Boulder Displays its History in Art and Activism with City-Wide Series of Shows


Eighteen galleries, 121 years of history, four months, at least 35 events and more than 300 local artists—all in Boulder County.

Celebration! A History of the Visual Arts in Boulder is an unprecedented display of artworks by artists who have lived and worked in Boulder, now on view across the city. Known as HOVAB, this substantial local series aims to highlight the history of visual art in Boulder and secure its legacy for the future.

HOVAB officially opened on Sept. 29, 2016 at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, with support from the Boulder City Council, in the presence of participating artists and committee members and in memory of organizer Karen Ripley Dugan.

Jennifer Heath, chair of the cultural and steering committee, was also recognized for her fundamental role in the project.

“To engage in my community again, it’s been really joyful for me,” she said.

This sentiment echoes the feelings of many in the Boulder art scene, as they reconvene with purpose this fall: making new connections, reuniting with old friends and reigniting former passions.


Artists and attendees gather at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art for the opening of HOVAB on Sept. 29, 2016.

Front Range Women in the Visual Arts

At the newly renovated Dairy Arts Center, Front Range Women in the Visual Arts Founders hangs in McMahon Gallery. This retrospective show of work by five founders of Front Range Women in the Visual Arts was curated by long-time member Fran Metzger.

This female artist collective was established in 1974 by University of Colorado Boulder studio art graduate students. Unhappy with their discriminatory treatment as female students and the lack of female representation on faculty, they banded together as Front Range Women in the Visual Arts. While they never had more than about 30 artists, membership was not restricted.

“Anybody could join, we had no criteria about what kind of work you did, how successful you were, it was to this day, I think a very democratic group,” Metzger said. “It’s been a very vibrant artistic community here all along.”


Guests view works by founders of Front Range Women in the Visual Arts at the opening on Oct. 7, 2016.

The five artists featured in this show—Sally Elliott, Fran Metzger, Helen Redman, Michele Amato and Jaci Fischer—represent the talent and tenacity of what it took to be an artist and a woman in the 1970s.

Amato had her studio taken away during her pregnancy in 1970 and was previously suspended for wearing pants because the University “made a big deal out of it.”

But she recorded interviews with several faculty members on campus about the University’s hiring practices, and took that information to affirmative action.

Redman, who received her M.F.A. at Boulder in 1963, put it succinctly: “We wanted the entire system changed.”

The implementation of Title IX in 1972 was one of several legislative actions that put protective changes into law. In the decades since it has led to significant increases in women on faculty and in top administration positions at universities across the country.

Modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX is known more broadly for its effects on collegiate athletic programs. But it also applies to employment and study at federally-funded institutions and prohibits “discrimination in employment, or recruitment, consideration, or selection therefor, whether full-time or part-time, under any education program or activity,” according to the Department of Justice.

Yet today the University of Colorado Boulder is still comprised of a male majority, with undergraduate and faculty bodies both under 50 percent female. Graduate students are the least represented: women comprise less than 43 percent attending. But without the protests of students in decades past, these numbers would likely be even lower.

“We did make quite a fuss,” Elliott said. “Things started changing, and I think we had an awful lot to do with it.”

Since the group’s first show in 1973, Women Working, Front Range Women in the Visual Arts has been using the power of collective action to create opportunity. They became recognized nationally as a force in social and artistic change in academia and beyond.

“Every woman in our group was on fire, and that’s why I put that painting in there,” Redman said, motioning toward her work in McMahon Gallery. “They were aflame in their own creativities.”


Helen Redman in front of her work “Artist Aflame,” (1982, oil on canvas).

Gathered together on Oct. 7 at The Dairy Arts Center for the Front Range Women in the Visual Arts Founders opening reception, artistic sisters were reunited and represented for their aesthetic and civic convictions. Reviewing their joint history, Redman got emotional.

“I could not believe how much we had done,” she said.

Community and Legacy

The Dairy Arts Center is currently home to five HOVAB shows, three in addition to the two in McMahon Gallery. A recent renovation of the building, partially funded by Boulder taxpayers, has given it a much needed uplift since opening its doors as an art center 24 years ago.

That local support “was huge for us,” said Rebecca Cuscaden, curator of visual arts at The Dairy. “That really showed us that the community values this art center and what we provide as a nonprofit.”

This fall through Nov. 27, The Dairy Arts Center is one of the best places to see a large variety of work by Boulder artists. Cuscaden thinks that those who come to The Dairy often will get something new from these exhibitions.

“We are a community art center,” she said, “and that’s really who we’re here for.”

These exhibitions and artists, however, are only a sliver of Boulder’s visual arts legacy.

“We call it a history of visual arts, because everybody has their own history, right?” Heath said.

But for the wide amount of work represented in this year’s series, a full-color catalogue is in production.  So while the shows will go away, the history of art in Boulder will remain bound in a physical lasting legacy.

Celebration! A History of the Visual Arts in Boulder is currently on view at a variety of locations across the city of Boulder through Jan. 15, 2017. More information about events and business hours can be found at


Kelsey Simpkins: Eighteen galleries, 121 years of history, and more 300 local artists and 35 events – all in Boulder County. What do you call that?

Jennifer Health: Celebration, A History, a history, of the Visual Arts in Boulder. HOVAB, we call it.

Simpkins: That’s Jennifer Heath, chair, director, and senior curator-at-large of HOVAB, an unprecedented display of artworks by artists who have lived and worked in Boulder.

Aaron Brockett: So A History of the Visual Arts in Boulder is a 3 1/2 month, city-wide, one-time-only grassroots event.

Simpkins: City Council member Aaron Brockett helped kick off the series opening on Sept. 29th, 2016, echoing the excitement and support of the Boulder community for the project.

Brockett: And that support is shared by the city council.

Simpkins: Heath also received recognition for her fundamental role on opening night.


[audience noise, calls of “Jennifer” and “come on up” throughout the crowd]


Simpkins: Several shows in the HOVAB series are currently open to the public at The Dairy Arts Center.

Heath: And these two shows, Front Range and Criss-Cross, really had national impact.

Simpkins: Front Range Women in the Visual Arts Founders is a small retrospective show of work by the artists who founded Front Range Women in the Visual Arts, a feminist art collective begun in the 1970s. Member Sally Elliott recalled an interesting moment before their first show in 1973.

Sally Elliott: And my male studio partner said to me, ‘well, how come we’re not in it?’ I said ‘well you can do your own,’ but he didn’t.

Simpkins: Besides having work in the Front Range show, Elliott is also the curator of many other HOVAB shows this fall, including an array of unique works that line the walls of the MacMillan Family Lobby and the Polly Addison Gallery at The Dairy Arts Center. She showed me around the galleries the day before the exhibition opened.

Elliott: I love this painting.

Simpkins: The artist, Jim Johnson, has a unique take on art-making, using texture and geometry in the absence of color.

Elliott: He taught color theory and he said, ‘Sally you better teach it because you know, I’m colorblind.’ And he is colorblind. Which is interesting, as a painter.


Simpkins: At the Dairy Arts center, visual arts curator Rebecca Cuscaden is excited to be displaying historic artworks in the recently renovated building.

Cuscaden: So I’m really excited to get to show some historical pieces, because they are very different than what we normally show.

Simpkins: She also hopes you’ll stop by.

Cuscaden: We want people to come here and hang out, and you know, see our galleries and spend some time here.

Simpkins: But for those who miss the wide series of exhibitions this fall or want to revisit them in the future, a full-color catalogue is in production.

Heath: That’s the lasting legacy.

Simpkins: This is Kelsey Simpkins, for Under the Flatirons.




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