Rocky Mountain artists-in-residence programs offer creatives a new perspective
Walking in nature is relaxing. It inspires joy and reduces stress. And when you factor in the beauty of the Colorado landscape, just think what it can do for creativity among artists. There are dozens of artists-in-residence programs across a variety of disciplines throughout the state—and many in the Denver metro.
But Miami-based artist Cara Despain set her sights on the high country to connect with nature that inspires all her work, and she was in for a surprise when she arrived at Anderson Ranch Arts Center just outside of Aspen in 2020. The 5-acre campus was once a working sheep ranch. Today 14 historic buildings have been renovated—many of which are studio spaces with glass garage doors providing a connection to the outdoors for working artists. “There are many ways that the environment informs the artist experience at Anderson Ranch,” says Katherine Roberts, director of marketing and communications. “Many artists will articulate that they are experiencing something entirely different than what their day-to-day life is in terms of the landscape. They can’t help but be inspired by that. It often informs their work—the colors, the textures.”
Despain works in a variety of disciplines to address issues related to climate change and frontierism and their impacts on ecosystems. “Climate change and environmental impacts—you can see them in a pronounced way in just my short life,” she says. About a year prior to her stay at Anderson Ranch, Despain began working on her carbon project. She collected burnt debris from wildfires in California to create “carbon paintings” that represent climate change and sustained forest mismanagement. When she arrived in Aspen, she discovered the nearby burn scar of the 12,000-acre Lake Christine Fire that devastated Basalt and Carbondale just two years prior. Working with the Anderson Ranch staff, she was able to visit the area, collect debris and create more pieces for her project during her residency. She then returned in 2021 to collect debris and create more work from the Troublesome Fire. The beauty of nature calls her, the devastation she witnesses ignites her artwork.
Anderson Ranch Arts Center
Cara Despain working on her carbon project while attending the artists-in-residence program at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in 2020.