It’s not possible to put what makes Carbondale Carbondale into words. From the generations-old Mountain Fair traditions to year-round First Friday walks down Main Street to the smiles on faces at the Green is the New Black fashion show, this little town flies its freak flag like no other.
One institution has been the driving force behind making all of that feel like home. Carbondale Arts was founded in the early 1970s by like-minded community members, and for 50 years, the organization has been essential to Carbondale’s identity. In fact, Carbondale Arts has grown in recent years to receive recognition from the state of Colorado as a leading creative district. And since 2004, Carbondale Arts has experienced much of its growth with Amy Kimberly at its helm.
Kimberly announced in May that she will step down at the end of this year from her role as executive director of Carbondale Arts, a title she has held since 2011. Make no mistake — Kimberly has no intention of disappearing from Carbondale’s art scene. Her “rewirement” will still involve some work on Mountain Fair and the fashion show, as well as some new projects, including serving on the board of Thunder River Theatre. But after more than a decade, Kimberly said she feels as though she’s accomplished all that she could, and the time for a change has come.
“The fact is, I live in Carbondale and love Carbondale, so I will still be very much involved. I just won’t get paid for being involved,” Kimberly said. “…I feel like all of the good juju that’s been happening is going to keep continuing.”
Prior to her move to Carbondale in 2001, she spent 18 years in Telluride where she championed the arts scene as owner of the Fly Me to the Moon Saloon and director of Telluride Arts for five years. Once in the Roaring Fork Valley, she landed a job at KDNK as development director, but she always felt drawn to Carbondale Arts — then known as the Carbondale Council for Arts and Humanities.
“Nonprofit work was my passion,” she said. “The arts council was where I felt I would be best at. They had the opening for the director, and I did not get it. But the person who got it did not last for more than a year, so it went up again, and I applied again, which I didn’t get it then either, but they did give me the position of Mountain Fair director.”
It couldn’t have been better for Kimberly in those days, with a position at KDNK and Mountain Fair under her direction. When the executive director job was finally offered to her, she figured she already had the best of both worlds and turned it down. She worked as a team with her predecessor, Ro Mead, until 2011, and the rest is history.
When Kimberly joined the team, CCAH was located in half of the Main Street space where Carbondale Beer Works operates today. At that time, Kimberly described Carbondale as pretty quiet. Apart from Mountain Fair, the town didn’t have a lot going on arts-wise.
“I didn’t invent any of that, but I was able to just build it in an authentic way with the community and as the community grew and changed,” she said. “One thing that used to really bother me is that everyone looked at us as just a little hippie organization, and even artists would just — they would show work in our gallery, but we didn’t have a really nice gallery, and it was more like an act of generosity that they were doing it.”
One of the main things Kimberly wanted to accomplish in her new role was to transform the gallery into a place where artists wanted to show their work — not just to be nice to the council, but because they valued it as an institution and an organization.
CCAH eventually moved into a space at the Third Street Center where there was access to a classroom and a handful of full-time staff. In early 2014, Brian Colley joined the team part-time; he said that the space felt small and too far away from town.
“It was always a struggle to get people to come to the building because on First Friday everyone wants to hang out on Main Street,” he said. “I don’t know where we’d be without the Launchpad.”
In 2014, CCAH transitioned into its current space at the Launchpad, the former location of the Garfield County Library. It includes gallery space, room for classes and dance rehearsals, gathering space and community connection. Kimberly said that now — with the Launchpad in full swing and the Creative District label — she feels Carbondale Arts is where she hoped it would be.
The Colorado Creative Districts program was started by the state Office of Economic Development and International Trade to increase investment in creative places. Certified communities attract artists and entrepreneurs, and use their spaces to showcase cultural and artistic events and organizations, according to the program’s webpage. Carbondale is one of 30 places on the list of recognized communities, among towns like Durango, Telluride and Crested Butte. Colley said Kimberly played a large role in attaining that recognition.
Kimberly said she hoped the Creative District would be something the town could come together for because they wanted it.
“I saw the Creative District as a way to do that, which it did, very successfully,” she said. “I remember some people coming up to me and they were like, ‘You know, this Creative District thing is good, but you know, it’s not going to be our only answer. We need more.’ And while there is no one answer to anything, I feel it has really kept us vibrant and has really attracted a lot of people to Carbondale, whether as creatives or as people seeking out creative experiences. So I’m pretty proud of that.”
In 2019, Kimberly was a winner of the Governor’s Creative Leadership Award for her use of the arts to envision new futures in the Roaring Fork Valley through activating public space, animating community and sparking redevelopment. In the years since, Kimberly and Carbondale Arts have continued that vision, and it shows in the effort they have put into several new projects that are currently in the works.
The Rio Grande Artway is one of Kimberly’s babies, as she put it, and one that she doesn’t plan to walk away from. Carbondale Arts partnered with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority prior to the pandemic to install a placemaking project along a one-mile stretch of the paved bike trail that runs through downtown Carbondale. The DeRail Park at the entrance to the bike trail at Highway 133 and the Latinx Folk Art Garden at Seventh Street were the first two installments of this project.
Carbondale Arts had planned on installing a third park, known as the Youth Art Park, but due to the pandemic and other unforeseen circumstances, the planning slowed down. Carbondale Middle School students were enlisted to help design the park, and the project will break ground this summer.
“I’m really excited about the design,” Kimberly said. “It really brings play and creativity and art together in a way that will, I think, really enhance that area.”
The park will include family space, an outdoor classroom-performance area and play structures including a climbing wall. Kimberly said input from partners re:LAND and Land+Shelter Architecture was instrumental in getting the project to where it is today.
Another project Kimberly had hoped to develop further during her time at Carbondale Arts was affordable housing for creatives. She said she applied for Space to Create Colorado, a state program that included nine affordable housing projects for creatives across Colorado, but Carbondale was competing with Paonia and eventually lost the battle.
“I was pretty sad about it, but I was still hopeful that we would figure out another way to make something happen,” she said. “But, you know, as the years went on and I was like, ‘Hmm, I don’t see the path forward. We don’t have land. We don’t have support.’”
In the midst of trying to work with the state to find more land, the town of Carbondale received the parcel of land outside Thunder River Theatre in the form of an anonymous donation. The town is planning to build some sort of affordable housing project on the lots and seeking community input on what kind of housing should go there. Kimberly said she hopes the project could become a space for creatives to live and work.
Carbondale Arts is involved in discussions with the town about the possibility. Kimberly said she plans to stay involved in that as well.
“It’s still all in process, but I’m feeling extremely hopeful,” she said.
As these projects develop, Carbondale Arts also is in the process of interviewing candidates for Kimberly’s replacement. Kimberly said she hopes the new hire will start in the fall; she will stick around to serve as a mentor before officially stepping out of the executive director role.
Kimberly said she likely won’t have a direct role in selecting her replacement, but she hopes the board will be able to find someone with ties to Carbondale. The job was not posted nationally, and so far all of the applicants are from within the valley.
“I’m so personally invested that it might be hard for me to make the best choice, and also because there’s so many people I love and care about that might be applying and I didn’t want to be swayed,” she said. “I think it’s really important for whoever takes over my job to understand the culture and the community of Carbondale.”
While the staff at Carbondale Arts know that Kimberly is not going far away, they said there are aspects of her leadership they will miss when she leaves at the end of the year.
“The thing I’ll probably miss the most is the way her vision works,” Colley said. “She’s always had such grand ideas that reach beyond what an arts center would normally think about, like affordable housing. I can’t even name them all. I’ll miss having that foresight.”
Fortunately for her staff, Kimberly will still be around for the next six months to mentor them on the ins and outs of Carbondale Arts — and of course, Carbondale’s biggest event of the year. Mountain Fair is just around the corner (July 29-31), and a planning team made up of four staff members has been working on plans since January.
It’s fitting that this year’s fair theme is “New Moon Magic,” and not just because there will be a new moon in the sky on the Thursday before the fair. Kimberly has long been known around the fair as “Miss Moon,” and her successors will be known this year as her new moons. In addition to Kimberly, Mark Taylor also will be stepping down after this year’s fair as head of the production crew. This year will be a chance to honor and say goodbye to the two leaders.
“It’s a big transition year for everyone,” said Aly Sanguily, who will be stepping in as entertainment conductor. “You’re still going to see the old spirit of Mountain Fair, and you’re also going to see some new stuff.”
51 years of fair
The 51st Mountain Fair will feature all of the event’s traditions like wood splitting, pie and cake baking, the limbo and other good times, including some blasts from the past like the singer-songwriter competition and the tug-of-war between the Carbondale Police Department and the Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District.
There will be a new event this year to honor the 25th anniversary of the Carbondale Clay Center: a pottery “throwdown.” On the Saturday of the fair, teams will race against each other, relay style, to make a clay pot. No one really knows exactly what will happen during the event, but Deborah Colley, who is stepping in this year as chief of operations, said she expects it to be really fun — and messy.
The excitement doesn’t stop there. Along with the singer-songwriter competition, the jam tent will also be returning to Mountain Fair after a multiyear hiatus. The tent will be located in Maker’s Park on Main Street this year and will replace the COVID-era Bandwagon. Colley said she’s also excited about the variety of bilingual activities and performances that are scheduled to take place in the Oasis this year, and to bring back the extended fair that will include booths spilling out of Sopris Park and down Main Street.
“That worked really well. It felt really safe for folks to spread out, and it actually made the park feel more inclusive because things weren’t so divided,” she said. “We feel like it’s going to be a nice place to shop and hang out for people who want to get away from the loudness of Sopris Park.”
Don’t expect the park to be quiet this year. This year’s fair will include a full lineup of bands and dance performances. On Friday night, the bluegrass band Red Hill Rollers will kick off the fun, followed by Death by Dub, an instrumental group that draws from reggae and sound-system culture. Colorado natives Magic Beans will headline on Saturday night and the Grammy-award winning group Ozomatli will close the fair on Sunday.
Sanguily said what’s fun about the Mountain Fair lineup is knowing that the headliners might be someone you’ve never heard of. The fair tries to pick bands that will draw a crowd, of course, but Sanguily said they also like to fill daytime slots with up-and-coming and local bands, whether they’re on tour or just looking for an opportunity to get some exposure.
Colley and Sanguily both credited Kimberly with mentoring them not just this year, but for the duration of their Carbondale Arts careers. Sanguily said she’s been trying to tap into her inner Amy, especially when it’s time for certain duties like emceeing.
“I learn so much from Amy. She is not only very professional, but she’s also just calm, cool, collected in everything that she does,” Sanguily said. “The fair is a really big event, and there’s so many things that people don’t think about behind the scenes, and I’m learning to let those things not frazzle me and remember that the spirit of the fair is that we’re all together. It’s business, but it’s also the fair.”
Echoing Sanguily, Colley said she appreciates Kimberly’s ability to build relationships with everyone she works with. Not having that immediate guidance will be a challenge after so many years, but she’s comforted by the fact that Kimberly won’t be going far.
“The whole reason I even got involved with all this stuff is because of my relationship with [Amy]. She has a way of doing things that I’ve learned a lot from,” Colley said. “We’ve got this team and we’re learning together. I feel like she’s done a lot to set us up for success, and I’m glad I’ve had eight years to figure stuff out.”
With the fair approaching fast, organizers are looking for volunteers to sign up for shifts to make the fair go smoothly. Anyone who’s interested can sign up to help with a multitude of jobs, ranging from manning an information booth to running around the park with the Green Team.
The most-needed job is the Peace Patrol, Colley said, which involves greeting fair attendees when they walk in and providing general information. Peace Patrol can be a fun way to spend a few hours of the fair, especially for people who are new to the community and are looking for a way to get to know Carbondale.
“There’s so many new people who have moved to this area and maybe don’t quite get Carbondale,” Colley said. “Volunteering at Mountain Fair is the best way to plug into the community and understand how this town works, and what the spirit of the folks who live here is all about.”
Sign-ups will be available soon, if they’re not already open, at carbondalearts.com/mountainfair. Anyone interested in signing up or getting more information about the contests can find out more at the same link.
Mountain Fair is like Christmas in Carbondale, but it’s not the only way to have fun in Carbondale this year. On July 7, Carbondale Arts will host a groundbreaking party for the Youth Art Park behind the Carbondale Rec Center at 4 p.m. Carbondale Arts staff and sponsors will speak about the plans for the park as the installment begins.
On Sept. 10, Carbondale Arts will invite the community to celebrate Kimberly and the organization with a “Wham-Blam, Thank You, Ma’am” party. Named after artwork by pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, the party will be a chance for the community to gather and celebrate what Kimberly has brought to the community. The party will include a taste of the fashion show and other creative activities, and tickets will go on sale soon. Kimberly promised it will be a memorable event.
Looking back on her time at Carbondale Arts, Kimberly said she feels proud of a lot of what she’s done, and is looking forward to seeing what the future holds.
“I feel like I’ve really accomplished all that I could,” she said. “I feel at the top of our game here with the Rio Grande Artway, the Carbondale Creative District, moving into the Launchpad. I could not have asked for more.”
More information about upcoming events and programming can be found at carbondalearts.com.