keep the community coming back again and again.
Each venue pushes to provide a unique and individual experience to each person that steps through their doors. Whether itâ€™s someone pashing through, or a professional artists looking at others work, the Old Town art scene is a non intimidating encounter that helps to embrace art as a whole.