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Chautauqua’s virtual art auction to raise funds for COVID-19 relief, local artists

More than 70 pieces up for bidding begins Friday and continues till June 5

“The Clairvoyant’s Dream” by Bud Shark is one of the works in Chautauqua’s online art auction that starts Friday May 22 and runs through June 5. (Bud Shark/ Courtesy photo)
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Editor’s note: An earlier version of a caption included with the featured image on this story should have reported the artist who created the piece titled “The Clairvoyant’s Dream” is Fred Stonehouse. The caption has been corrected.

Established in 1898, Chautauqua Park has been the locale of writing workshops, craft fairs, TEDxBoulder events and a longstanding summer concert series that has featured Joan Baez, B.B. King and numerous others. So much more than a park with a backdrop of the majestic Flatirons and winding hiking trails, the historic institution has consistently been a place where people gather, learn, explore and delight in creative offerings and the charms of Mother Nature.

Shelly Benford, chief executive officer at Chautauqua, stands on the back deck of the historic Mary Galey Cottage at Chautauqua on May 19. Benford has helped organize an online art auction that will run May 22-June 5. (Barb Colombo of 11:11 Productions/ Courtesy photo)

With the new social distancing rules enforced due to the coronavirus pandemic, the landmark — that has had to suspend many of its scheduled programs — is still providing the public ways to engage. Friday kicks off The Creative Community Project, an online art auction, featuring more than 70 pieces donated by local and international artists, with proceeds going to the park’s COVID-19 Relief Fund,  COVID-19 Response Fund Boulder County and Boulder artists.

From hand-printed lithographs to whimsical pastels, bidders will have the opportunity to take home an array of one-of-a-kind works of art through June 5. We talked with Chautauqua’s chief executive officer Shelly Benford to find out what prompted the idea of a virtual auction, what virtual events folks can expect this summer and other ways in which they can support the Boulder landmark.

Daily Camera: Love the idea of offering the public a chance to bid on amazing art and simultaneously raise funds for Chautauqua. How did the idea for the art auction come about?

Shelly Benford: We knew we wanted to do something that would offer hope and support to our community and also help offset the dramatic loss of revenue Chautauqua is experiencing. I wish I could take credit for the idea, but Debbie Stewart, our development director, was really the genius behind this effort. She is passionate about helping Chautauqua and other Boulder organizations get through this crisis and has worked tirelessly on this project. It’s also just a great fit for Chautauqua because this place has been inspiring artists for generations.

“Pink Poppy” by Maryanne Quinn is one of the pieces in Chautauqua’s online art auction. (Maryanne Quinn/ Courtesy photo)

DC: I’m impressed with the diversity and caliber of items up for auction. I understand you ran a curating committee to help with selecting the pieces. What was this process like?

SB: It was much easier than I expected. I asked two art experts to help us, Wendy Baring-Gould and Joan Markowitz, and after reviewing the amazing submissions we received, they recommended we accept them all. So, it turned out to be less of a curating committee and more of an admiration committee. The quality of work we received from local artists was really incredible.

DC: Do you have a monetary goal in mind that you are looking to reach? Are there any stand-out pieces that should be on our radar?

SB: Chautauqua has never done this before so we aren’t really sure what to expect as far as a monetary goal. We do know the auction is already generating quite the buzz so we expect to see some lively activity when the bidding opens on May 22. Of course, we would like the auction to be successful because the proceeds not only benefit us, but also local artists and our good friends at the Community Foundation who are supporting all types of nonprofits in need through their COVID-19 Response Fund.

As far as stand-out pieces, that’s a tough one. We have some very established, successful artists who have submitted stunning pieces and we also have less well-known artists whose work is incredible. Taken together, the auction really reflects the vibrant art scene in Boulder and we already feel like it is a success because of the support we have received from all the artists and donors participating in this event.

“Bouquet of Pathways” by Gayle Crites is one of the pieces in Chautauqua’s online art auction. (Gayle Crites/ Courtesy photo)

DC: The lineup for the Chautauqua Summer Concert Series looked so eclectic and promising with artists like Keb’ Mo’, the Cowboy Junkies, Indigo Girls and The Steeldrivers set to perform. What’s the status of these shows? Are they all canceled or postponed? Do you plan on offering some livestreamed concerts as a way to generate funds?

SB: Like so many venues across the country, Chautauqua’s Summer Concert Series is shifting as artists, festivals and corresponding tours look more toward 2021. Fortunately, more artists are postponing than are canceling. At Chautauqua, we have announced four postponements, including our season opener, David Crosby, and only two cancellations so far, although that could change. When we do open the auditorium doors, we want to make sure it is a safe and positive experience for everyone.

As for virtual offerings, we are working as a team to fill the entertainment void in the community and hope to produce both live and recorded shows featuring local artists. We’ll have some exciting announcements soon, but in the meantime, Chautauqua fans can check out our website where they will find playlists featuring “best of” music in the auditorium, artist videos and many other fun “Chautauqua@Home” features, including recipes from our Centennial Cookbook, gardening tips from our staff horticulturist and spectacular Zoom backgrounds that people can download and use.

DC: Lastly, what are some other ways in which folks can support Chautauqua during this time?

“Untitled #2” by Steven Hook is one of the pieces in Chautauqua’s online art auction. (Steven Hook/ Courtesy photo)

SB: COVID-19 has had devastating economic implications for Chautauqua. We rely heavily on revenue from public programming, dining, events, entertainment and lodging — which has been dramatically affected by social distancing restrictions. Our Auditorium, Community House and Dining Hall are temporarily shuttered and all public and private events have been canceled or postponed. As a result, we’ve had to make some painful operating decisions including cutting staff and we are now wondering how long we can perform the tasks we were entrusted with as stewards of this beloved National Historic Landmark.

So, while the Chautauqua staff has been doing an extraordinary job finding creative solutions to help generate revenue, including exploring virtual programming as a new way to engage the public, applying to grant and loan programs and taking on innovative projects like the art auction, we definitely need support.

One way to do that is to consider booking a stay for family and friends in one of our stand-alone cottages. We are still open for lodging and we’re offering remote check-ins, more long-term stay options, discounts for healthcare workers, pet-friendly options, online ordering and curbside pick-up from the Dining Hall – anything we can do to make our guests feel safe and comfortable.

People can also support our work to preserve and protect Chautauqua by participating in the art auction, purchasing a legacy brick in our Centennial Garden, donating to our Tree Steward Fund to help maintain the beautiful trees in our park, sponsoring a “tree planting” to celebrate a loved one, purchasing a gift certificate, and ordering takeout at the Dining Hall. People can visit our website to find out more about any of these options.

We’re so grateful for the community support that has helped us thrive for over 120 years and we’re hopeful that people’s love of Chautauqua will continue to inspire a level of generosity that will help us persevere through these challenging times.

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