Creative Crested Butte - Colorado Festival Attracts Affluent Crowd

August 2022, by Angie Landsverk

The Crested Butte Arts Festival attracts artists and attendees from throughout the country. 
Photo courtesy of Christina Spatharo 

People schedule vacations and family reunions based on when the Crested Butte Arts Festival is taking place, and they and the many others who attend this event show up ready to buy. 

“We are the largest event of the summer,” said Chelsea Dalporto-McDowell. “Crested Butte sells itself. It’s just a beautiful place — awe inspiring. And we are a part of that.” 

She is the executive director of the festival, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary when it is held on Aug. 5-7. “We are going for the experience this year,” she said. “We have dug into the depths of what has been our history, and we’re going to create a feeling around that.” 

This festival is the result of an influx of idealistic people moving to Crested Butte in the 1960s after the mines left, she explained. Dalporto-McDowell described the community as “an absolutely gorgeous and inspiring place to live,” and one that attracts artists. 

Many residents saw a need to care for Crested Butte’s history, and the first thing they wanted to do was restore one of its buildings, she said. Quickly recognizing funds would be needed, the Crested Butte Society formed in 1971, and the festival was born out of that, Dalporto-McDowell said. The society became a nonprofit in 1973. 

Initially an arts and crafts festival with items like beaded necklaces and buttons, as more people became attracted to Crested Butte and the event, it grew into a juried, fine arts festival. More than 700 artists apply each year for a space at the festival, Dalporto-McDowell said. 

The nonprofit is committed to having unique, high-level art at the festival. She said there are five jurors each year, and they come from a variety of backgrounds related to the arts. 

The jurying process is online. “We have new eyes every year,” Dalporto-McDowell said. “It is a competitive process.” 

The festival has three artist awards, including Best of Show. The Best of Show winner receives a free booth the following year, Dalporto-McDowell said. 

For most of the festival’s history, it was held in the main business district. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was not an in-person festival in 2020. 

Instead, there was an online art auction for the artists who were juried in, and they were then rolled into the 2021 festival. Dalporto-McDowell said they took a hit on 2021’s application fees but wanted to help the artists. 

The festival moved to a new location last year. It is now on 10 acres of school property when people come into town, and still offers fantastic views, she said. 

Around 12,000 people typically attend the festival, and that is what Dalporto-McDowell expects this year. In addition to art, the festival includes artist demonstrations, entertainment, an artist auction, and a place where children may play and create. 

Artists who donate to the auction receive lunches, snacks, flushing toilets, and an inviting space to get away from the crowd, she said. “The money from the auction goes back into art outreach,” Dalporto-McDowell said. 

For artists who may not have exhibited there in a few years, she wants them to know the “community has become extremely affluent. The average house is $1 million now.” Tourists are also more affluent, she said. 

Dalporto-McDowell said the change in layout means the event has more of a boutique experience. There used to be 170 spaces and are now about 130. Artists are making more on average because there is less competition, she said. 

At the 2021 festival, $600,000 worth of art was sold in 2 ½ days. Last year’s highest producer made $22,000, she said. 

The festival also moved to being a ticketed event in 2021. The $5 admission fee helped them get back on their feet after the pandemic. It also raises funds for creative people in the community, she said. 

The society is committed to having a waste-free event. There are reusable wares in the VIP tent for artists and recycling stations throughout the venue. They moved the brochure from paper to an app, and the art auction’s bidding process is online. 

She advises other promoters to create efficiencies for artists with online payment systems and signatures. “Come into the 21st century. Eliminate paper,” Dalporto-McDowell said. 

One of the most important things they have learned is creativity attracts every level of art enthusiast. “Don’t judge by age and demographic,” she said. 

The artist community is their heart and soul, and they provide a high level of customer service to their artists. “We make sure our artists are happy. As a result, we end up with better applicants,” she said. 

Dalporto-McDowell said nonprofits should be run like businesses. “Brand the festival properly, from the website to the event itself,” she said.