Manitou Springs Snags Top National Ranking as Best Small-Town Arts Scene

Council Ends Mandatory Mask Mandate

Gabriel Paulson

Already well-known for the Cog Railroad, the Incline, the numerous springs that many still claim have healing properties and Rainbow Falls, Manitou Springs can notch another claim to fame following a recent report from USA Today.

Home to Commonwheel Artists Co-Op, Green Horse Gallery, Fare Bella Studio and Gallery, Darpino Studio Gallery, and the  town’s  booming Arts Center, Manitou Springs has been ranked number nine in the country of the list of top 10 best Small Town Arts Scenes in America.

It ranks just above Stockbridge, Massachusetts, the home of well-known painter Norman Rockwell and just below West Rutland, Vermont.

The ranking came following a survey of USA Today readers during the 2021 Reader’s Choice Travel Awards and was based on museums, art galleries, performing arts and busy event calendars.

“We do have that high caliber of art,” said Natalie Johnson, a member of Manitou Springs City Council and executive director of Manitou Arts Center, “but we also have that fun-loving experience too. I think that’s what people respond to. The fact that it is accessible and welcome to anyone who comes to our community.”

One of the artists who contributes to Manitou’s art scene is Vincent Coleman, whose work is on display for the second time at Manitou Art Center’s open space gallery. He was happy to hear that the local art’s community was finally getting national recognition.

 “It means a lot,” he said. There are a lot of talented artists who get the opportunity to come here and it is really hard to get a spot to display and sell your art.”

He was initially drawn to Manitou’s art scene by how fast the prices of art works can rise in a short period of time.

 “How creative everyone is, how involved the community is,” he said, “it is a lot different than other places where artists settle, I believe,” said Coleman.

Manitou Springs is home to painters, potters and creative types who come together to create through inspiration supplied by the natural beauty and rich cultural traditions of the Pikes Peak region, he stated. “Despite being a small town, it is full of color, culture and art and now it is making a name for itself nationally,” he said.

 “Manitou Springs celebrates and grieves through art,” said Becca Sickbert, executive director for Manitou Springs Creative District. “Everything we do comes back to our cultural shared experience. We have art on every corner of our downtown district and we are so intentional about how we place public art sculptures and where they are placed. I am not surprised we have been recognized in this way, because Manitou Springs has baked art into its very fabric.”

Art has been a part of the culture of Manitou Springs since the mid 1800s. It was this history that drew Nathan Foutch to Manitou Springs about seven years ago. “I wanted something to show respect for my love of artwork and free spirit,” he said. “Manitou seemed like the best choice.”

The focus on the arts in Manitou Springs also gets a boost from the sales tax initiative passed in 2019 known as the Manitou Arts Culture and Heritage Initiative, which sends tax funds back into the community as an investment in the arts.

The city also has ongoing efforts to make art more accessible to the general public. There are on-line programs available so people can find locally-made artworks without ever leaving their homes. And, there has been a lot of participation from the local galleries during the First Friday Artwalk, taking place the first Friday of each month and allows visitors to check out live performances, art galleries and art installations.

Mask Mandate Dropped

The city of Manitou Springs has dropped the mask ordinance in compliance with all state and federal guidelines.

Some businesses are still asking unvaccinated people to wear masks when entering the facility, but overall guidelines have been dropped moving forward. City Council meetings will again be held in-person at City Hall rather than online.  Similar to most cities in the area, Manitou conducted all of its meetings virtually for the last year and a half.

Construction continues along the western end of Manitou Avenue between the traffic circle and Serpentine Road, so expect delays through the area for the next few weeks. Work is expected to continue throughout the summer, as utility lines are being buried and work is conducted at Soda Springs Park.