The diehard artists who sketch models three nights a week couldn't cope without their life-drawing class. So one early April day — still nearly a month from this weekend's grand opening — they moved all the furniture from 25 Cimino Drive to Cottonwood Center for the Arts' new building at 427 E. Colorado Ave. And they resumed drawing.
Strolling through the space during an April 11, sneak-peek art opening of member Carol Ettenger's Thresholds, Crossroads and Dead Ends, it's clear the much-awaited move is far from finished. Handwritten signs on computer paper and Post-it notes line the halls. Three artists discuss tasks still undone, which include removing several remaining drop ceilings and mounting artists' names outside their studios.
But the building has already come a long way. Even in March, the studios had no walls. Kay Jeansonne, co-director and owner, laid boundaries with masking tape, and the artists, herself included, "actually signed leases based on the tape on the floor," she says.
That's the type of loyalty the almost-100-member collaborative has fostered since Sparky Lebold and Chuck Mardosz opened Cottonwood Art Academy on Conejos Street in 1997 to provide classic instruction to other local artists.
Jeansonne and co-director Peggy Vicaro bought the school in 2002. After moving to Cimino Drive in 2004, the renamed Cottonwood Artists' School expanded its class schedule and began leasing private studio spaces to more than 35 artists.
The pair started looking for a new location about three years ago, when urban renewal plans targeted their site. After jumping a number of financing hurdles, they signed the contract for the Colorado Avenue building in January 2008 and finally closed in December, with a $35,000 matching grant from the Downtown Development Authority and financing assistance from the building's owner.
Jeansonne says the "emotional roller-coaster" has yielded a home that "really meets our needs."
Aside from 78 studios, the new Cottonwood — which, yes, has another new name — provides plenty of power to support a medium the old building couldn't handle electrically: clay.
Stepping into the Clay People's studio gallery, one of the largest in the new space, feels like karmic rejuvenation. Banners and T-shirts hanging from the high ceiling bring positive messages and an uplifting aura to the studio.
The spiritual inspiration and the earthy color palette came from a T-shirt, says artist Maggie Quinn, who seems a guiding light to the 11-member group that just relocated from Manitou Springs. The shirt has the same cinnamon, curry and eggplant hues as the gallery walls and quotes Gandhi: "Be the change you wish to see."
The addition of kilns is one change among many. Still in progress: a community pottery studio, outdoor large metal sculpture and pottery yards, water media and printmaking classrooms, and a conference room where local businesspeople can hold meetings.
Jeansonne says her ultimate goal is for Cottonwood to become "a community center that happens to be focused on the arts."