Nestled into the 8,000-foot elevation of Snowmass, Colorado, a stone’s throw from Aspen, is the Anderson Ranch Arts Center, a latter day Shangri-la for the cultural set. From its inception it has been a destination for budding art students as well as world-renowned artists, curators, writers and critics. It is also a cultural hub for the communities in its vicinity, a critical aspect of its multifaceted mission.
The brainchild of Paul Soldner, a ceramic artist best known for devising a firing technique called American raku, a version of Japanese raku, it was established in 1966, celebrating its 50th anniversary last year. “He was also a hippie,” Executive Director Nancy Wilhelms points out with a laugh. “We are still attuned to that era of openness, to our roots.”
Anderson Ranch began to take shape when Soldner invited Peter Voulkos, the Abstract Expressionist sculptor, who was instrumental in making clay a fine arts medium, and photographer Cherie Hiser, who had established Center of the Eye in Aspen, and Sam Maloof, a furniture designer (creator of the Maloof rocker) and later MacArthur fellow, to join him at the ranch. Others of equal talent in painting, sculpture, drawing, printmaking, new media and digital fabrication followed to join this band of gifted, idiosyncratic artists, which then began offering a full range of art instruction that is “the equal of any art school,” Wilhelms adds.
While a force in her own right, the infectiously enthusiastic director of Anderson Ranch and its tireless advocate since 2013, Wilhelms—who studied fine arts at the Rhode Island School of Design—credits her staff and board with its growth and steadily increasing visibility, nationally and internationally. “As a team, we have a strong vision for Anderson Ranch,” says Wilhelms. “We bring in top contemporary artists as faculty members, artists-in-residence and speakers who have included Dennis Hopper, Kara Walker, Laurie Anderson, Catherine Opie, Frank Stella, Julie Mehretu, Theaster Gates, Hank Willis Thomas and so many others. We offer rigorous workshops as well as those at entry-level since we believe that art should enrich lives as well as be a profession. Our students and community have access to the artists we invite, who become part of our community. They can sit down with Marina Abramovic, Tom Sachs or Steve McQueen, have lunch or dinner and talk to them. That’s special.”’
Beyond its more than 150 summer workshops and its biannual 10-week artists-in- residence programs—this summer Mickalene Thomas will be on campus as a visiting artist and instructor—another of Anderson Ranch’s big draws is its artist series. Among the highlights of the 2017 Summer Series and Critical Dialogue Programs are Helen Molesworth from L.A. MOCA in conversation about Anoka Faruqee from Yale in a discussion about Black Mountain College, the standard for alternative art schools, artists Huma Bhabha and Diana Al-Hadid in conversation with gallerist Leila Heller and writer Sarah Thornton about Islam, women and immigration, as well as talks by Walead Beshty and Doug Aitken.
Wilhelms is also excited that Wangechi Mutu, the recipient of Anderson Ranch’s 2017 National Artist Award, will visit this summer. “Ideas come from dialogue; at the Ranch, we invite that, we value that tremendously.”