When it comes to cultural programming, Breckenridge Creative Arts founder and CEO Robb Woulfe thinks big. Really big. In his five years in Breckenridge, the capper to more than twenty years in the business, he’s realized his goal of bringing broad new audiences to the mountain town, particularly in between ski seasons, building upon the area’s natural beauty by plunking free large-scale immersive art right down next to the Blue River, as well as on hiking trails and other backwoods locations. Resulting hands-on outdoor festivals with international artists — like WAVE: Light + Water + Sound (happening this weekend) and the Breckenridge International Festival of Arts, coming in August — stretch the horizons of what you can do in a ski town with no snow.
As Woulfe prepares to move on from Breckenridge to Denver and new directions, and BCA retools its programming, we picked his brain via the Colorado Creatives questionnaire.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Robb Woulfe: I have always been drawn to outdoor open spaces, where magnificent and meaningful pieces of art can be created. Throughout my career, I have found that projects which temporarily transform a landscape — whether a public plaza or local trail — hold a fascinating power to disrupt and redefine our sense of place. I’ve also seen how these experiences can spark interaction between a broad and diverse spectrum of people. In today’s world, where civic dialogue is critical, I believe curators and cultural producers can play an important role by activating public spaces as a way to bring community together to explore ideas and discuss important issues.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
I would invite an eclectic group of people that would make for a fun party: Marcus Samuelsson, for his creativity in the kitchen and his mashups of cultures and flavors; Amy Sedaris, for her slightly bent perspective and quirky sense of humor; and DJ Premier, for his expertly crafted mixes and deep knowledge and appreciation of ’80s and ’90s hip-hop, one of my favorite genres.
After five years of cultivating a global cultural presence in Breckenridge, what’s still on your bucket list?
I really have enjoyed living in the high country these past five years, and having the opportunity to use its spectacular backdrop — the mountains, rivers and trails — as my canvas. Moving forward, I am excited to immerse myself in Denver’s creative community. There’s a great energy and vibrancy happening in Denver, and I think by being in that space I’ll be able to see where I can add the most value, with an eye to opportunities in the public realm that are focused on contemporary and interdisciplinary artwork. I want to contribute to new ways of using creativity for social good and connecting community while creating beautiful art.
What’s hot in immersive/hands-on art projects on the international scale?
We seem to be inundated lately with “artainment,” either in the form of technology-based attractions or the museum-meets-funhouse experience. I know that some critics call this “eventism” and feel it diminishes the intimate art experience, but I think there’s immense value in populist approaches, as these projects are often interactive or offer ways to introduce creativity to new audiences.
That said, I do think some of the most innovative collaborations happening now are those where the arts and sciences converge, engaging experts across disciplines, and particularly around artworks that comment on or influence social issues. For example, one of the final projects I curated for Breckenridge, which will happen next winter, involves two Australian artists, Hiromi Tango and Craig Walsh, who will address the mental health crisis currently facing many Colorado mountain communities. Using 3-D projections, animation, video and performative installation, their work draws on the fields of psychiatry and neuroscience to explore creative processes as a way to support social-emotional development. In this case, the artists use interactive and digital storytelling to give voice to participants while bringing attention to mental health concerns and solutions.
What’s your dream project?
I would say top of my wish list would be to produce an engagement with the French street-theater company Royal de Luxe, that iconic troupe of puppeteers and crane operators whose public processions feature giant — I’m not kidding, many are more than thirty feet tall with some up to fifty feet tall — marionettes. Their work, like many projects I have produced in the past, is created to match the history, character and landscape of the community in which their shows takes place. And I love provoking imagination and conjuring sensations of wonder and awe.
Colorado, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
I absolutely love Colorado. I believe there is a vibrancy within our state that is unmatched in other markets. People here, including many of our politicians, truly understand the value of using arts and creative practice to promote place identity, enhance community livability, drive tourism, invigorate entrepreneurs, and ultimately serve as an engine of economic development. Plus, you can’t beat the lifestyle.
What's the one thing Colorado could do to help the arts?
I think, at the same time as Colorado towns reap the many benefits of programming arts and cultural experiences, it is important they remain conscious of the impacts of growth, keeping in mind that “more” — more events, more people, more expectation — isn’t always better. This is something we learned in Breckenridge, which is a very popular destination for visitors. It is important to always consider the relevance and impact of the arts in order to ensure a quality experience.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
Oh, that’s tough. I would say my favorite is actually a collective made up of all of the regional leaders and administrators who are part of the Colorado Creative Districts, as this group works tirelessly to support and advocate for their own communities’ creative development. The shared expertise, enthusiasm and positive outcomes resulting from this collaboration have played a pivotal role in the creative renaissance that Colorado is experiencing today.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
In addition to getting involved in Denver’s creative scene, I plan to explore several new opportunities that will allow me to work closely with some of the artists, institutions and public officials with whom I’ve collaborated over the years. At the same time, I am open to another full-time leadership position within a dynamic organization that shares my values. I am, above all, an entrepreneur at heart. I like to build and create things, and eventually pass them on to the next person to make their mark. It is what I did in Breckenridge, and what I have always done. I’ll know when the right opportunity presents itself — to do something I haven’t done before, where I can learn and grow as a person and a professional along with the organization of which I am part.
Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
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Arts administration is a profession in which leadership changes tend to happen every few years, and we are seeing a lot of movement from senior leaders within the art world lately. Honestly, change is critical to all creativity-based organizations. I think we should pay attention to the new, incoming leaders who take the helms of the transitioning institutions — among them Breckenridge Creative Arts. These individuals will surely bring fresh, new perspectives that build on the strong foundations created by their predecessors to reinvigorate the arts and culture scene within local communities, and thereby the state’s creative landscape as well.
Attend WAVE: Light + Water + Sound, presented by Brekcenridge Creative Arts, from 3 to 11 p.m. daily, May 30 through June 2, in and around Blue River Plaza in Breckenridge. Find a complete WAVE schedule online, and get information on lodging and dining in Breckenridge at gobreck.com.
Learn more about Robb Woulfe online.