Breckenridge accelerates cultural plan, announces international arts festival

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Photo: Breckenridge Creative Arts, Breckenridge master cultural plan
Printmaking and textile studio Randall Barn is one of the many buildings included in the Breckenridge Arts District campus.

Breckenridge has long been considered a ski town. But in the last few years, it has shifted its focus to its cultural profile, investing roughly $25 million into the arts.

That money has already been used to develop an arts district, which opened last September. And this summer, a multi-use artist space at the historic Masonic Hall on Main Street will open and Breckenridge will launch an international arts festival in August.

Breckenridge Town Council member Gary Gallagher says the goal is to boost tourism outside of the winter months.

"We know that we are in competition with every other mountain community in the west," Gallagher says. "To be a strong, vibrant community, one needs to attract people who have an interest in what you can offer year-round."

The town has been envisioning their master cultural plan for more than 13 years. It began implementing the plan about two years ago when the town broke ground on the Breckenridge Arts District.

After initially envisioning a 10-year timeline, the Breckenridge Town Council decided to accelerate the rollout. Two years in, they're halfway done. Breckenridge intends to sustain the initiative with a sales tax generated from lodging.

The Town Council has since designated Breckenridge Creative Arts -- a nonprofit formed in 2014 and often referred to as BreckCreate -- to lead these efforts.

Jamie Bennett, executive director of the national arts-focused organization ArtPlace America, says Breckenridge's cultural plan is worth paying attention to.

"When you look at a community of that size, making an investment of this magnitude, I think it's particularly notable," Bennett says."When I think about what communities have implemented [cultural plans], and sort of said, 'Why should we wait 10 years when we can do it in four?' I don't have examples other than Breckenridge for that."

He also anticipates Breckenridge has a high probability of success with this rollout.

Photo: Breckenridge Creative Arts CEO Robb Woulfe
Breckenridge Creative Arts CEO Robb Woulfe

BreckCreate's CEO, Robb Woulfe -- who moved to Breckenridge for the position a little more than a year ago -- spoke with CPR's Mike Lamp about the initiative. He also gave CPR News a sneak peak at the Breckenridge International Festival of Arts' lineup.

Here's a preview of their conversation. To listen to the full interview, click on the audio above:

Woulfe on how the cultural plan came about

"The town was very inspired by what was happening in some of the other communities, particularly some of the arts districts that were coming up all over the state. And they were very inspired by what they saw at Anderson Ranch in Snowmass. They had all of these old buildings -- old sheds, barns and things like that -- and wanted to invest in an arts district campus and build out more of their cultural assets."

On why the town sped up the timeline

"The artistic landscape changes. Mediums change. We could be sitting here 10 years from now and it would be an outdated campus. Right now, we're figuring out what works with programming and operations. Obviously, when you accelerate something that quickly, there are a lot of logistical challenges. But hopefully in 10 years, we'll be thinking through how else can we improve it."

On the Breckenridge International Festival of Arts

"We'll debut that on Aug. 14 and it will run for 10 days. It's a multi-arts program, so visual arts, performing arts, music, dance -- really embracing the environment of Breckenridge. Ira Glass [of NPR's 'This American Life'] will be coming on Aug. 22 with his show 'Reinventing Radio.' He's one of a number of national and international artists that will be featured during this year's inaugural festival. ... All of the programming within the arts festival is centered around this idea of environment, mountain culture, outdoors, that type of thing."

The full lineup for the inaugural Breckenridge International Festival of Arts will be available at on Monday.