HOVAB is a History of the Visual Arts in Boulder
By Lisa Truesdale
Visual artists in Boulder today know what Georgia O’Keeffe knew when she first visited here in 1917: There’s nothing like majestic scenery to inspire you. And it’s inspiring whether you’re interpreting what you see (as O’Keeffe did with her paintings of mountain wildflowers near Ward), or basking in the beauty of your surroundings as you create something more abstract.
But scenery is just one reason why Boulder has been so attractive to artists over the years, and the committee behind “Celebration! A History of the Visual Arts in Boulder” is dedicated to telling the whole story.
The most important thing Jennifer Heath wants you to know about HOVAB is that it’s “a” history, not “the” history. And that’s an important distinction, she insists, because the committee understands that everyone is going to have a different interpretation, and everyone starts at a different point in time when trying to describe any type of history.
HOVAB is an acronym that sounds a bit unwieldy at first, but definitely grows on you. It’s a project that Heath—a cultural journalist and curator who has lived in Boulder for more than 40 years—first envisioned a few years ago, although she originally imagined it would take a different form.
“Initially, I thought the documentation of Boulder’s artists and art history could be just a book,” she says. “Indeed, we are creating as comprehensive a catalogue as we can muster. But a book is insufficient to illustrate such an illustrious visual past.”
So, with the help of a carefully selected committee of her peers, Heath expanded the project’s scope. In addition to the catalogue, HOVAB is now a huge, countywide visual-arts celebration that launches Sept. 29 and runs through the middle of January.
Once the format and dates were decided, the committee took on an even tougher task—determining exactly when Boulder’s visual-arts history began. “We had deep conversations, and sometimes friendly arguments, over what constitutes Boulder’s art history,” Heath says. “We made decisions as thoughtfully as we could, and we had to make some compromises, but we realize that some artists and projects may be left out.”
The committee decided to begin its version of history in 1898. That was the year Chautauqua opened, and it’s also the year that marks the beginning of the CU Art Museum’s upcoming exhibit titled “Pioneers: Women Artists in Boulder, 1898-1950.” Although CU’s exhibit begins two weeks earlier and is not produced by the HOVAB committee, Heath says it’s extremely important to the project, since it covers the late 19th- and early 20th-century artists that HOVAB hadn’t yet researched.
“Pioneers” opens Sept. 15, and HOVAB officially kicks off Sept. 29 with a gala reception at Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. HOVAB’s overall purpose, Heath explains, is “to serve the community with a once-in-a-lifetime, high-quality art event that will also heighten the visibility of local artists and attract more artists to Boulder.” These goals will be met through art exhibits, film presentations, panel discussions and other events featuring more than 300 local artists with exhibits at 18 venues in both Boulder and Longmont.
Knowing Our History
Heath couldn’t have done it, she says, without her “brilliant, creative and dedicated” curatorial and steering committee. “They all have impressive credentials as curators, gallery owners or directors, members of arts committees, or artists themselves,” she says. “They have all been around Boulder a long time, so they know the scene and know the artists.” She also credits Felicia Furman of the Boulder Arts Commission, who served as the liaison to HOVAB and guided them on matters related to the $20,000 grant BAC awarded HOVAB last year.
Sadly, one of HOVAB’s original committee members, Karen Ripley Dugan, died in 2015, and Heath says they’ve dedicated the entire project to her. Ripley Dugan was the first paid and longest-employed director of the Boulder Center for the Visual Arts, which is now the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, and later was the director of cultural programs at the Boulder Public Library. Before her death, Ripley Dugan curated HOVAB’s exhibit for the library’s Canyon Gallery, and the committee worked together to fine-tune it afterwards, with several pieces from Ripley Dugan’s own art collection on loan from her husband, Tom Dugan.
Through all of the committee’s hard work, Heath believes that by sharing the history of visual arts in Boulder, HOVAB is also helping to lay a foundation for the future of visual arts. That’s because “healthy growth—truly imaginative transitions—can really only happen if we know our history.”
The BAC’s Furman agrees. “I think HOVAB is a phenomenal grassroots effort that will inspire and influence Boulderites for decades to come,” she says. “And I think it’s remarkable that a small group of curators, unaffiliated with a major institution, could come together to plan and implement such a wide-scale event.”
But Heath cautions, again, that HOVAB is just one group’s interpretation.
“Yes, this is ‘our’ history of visual arts in Boulder, as objective as we could make it, but we know it will not satisfy everyone,” she says. “Someone else will come along with ‘their’ history. And that’s a good thing.”
For a comprehensive list of HOVAB-related events, plus extras like a map of outdoor public art in the county and links to every artist’s website, visit www.hovabcelebrations.org.