While pursuing math, science, and engineering at Colorado School of Mines might seem a world away from art, a quaint brick building at the corner of 15th Street and Washington Avenue links technicality and creativity. The Foothills Art Center was founded in 1968 by a group of local artists seeking to move their sidewalk watercolor show indoors. In the 40 years since, the center has evolved into a National Historic Landmark, a thriving business, and a source of community pride for citizens of Golden.
“Art is an indicator of the health of a community,” says Executive Director Mary Ellen Williams. “It speaks to education and income levels in the area and drives the economy by promoting tourism.” The Foothills Art Center aims to encourage and support both amateur and professional artists in the area as well as to introduce visitors to the joy of art. Tranquil and small, the gallery is a place for observation, appreciation, and ultimately, reflection.
In addition to enjoying the artwork, visitors to the center also have the opportunity to develop their own artistic skills. Foothills Art Center holds summer camps every year for elementary and middle school children. Each summer session is one week long and gives students the opportunity to express themselves through different artistic mediums. The sessions are an intimate experience of 13 students or less and help students make important connections between art and technical subjects like math and science. All sessions are given on a unique topic and students have done everything from learning about centrifugal forces with art to analyzing geometric shapes through origami.
“People who are able to connect right and left-brain skills are more socially adept and can solve problems more creatively,” asserts Ms. Williams. The small classes at Foothills Art Center contribute to the nationwide movement from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math). By using technology in the art classes and covering math and science vocabulary, the center prepares students for new academic challenges and an assortment of careers.
The Foothills Art Center also presents several art exhibits each year and offers a variety of classes for adults. The center was one of the first galleries in the country to focus on “watermedia,” or the utilization of watercolors as an artistic form. Watermedia encompasses traditional watercolor paintings but also encourages the mixture of watercolor with acrylic, gouache, egg tempera, and other forms of media. The Rocky Mountain National Watermedia Show has now been an annual event for over 40 years, and includes new and inspiring artwork selected by a jury every time. The Foothills Art Center also hosts an annual gala celebration, “Top Hats and Chapeaus Soirée”, which includes shopping, food, music, and a live auction.
As an organization founded by the community for the community, Foothills Art Center is always trying to incorporate the interests of visitors while still exposing them to new forms of art.
“Our long history and incorporation of historic space make us unique. However, as art competition increases, we need to work on being more innovative in the next few years by making exhibits more engaging, communicating with technology and social media, and focusing on art education,” says Ms. Williams.
The Foothills Art Center is also working on expanding its volunteer network to involve more community members. Volunteers do everything from working on the grounds to helping with summer camps and opening for special events.
“I enjoy volunteering because I love art and I love surrounding myself with it,” says Clare Taylor, a frequent volunteer. “It is also a great way to meet local people and visitors from all around Colorado.” The center has eight employees, but the large number of volunteers really keeps the organization focused on community. As it is located so close to campus, the center always welcomes volunteers from Colorado School of Mines. In fact, Foothills Art Center would like to further this relationship by putting on a CSM exhibit featuring artwork from students, alumni, or both, involving more and more people in the community.
On the connection between technical skills and Foothills Art Center, Ms. Williams says “I think my favorite part of working here is talking with volunteers and working with the community. Our door is always open to Mines students and their families.”