Breckenridge/Summit County ranks No. 4 on SMU’s Art Vibrancy Index |

Breckenridge/Summit County ranks No. 4 on SMU’s Art Vibrancy Index

Klaus Fengler / Special to the Daily
Klaus Fengler | Klaus Fengler

Arts Vibrancy Index

To read the full Arts Vibrancy Index document, visit The listing for Breckenridge/Summit County is on page 20. Topping the list for small- to medium-sized cities was Glenwood Springs, including all of the communities in Garfield and Pitkin counties, and Edwards, encompassing Eagle and Lake counties, came in at No. 5.

Southern Methodist University’s National Center for Arts Research recently named Breckenridge the No. 4 small to medium city in its Arts Vibrancy Index, which analyzes the largest database of arts research ever assembled and uses that data to draw conclusions about the state of the arts in America.

All of the cities named on the index are actually Metropolitan Statistical Areas, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. MSAs consist of one or more counties and are named for the city with the largest population, meaning that “Breckenridge,” for the purposes of this index, includes all of the communities in Summit County. There are 937 unique MSAs and metro divisions in the small to medium city category.

The rankings are based on three criteria: supply, demand and level of government support for the arts per capita. Supply factors are determined by the total number of arts providers in the community, including independent artists; arts and culture employees; arts, culture and entertainment employees (which includes those working for festivals and concerts, as well as booking agents, promoters, agents and managers); and arts organizations.

Demand is based on total nonprofit arts dollars in the community, including program revenue, contributed revenue, total expenses and total compensation. The level of government support is assessed based on state and federal arts appropriations and grants.

“The numbers are only the start of the story, not the end,” said Zannie Voss, director of the SMU center and chair of arts management and arts entrepreneurship in SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts and Cox School of Business. “Our intention in developing this report is to stimulate conversation about what makes a city vibrant in the arts and how arts vibrancy varies across cities.”


The report highlights the top 20 large cities (with populations of 1 million or more) and the top 20 medium and small cities (with populations of 1 million or less), with descriptions of some of their outstanding arts organizations and events.

“Steeped in culture and heritage, Breckenridge, CO, is filled with creative and inquisitive people enjoying a vibrant lifestyle amidst stunning scenery,” begins the description in the index, going on to say that the area “provides a distinctive mix of arts and cultural activities for people of all ages and interests.”

Doug Adams, CEO of the National Repertory Orchestra (NRO), has a master’s from Southern Methodist University and was briefed on the Arts Vibrancy Index project last fall before the results were published. He said one of the things that was impressive to the people who put the study together was the broad range of arts resources available to the people in our community.

“Performing arts, two music organizations, the Backstage Theatre, Breckenridge Heritage Alliance, the Film Festival and all of the support of creative artists in town, particularly showcased in the Arts District — the spectrum is amazing, and it’s pretty hard for other communities to compete with, I think,” he said.

The NRO, a Breckenridge-based, intensive fellowship for young musicians to prepare them for roles in the professional music world, was one of a handful of organizations specifically named in the document, which also listed the Breckenridge Backstage Theatre, Breckenridge Music Festival, Riverwalk Performing Arts Center (operated by BreckCreate), Mountain Top Children’s Museum and the Breckenridge Film Festival as contributing to the arts culture of the area.

“The piece that jumped out to me was that Breckenridge was No. 1 in having more arts, culture and entertainment employees than any other city in the country,” said Robb Woulfe, president and CEO of Breckenridge Creative Arts (BreckCreate), referencing another statement in the document.

“We have a very small community, but it speaks to all of the good work the local artist community, local cultural organizations, have been doing long before Breckenridge Creative Arts was established. I think it was great recognition for the work that we, as a community, have been doing over the past five or 10 years.”


The Arts Vibrancy Index states that many of the top 20 medium and small cities could be described as “small artist colonies or tourist destinations supported by part-time residents.” In fact, 12 of the 20 cities on the list have fewer than 100,000 full-time residents, and Breckenridge/Summit County falls at the low end of that spectrum, with around 29,000 residents.

“I think we’re fortunate because we have such a huge base of second-home owners that come with city tastes, coming from Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas,” Kate Hudnut, co-owner and creative director of the GatherHouse studio and gallery in Frisco. “They enjoy culture and support the arts.

“You take a look at the people who come into our studio, and they are from all over the place. They are tickled when they find the quality of creativity, the quality of music, the quality of opportunities up here. It’s equivalent of what you’d find in big cities. It’s incredible.

“People are looking for something more than the outdoor recreation, which brings people here, but what keeps people here and coming back is this whole cultural experience they can have, as well as the beautiful outdoors.”

Summit County is also a sought-out destination for many artists and performers, allowing performing arts groups such as Summit Music and Arts to bring in high-caliber entertainment, said Len Rhodes, the organization’s artistic director and artist in residence.

“The many organizations here are able to attract really, really strong musical abilities — professional people, top-class artists, the theater attracts top-class actors, actresses, directors — there’s a reason for that,” Rhodes said. “What we’re tying to do collectively here is promote the best of the arts and what’s available to our community.

“These artists really want to come here; they really enjoy being here. Our visiting artists will make a point of saying, ‘we really love coming here; we really like playing for this audience. The audiences in Summit County embrace what’s good about what we do and who we are.’ That’s consistent throughout the other organizations here, as well.”

Strong support for the arts from local governments was also integral to the index ranking.

“I’ve never lived in a community that has as much support for the arts as Breckenridge and Summit County do,” said Marcia Kaufmann, executive director of the Breckenridge Music Festival.

“Breckenridge has stepped forward recently with the investment that they’ve made in the Arts District and BreckCreate, with the culture-destination branding that they are doing,” she said.

“Summit County has paid great attention to all of its assets and has developed the arts as one off its assets very strongly in the last five years or so.”


For a community as small as Summit County, the number of active arts organizations is unprecedented, said Christopher Alleman, producing artistic director of the Lake Dillon Theatre Company. The support given to those groups by local residents, visitors and governments, and the appreciation and understanding of the impact the arts make on our community is wonderful, he said.

“I think the arts is one the most crucial aspects to society, in general,” Alleman said. “The arts provide opportunities for the community to learn, experience and socialize. Theater, and all arts, allows individuals an opportunity to step away from their lives, allows them to reflect on other perspectives and provides them the chance to be creative and try new things.”

Christopher Willard, artistic director of the Breckenridge Backstage Theatre, said he’s proud of the steps Breckenridge has taken to support the area’s arts culture, providing a well-rounded experience for visitors and those who live here year-round.

“Arts exploration is a discovery of the human condition and all that makes us sentient,” he said. “The arts make us feel, think, question — and want to know more. A community without arts support is a community devoid of the things that make us human.

“For some of us in the arts, creation is a sacred act. While some marvel at how art is accomplished, there are those of us that see it as an involuntary act, like breathing in and breathing out. We wouldn’t know what to do if we weren’t actively engaged in creation on some level. That expression is as vital to making us human as the messages inherent in the work we create.”

Jessica Cabe, of the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, contributed to this story.

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