The Art at the Heart

Jackson Hole is known as an art town for its galleries and its National Museum of Wildlife Art and annual Fall Arts Festival, but a 55-year-old nonprofit arts organization is the heart of the valley’s art scene.

The Art at the Heart

Jackson Hole is known as an art town for its galleries and its National Museum of Wildlife Art and annual Fall Arts Festival, but a 55-year-old nonprofit arts organization is the heart of the valley’s art scene. 

By Julie Fustanio Kling

One of the biggest fundraisers for the Art Association is the annual WhoDunnit show, for which local artists create works that are sold anonymously. Art Association fundraisers support the nonprofit’s more than 225 yearly classes, which about 1,000 students of all ages take. Photo by Ryan Jones

BRONWYN MINTON HAD her first solo show at the Art Association of Jackson Hole in the mid-1990s. At that time the Art Association was on Pearl Avenue, in a space just west of the post office. Minton was a bright young graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute and Rhode Island School of Design recently relocated to Jackson Hole. On the opening night of her show, which included pieces inspired by the valley and the craggy Tetons, Minton could never have imagined that, three decades later, the Art Association would have a home that included a gallery, paint shop, ceramics studio, photo lab, multiple classrooms, and multi-purpose studio for woodworking, encaustic painting, and jewelry making. In all, it’s a 10,000-square-foot space in the Center for the Arts, a building shared with numerous other local creative-oriented nonprofits. Nor could Minton anticipate that she would assume the position of executive director of the Art Association in the spring of 2019.  

Between her first show at the Art Association and taking on the role of executive director, Minton wore many hats at the nonprofit. This is partially because she is a working artist, educator, and parent, and also because there are so many different hats one can wear at the association. With more than a thousand students and more than 225 classes a year, the Art Association is the place in the valley for aspiring artists to learn and for veteran artists to grow. 

Enrollment is at an all-time high for classes, with students ranging from preschoolers to octogenarians. The Art Association currently has thirteen full-time employees, including two teachers for youth programs. Tuition for ongoing classes is between $40 and $400 and if you don’t want to enroll in a class, but do want to use Art Association facilities, there are punch card passes that can be used during open studios and “Try Nights” for everything from stamp making to watercolors. 

In the Art Association’s 2019 annual report, Lisa Walker, a local fashion designer, is quoted as saying she uses the Art Association studio for her printmaking and photography. “I’m really glad not to have to outsource production and to keep it right here in this community,” she says. “Making and looking at art has a myriad of benefits for community members of all ages. Art connects people, has cognitive benefits, builds community, and has physiological benefits.”

To further expand its reach and make its programs more accessible, the Art Association collaborates with more than two dozen other area nonprofits and offers scholarships and donation-based classes. For example, its partnership with Community Entry Services allows a young girl and her mother to take a class together. “Basically, we are a school and a studio space for all kinds of media that collaborates with artists from all over the world,” Minton says. “We make a big point of having well-rounded, well-educated artists on staff. We employ creative people and we support them, too.” 

JACKSON HOLE IS rated as the number one “arts-vibrant small community” in the country in the most recent Arts Vibrancy Index released by SMU DataArts, the National Center for Arts Research at Southern Methodist University. This arts vibrancy, although on a different scale today, was simmering back in 1963. That year Georgie Morgan, Pam McCool, Francie Corbett, Lee Vandewater, and Fran Lang established a collaborative artists’ studio to create together, teach, and show their work. Morgan, who passed away in the fall of 2019, recalled that the collaborative’s roots actually went back to the 1950s, when employment opportunities in the valley were sparse. “It started out to help develop craft and art skills which might supplement the summer’s wages, and to introduce art as an essential part of our lives,” she told former Art Association executive director Karen Stewart, who is now on the board of directors for the Center for the Arts. Early on, classes were held in the basement of the American Legion Hall and, after its completion in 1987, at Teton Pines Resort. 

Today the exhibits continue to go beyond the walls of the Art Association’s gallery in the Center for the Arts: kids’ artwork is on display at the Teton County Library and the work of senior artists at the Senior Center. The Art Association also collaborates with the Center for the Arts on a residency program for international artists: artists-in-residence travel to Jackson and create installations in the courtyard in the middle of the Center. Last year, the Art Association Gallery was filled with vibrant sounds and colors of a gamelatron, a sound-producing kinetic sculpture and light show designed after a traditional Tibetan form of music, providing sound therapy. 

“The strategic planning process we recently undertook made it very clear about what we are doing for our community in terms of providing excellence,” Minton says. “We are a space for professional artists. We are not just providing afterschool care.” Board member Shari Brownfield says, “We’ve been through a lot in the past 55 years and we are now secure in our mission—to encourage a vital creative community by providing exposure to and space for the arts.” Minton adds, “Sometimes as an artist you get squirreled away in your studio. I know I do, so I feel super grateful that I have this community. It provides a really amazing opportunity to create.” JH

Art Association of Jackson Hole executive director Bronwyn Minton hangs stars in the nonprofit’s gallery. She asked the community a month earlier to create stars for the exhibit and received hundreds of submissions. Photo by Bradly J. Boner

Realizing Dreams 

In 2016, Emily Boespflug, an art teacher turned plein air painter, was the Art Association’s Artist of the Year, catapulting her into a successful career as an independent artist. After leading the Art Association’s children’s and adult programs, raising funds, and teaching for nearly ten years, she became one of the many artists whose career has been helped along by the association. 

Boespflug, who studied art in school but never thought she had what it took to be a professional artist, says teaching classes for kids at the Art Association was a resume builder. As she took on additional roles directing programing at the nonprofit she gained the confidence to strike out as a full-time artist. Since 2016, Boespflug has had numerous solo exhibits at local cafes.

Photo by Price Chambers

In 2015, self-taught artist Shannon Marie Schacht set a goal: get her charcoal drawings of wildlife into a local gallery. But every gallery she approached—and she approached almost all of the galleries in town—turned her down. “Every single one of them said, ‘We like your style, we like your detail, but come back with paintings,’” she says. So, in the fall of 2015 Schacht enrolled in a four-week painting class taught by Sharon Thomas. During the class, which was the first painting class she had taken, Schacht learned how to highlight, shadow, and choose acrylic paint colors.

Six months later, she walked into West Lives On Gallery, one of the galleries she had approached earlier with her charcoal drawings, with a portfolio of acrylic paintings of wildlife. The gallery agreed to represent her, and still does, as does Caldera House Gallery in Teton Village. “I needed that kick in the pants and the support that the Art Association offered to gain the confidence and learn the technique that has made me successful,” Schacht says.

In August 2019 Schacht quit her job as the marketing and administrative assistant at Simply Health to become a full-time artist. In addition to painting wildlife, she takes commissions to do family pets. Beyond the two galleries representing her in Jackson Hole are galleries in Park City, Utah, and in Whitefish and Billings, Montana. “It was the Art Association that gave me the courage to go out and ask galleries in mountain towns to represent me,” she says. 

Photo by Bradly J. Boner

Shop for Art–Support the Art Association

The Art Associations’ Art Fairs include photography, jewelry, paintings, knitting, and more by artists from across the country. The 2020 fairs are scheduled for July 10-12 and August 7-9 at the base of Snow King Mountain.

LIKE MANY ARTS organizations, which often fall to the bottom of the needs list when it comes to public funding, the Art Association has dabbled in experimental fundraising events, such as the Cirque du Soleil-inspired Revelry Party (in 2017) and the pop-up Mountain Craft store (2019). Most Art Association fundraisers are in the summer, anchored by two outdoor Art Fairs, one in July and one in August. These fairs, opportunities for artists talented and lucky enough to get juried in to sell their work, have a $5 entrance fee for the public. The 2020 Art Fairs, which will include photography, jewelry, paintings, knitting, and more by artists from across the country, are July 10 through 12 and August 7 through 9. Traditionally the fairs have been held in Miller Park, but this summer they’ll take place at the base of Snow King. Takin’ it to the Streets, an Art Association-organized art fair for local artists, happens on the Town Square September 13. There is also an annual Christmas bazaar, December 5; an anonymous art sale called WhoDunnit, February 27; and a ceramics sale, November 19 through 20. You can shop at the Art Association’s professional art supplies retail store the year around. The profits from this shop, open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday (and the only art supply store in the valley), contribute almost 2 percent to the association’s annual programming and administrative budget.