Art gift turns political |

Art gift turns political

Summit Daily file photo/Brad OdekirkThe Breckenridge Arts Fairs held on the weekends of the Fourth of July and Labor Day help bring

BRECKENRIDGE ” The occasion was supposed to be a happy one with the director of Breckenridge arts and crafts fairs announcing he was donating $20,000 in proceeds to youth art activities in the town’s fledgling Arts District.

Mark Beling did just that, even if his former charity, Team Summit, was cut out of the picture because of Beling’s discouragement at Team Summit staff changes.

“It was a pleasant surprise,” said Jenn Cram, the town’s planner working to create and grow the Arts District.

But what was pleasant turned sour.

Beling’s announcement of his gift at the Tuesday Breckenridge Town Council meeting sparked an old, acrimonious debate about how the art fairs purportedly hurt town art galleries and other businesses.

Voicing the dissatisfaction, again, was Breckenridge Art Gallery owner Gary Freese, saying he represented three other galleries and assorted other ski shops and boutiques.

Their beef: The Beling art shows held in two Main Street parking lots during the peak Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends are bad for their businesses.

Beling and the town already agreed to hold the fairs in 2005 at the same times and place. Freese alleged that wasn’t supposed to happen until the 21 merchants had a “due process” airing of the core issue.

“Our position on this is it shows a certain lack of respect for the input of 21 businesses that feel that this activity, purpose, time and place have a negative impact,” Freese said.

“To me, there is an arrogance on the part of the decision-makers by not coming forth and dealing with this,” he added. “It sure seems like a backroom deal.”

With that comment, Mayor Ernie Blake terminated the conversation, but promised the central question would be addressed.

“Believe me, there is no backroom deal going on,” Blake said. “I will not stand for that kind of allegation.”

Freese said Wednesday he regrets his comments, but stands by his point.

“Ernie rightfully cut me off,” Freese said. “I stepped out of line in the way I worded my comments.”

Freese said the art shows during peak weekends draw away business while causing parking and traffic tie-ups that affect more than just art galleries.

His suggested compromise would be to hold the art shows the weekend before each holiday ” or even the weekend after Labor Day, a fact that would help build what he calls just an eight-week summer season.

If the shows were to be held the same dates, Freese said the location should be moved to the ice rink parking lot on Boreas Pass Road.

Beling has heard it all before. So has town manager Tim Gagen.

Gagen said the town council in office before the April elections directed staff to proceed with going with the status quo dates and locations ” and if the new town council wanted to make changes, it could.

He disagreed that a “due process” was promised, but granting it now is a town council decision.

In any event, Freese said if the merchants are given a new airing of the issue, they would stand by the new decision.

Gagen said previous analysis showed the two peak weekends generated the best quality shows and created traffic on Main Street for all of the retail world.

“If we have them, it doesn’t make sense to disconnect them from what we are trying to do, which is make Main Street busy,” Gagen said.

He said holding them away from Main Street produced a new set of difficulties with access and financial success.

Gagen also said the $20,000 donation came after the agreement and had nothing to do with the decision.

He said Beling has offered town art galleries their own booths in the fairs, but they have not taken advantage of the offer.

Beling defended his shows.

“They are nationally ranked shows. If people are looking for something to complain about, how can they complain about that one,” he said.

Meanwhile, Beling is directing the $30,000 he used to give to Team Summit in other directions, as well.

He is giving three $1,000 scholarships to Summit High School students pursuing a career in the fine arts or crafts.

Another $2,000 is going to the Summit County Youth organization to support programs.

Additionally, he will designate other nonprofit organizations to receive artwork donations from the 2005 show artists for placement in silent auctions and fundraisers.

He said that has been worth between $15,000 and $20,000 a year to Team Summit in the past.

Additionally, Beling will create a paid internship at his art shows for a Summit High School student interested in the arts as a career.

Jim Pokrandt can be reached at

(970) 668-3998, ext 227, or at

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