In Pueblo, Colorado, a stacked and growing arts community supports high-quality arts programming that is accessible to everyone, including those who have fled unsustainable inflation in the big city.
PUEBLO, CO—When Jeff Madeen decided to open a new contemporary art gallery, he wasn’t set on staying in Southern Colorado. Instead, Madeen packed his car for a nationwide road trip, visiting arts destinations as far as Baltimore, Detroit, and Marfa, Texas.
“I searched all over the country for the right place,” says Madeen, who was living in Durango at the time.
Madeen ended up choosing a city much closer to home to open his gallery: Pueblo, Colorado. Now, Madeen’s Blo Back Gallery has been showing contemporary art in Pueblo since 2017.
“There are lots of really creative people here,” Madeen says. “It’s actually an extraordinary place for the arts.”
Pueblo, a city of 110,000 residents, boasts a bigger arts scene than one might expect—and much of its success comes from the community’s dedication to making great arts programming accessible to all.
One artist, Christine Boyd, found her artistic footing in Pueblo after leaving Denver because she could no longer afford the city’s skyrocketing costs. Thanks to a robust network of like-minded artists, she finds the Pueblo arts community impressive. Since her move, she has been amazed by the number of pottery and ceramics artists in her new Southern Colorado home, which is located about two hours south of Denver. Boyd revived an antique Rolodex to compile a “Pueblo Potters Rolodex.”
“It’s always growing,” Boyd says. “Every day I have a name to add to it.”
Two powerhouse organizations, the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center and the Pueblo Arts Alliance, or PAA, account for a large portion of the city’s arts programming.
The PAA, a nonprofit that promotes the development of the local arts economy, runs the Liminal Space Gallery, which features curated shows in its front atrium, while renting wall space for local artists to show their work in the anterior room. The PAA’s Studio Tenants program also rents out affordable studio spaces in the Liminal Space Gallery building. Around ten local artists, ranging from jewelry makers to musicians, currently occupy those studios.
“The Pueblo arts community is growing,” says Katie Magby, innovation and outreach coordinator for the PAA. “There are a lot of young, emerging artists that are not afraid to break out of tradition.”
One of the tenants, multidisciplinary visual artist Fran Oakley, got her BA in fine art at Colorado State University-Pueblo. When a PAA studio space became available, she jumped at the opportunity.
“It has given me the space to figure out who I am as an artist,” Oakley says.
Oakley is organizing an upcoming collaborative art show to benefit a CSU-Pueblo Foundation Scholarship Fund to aid mothers working toward their degrees at the Liminal Space Gallery. The show, entitled Raised by Wolves, opens this weekend.
“I was really moved by the support I got as a student,” Oakley says, explaining that she pursued her studies while also parenting her child. “This is a way for me to pay that forward.”
The Liminal Space Gallery is one of eight to ten local galleries that open for First Friday Art Walk, a monthly city-wide event organized by the PAA that promotes arts in the Pueblo community. Community members can create their own free walking art tour of a variety of locations by starting at any of Pueblo’s participating galleries in what is referred to as the city’s “Creative Corridor,” the mile-long drag between Main and Victoria streets where much of the city’s public art and gallery spaces are located.
Just northeast of that corridor, on Santa Fe Avenue, one of Pueblo’s longtime centers for fine arts boasts a wide range of programming and exhibitions. The Sangre de Cristo Arts Center, which includes five galleries, a school of dance, a school of arts, and a children’s museum, is coming up on fifty-one years serving the Pueblo arts community.
“The quality of arts programming [at Sangre de Cristo] is unique to Southern Colorado,” says Bree Pappan, the center’s director of collections, archives, and exhibits. “It sets the bar high, and makes Pueblo an arts destination in the West.”
The center forms part of the national Museums for All initiative, which grants free or reduced museum admissions to people who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program food assistance benefits. They also have a scholarship program for their arts and dance schools, making their multifaceted arts programming available to a large swath of the Pueblo community.
Emily Eckland, a Pueblo native, grew up attending classes at Sangre de Cristo—as did her father and his siblings, a generation before her. Now, as the manager of media and communications for the art center, Eckland believes that the opportunities for children and teens to see their work featured in competitions and showings encourage Pueblo’s vibrant cadre of younger artists.
“We really believe that the arts are for everyone,” Eckland says. She notes that, even outside the long-established Sangre de Cristo center, the arts in Pueblo have experienced a remarkable upturn, making the city an undeniably attractive destination for up-and-coming artists who want to see the community continue to develop.
Magby, of the Pueblo Arts Alliance, agrees.
“The Pueblo arts community is on the cusp of something big,” she predicts. “It’s a thriving, living thing that’s growing all the time.”