Carbondale Arts Celebrates 50 Years Of Building Community Through Art

What traditions and rituals play into the soul of community? What really defines community anyway, and how can one discern between important traditions that pass from generation to generation, and ones that need to be broken? A longstanding event in Carbondale, Colo., is one that answers these questions and shows that while our world is changing quickly, some things are important to retain, honor and pass on. The Carbondale Mountain Fair is one of them.

The fair started in 1971 with a traveling chautauqua, an event that brought some arts vendors from around the state to Sopris Park. The booths were makeshift and there was no entertainment, but the seed had been planted. A group of then-hippies convened and decided they could expand on this chautauqua idea, do it themselves and make it even better. The Carbondale Mountain Fair was birthed.

Fifty years ago, Carbondale was known for ranching and mining. The Black Nugget was the watering hole for men with calloused hands and sooty faces. As young people started migrating down valley, the diverse groups had to find a way to coexist. Mountain Fair helped bridge that gap. The early years brought more local artists and entertainers to the fair. Thursday morning before opening day a group of local guys would show up with tool belts and materials, and work through the night building the stage. Others began bringing their talents, like pie baking and food vending.

As the decades went on the fair grew up. Open container laws changed and KDNK Community Radio began a beer garden, which today helps fund eight nonprofits. Volunteerism sees second- and third-generation locals working together. The Drum Circle started when a big electrical blowout happened, precluding the amplified music that was scheduled, and today about 200 people come to keep the beat under the watchful eye of Mt. Sopris.

The Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities, now known as Carbondale Arts, is the offspring of the fair. They brings arts programming to the Roaring Fork Valley all year long. The fair helps fund their efforts, but more importantly, the fair keeps Carbondale working together as a community. All are welcome and participation is key. Carbondale is known for its volunteerism and everyone’s ability to work together. Kids work as hard as 30-year-olds when it’s fair time, and all have smiles on their faces. Many of the originators of the fair still show up to lend a hand, share history and impart wisdom.

Fifty years of building community through art is a tradition that keeps Carbondale strong. The 2021 Mountain Fair is, indeed, a golden celebration.

Learn more at carbondalearts.com.

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