Locals bring old Vail studio back to life: Mountain Art Collective is an innovative space for the community
Do you have a skill you want to share with the community?
Do you have a very particular set of skills? Skills you have acquired over a very long career? Skills that might be good for other people to learn? If you want to share your skills, then the Mountain Art Collective can help.
Taking over the storied studio in the basement of the vintage movie theater at the Grand Hyatt Vail, formerly Cascade, Charles Townsend Bessent, co-owner Robert Prechtl, and other local artists are bringing life to a space that sat vacant for nearly a decade. The mission is to bring more cultural opportunities to locals, and visitors — from salsa classes to art workshops, sewing classes to acrobatic yoga workshops and potentially an N64 Mario Kart tournament.
“What I want people to understand is we’re trying to create a pilot program for the town of Vail to demonstrate not only the desire by our community, but how important it is to maintain this type of thing for our community,” Bessent said during a swing dancing class in early January at the Mountain Art Collective. “We’re in a position where a lot of people live downvalley, and in order to incentivize them to come back upvalley, we need affordable things. We need more between the bar and the Vilar. We want options. We want things that are culturally stimulating, at least I do personally. I’d rather meet someone in a dance class than in a bar.”
The Mountain Art Collective has received grants from the town, Bessent said, to put on a dance series as well as an art series, in addition to building a music series. About 80 children are enrolled in the dance program from Mondays through Thursdays.
Costs vary for programs at the Mountain Art Collective. The acrobatic yoga classes on Wednesdays are donation-based, as are the hip-hop dance classes on Thursdays. For a series of classes, such as the February salsa classes coming on Sundays, cost is $50 for the whole month or $15 to drop in. Sewing classes are $20.
On Saturday, Feb. 1, the Mountain Art Collective is hosting its finale for the January swing dance classes from 7 to 10 p.m. A live band will perform. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door, or included in the $50 series prices.
Mountain Art Collective is also available as a commercial photo studio rental as well as events.
“We’re trying to revitalize this building,” Bessent said.
The open studio was formerly part of Colorado Mountain College before its Edwards campus opened, and it also was part of Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy at one point, Bessent said, before it sat vacant for about 10 years with plans to be used for storage.
“What’s cool is that people come to these dance classes, everyone has such a good time and then go out to dinner together,” he said. “So you meet people and then you go out into town and continue that: learn-a-skill, build-community, make-a-friend mentality.”
If you have a skill, any skill, Mountain Art Collective wants you to share it with the community in their space.
“Please let us know,” said Bessent, who started Mountain Art Collective with fellow local Robby Prechtl and others in the valley. “We’re open to anyone and everyone. Everything from dance to unicycle juggling, we don’t care. We just want people to be here.”
On Sundays in January, local barista Josh Spencer taught swing dance classes that will culminate with the “live band graduation” on Saturday, Feb. 1, open to the public, but class attendees will have some extra moves to show off.
There’s hip-hop dance classes, acrobatic yoga and more taking place at the Mountain Art Collective. About 35 people showed up for salsa classes. And if you don’t have a dance partner, that’s OK — Bessent is always available to tag in.
“That’s Josh,” Bessent said during a dance class before jumping into the line. “Josh is teaching a swing class.”
A common theme at Mountain Art Collective is community.
“There’s no space like this in the valley anymore,” Bessent said. “What we’re trying to do is cover the rent so this space continues to exist as long as it can for people to express themselves.”
The Mountain Art Collective is accessed from the side of the hotel building, down a staircase and into the inviting studio. It features a full bar, for “social lubrication,” and includes Vail Brewing Co. beer on tap.
“We keep it simple,” Bessent said, “but we like to promote local brands, so that’s all we sell.”
The Mountain Art Collective is an evolving space for the community. As for the N64 Mario Kart tournament?
“If I put my hand up in this valley for N64s, I bet we get 10 of them,” Bessent said.
And that’s what the Mountain Art Collective is all about, bringing the community together over affordable, unique cultural experiences — whether it be a local dancer sharing their skills or a group of video gamers gathering.
“It really is about community and the people,” Bessent said. “If you have an idea, if you teach something or have a skill set and want to share it with your community, we love that. The idea with this is to learn a skill, build community and make some friends.”