If it has to do with the arts, culture or history in Summit County, Sandy Greenhut's hand was probably in it at one point or another. The self-titled "Queen of Arts," who came to Summit 30 years ago and began forming committees and organizations a decade later, bids farewell to the county on April 1, when she will move on to Arizona and the next phase of her life. She leaves behind a long legacy promoting Summit County's arts scene.
In one of her early projects, in 1990, Greenhut sought to bring the county's arts organizations together - but, she recounts, people told her it couldn't be done.
"If someone tells me I can't do it, I do it," she said.
To this day, the statement has become a motto and rally cry rolled into one.
Greenhut founded the Summit County Arts Council in 1990. The group had its first office in the tiny, former box office at the entrance to The Speakeasy in the old Colorado Mountain College building. Later, the office moved to the Riverwalk Center, and after that - as her friends joke - it moved to her car.
"I am sure that extra weight put stress on her car's tires, shocks and springs," said Sue Paluska, a longtime member of the Summit Public Radio board. "We should reimburse her for wear and tear."
In those days, there was a monthly newsletter, and the council hosted "Artists at the Inns" events, in which artists from around the county showcased their work at local inns. After a decade, Greenhut moved on and the group started Arts Alive, a visual arts gallery cooperative in Breckenridge.
In 1994, when the county formed the Summit County Arts Exhibit Committee to secure a sculpture for the new County Commons building in Frisco, Greenhut ran with the idea, helping to secure four sculptures instead of one. Until recently, she headed up the county commissioner-appointed group, which is responsible for art inside and outside all county buildings.
"When you see artwork in a public place, whether it's the sculpture of the darling little girl reading in front of the South Branch Library in Breckenridge or the stunning mural reflecting the history of Summit County at the County Commons, they are here for us to enjoy because of Sandy's efforts," said Janet Good, manager of the North Branch Library.
Paluska fondly recalls Greenhut moving paintings and photos from the County Commons lobby to the Senior Center and the North Branch Library.
"I think she did this for about 18 years," she said. "She would lug them in, get up on stools or ladders, get her hammer and nails and hang them. Every two months, here comes Sandy, often without help, to do the rotation."
Melanie Frey, director of Summit School of Dance in Frisco, first met Greenhut when she contacted her to be part of a diverse, 30-strong group of artists visiting elementary schools to work with
"One of the things I think Sandy worked really hard at was when she took art into the schools," Frey said.
"Local nonprofits enjoy free spots on RSN-TV that Sandy schedules for us," Good added.
In 1999, when the State of Colorado pulled funding from the Colorado Council on the Arts, Greenhut took on the cause at the state level. Joining forces with Anthony Radich, executive director of the nonprofit group Western States Arts Federation, she helped to found Arts for Colorado, an advocacy group.
At the time, states were slashing arts funding around the country. "Five other states were watching us," Greenhut said. In the end, the National Endowment for the Arts came through with half a million dollars in support of the arts council. Later, Arts for Colorado raised $2 million for the council by petitioning the state.
The Colorado Council on the Arts and other groups united two years ago under Colorado Creative Industries, a division of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, which seeks to bolster the "creative economy" of the state. Arts for Colorado, for which Greenhut served as treasurer, continues to raise funds and donate to the group.
"Without us, there would be no Colorado Creative Industries," Greenhut said.
"Sandy is an extreme arts advocate and has taught many a Coloradan how to work with state legislators on behalf of the arts," Radich said.
"If I see there's a need for something, then I try to start an organization to fill that need," Greenhut said. "Most of the time, I think art people are reticent and feel uncomfortable talking to politicians. I'm right brain-left brain, so it doesn't matter to me; I just dive right in."
"I doubt anyone would consider Sandy nonpartisan," Radich said. "However, when politics and the arts intersect, Sandy is always quick to set aside her politics to benefit the arts. The result has been Sandy allied with some of the people she has fought tooth and nail on other issues."
In response to a need for rural representation, Radich and Greenhut also formed Rural Arts Now (www.facebook.com/
ruralartsnow), which joins arts reps throughout the state.
"We rural people need a voice," she said.
"When I started at the Daily, a friend 'warned' me about Sandy - said I didn't want her on my 'bad side,' " said Kim Nicoletti, former arts and entertainment and special sections editor for the Summit Daily News. "My first vivid memory of Sandy involves her rushing into the Daily, wearing leopard-skin pants and sporting short red hair. A couple coworkers looked at me with eyes wide open as she walked straight to my desk and announced herself, in a high-pitched voice, as the 'Queen of Arts.' I was lucky that she took kindly to me because as I've seen, you don't want to be on Sandy's bad side - and that's a tribute to her. She's a woman who knows what she loves and wants and isn't afraid to go after it - no matter what."
"It's truly been a joy to be on her 'good side,' " Nicoletti said. "While others in the community would call or email me to thank me for a story I did about their arts group, Sandy never missed a beat - she always called and showed her gratitude profusely, and for that I'm grateful."
The arts were not Greenhut's only gig. A longtime political activist, she served as chairwoman of the Summit County Democratic Party for eight years.
"I started so many things I can't remember," Greenhut said. Among them were Dillon Pocket Parks, a project she undertook with Eddie O'Brien that resulted in the small seating nooks with sculptures scattered throughout Dillon. She started Synagogue of the Summit, a venue for the Jewish community to gather for social activities and services, and served as president of the Summit Historical Society.
In 2003-04, she founded Arts for the Summit, a collaborative group of countywide arts organizations. A decade later, Arts for the Summit (www.artsforthesummit.org) is 24 groups strong and includes the towns of Breckenridge, Dillon, Silverthorne and Frisco, along with the Keystone Neighbourhood Co., all of which have arts programs. Every four months, the organization puts out a comprehensive book of county arts offerings called the "Arts Alert Calendar," referred to fondly as "Sandy's Bible" by Summit Daily staffers. In 2011, the group also started "Fall for the Arts," a weekendlong celebration designed to showcase arts groups and venues in Summit County. The third-annual "Fall for the Arts" takes place Sept. 6-8 this year.
"We all know it is true that it takes a village to get good community work done," County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said. "If you have Sandy Greenhut in your community, then all it takes is Sandy."
"Sandy has not only been a good friend to me over the 27 years I've known her, but she has been the best friend the arts in Summit County has ever had," Good said. "I always look for her at any concert, play, slide show or other arts event because I know she'll be there supporting the cause."
"We are all truly grateful for everything she's done," Frey said. "No one visits every single event like she does. It's going to take five people to replace her."
"I'm afraid the arts community is going to take a big hit due to Sandy's departure," Nicoletti said, lauding Greenhut's success in getting the arts groups to work with - instead of against - one another. "She has been a one-woman tour de force, and I personally will miss her great passion and energy."
Greenhut recently sold her home but rented an apartment to stay in town this month in order to divvy up her activities and help find co-chairs for the many organizations. Good will serve as secretary for "Fall for the Arts" and Arts for the Summit, and Margie Sinton has tentatively agreed to co-chair both, Greenhut said.
"Sandy cannot be replaced by any one person," said Good, indicating that the Summit Arts Exhibit Committee seeks volunteers to help with the traveling exhibit, and Arts for the Summit seeks a treasurer, as well as volunteers to coordinate the RSN-TV schedule and help plan "Fall for the Arts."
"I have the utmost hope the organizations stay with it," Greenhut said, acknowledging that she's only a phone call or an email away. "I think they'll continue - maybe not in my idea; maybe they'll take a different turn, but that's progress."
She departs for her new home in Scottsdale, Ariz., on April 1, a "Blue Person in a Red State" sticker affixed to her bumper, with plans to change the state from red to blue. She's moving to be close to her daughter and grandchildren - and to get away from driving in snow, much as she loves it. She looks forward to getting involved with a group of Phoenix-based arts advocates who relocated there from Colorado.
As for Summit, she said, she'll miss the people most.
"I have made so many good friends here," she said. "I am proud of what people do here. I cannot believe there are so many nonprofits in this small community and how generous the people are here to the nonprofits."
There will be a going-away party at the Backcountry Brewery from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday.
"I'm hoping my friends will see me off on my next adventure," Greenhut said.