Ashley King-Grambley exudes enthusiasm and confidence. And she uses that energy working as executive director of a shared management team for two separate organizations in Ouray County: Weehawken Creative Arts and the Sherbino Theater in Ridgway.
Weehawken offers arts education for all ages. It is named after the spring that feeds water to Ouray. The Board’s understanding of the word Weehawken is “eternal spring of life,” according to King-Grambley.
The Sherbino is a 102 year old building in Ridgway that is home to the non-profit organization, the Ridgway Chautauqua Society. Denver’s 9News described the building as “Ridgway’s living room.” On any given night you might find movies, plays and lectures.
King-Grambley came to this knowledge and experience over decades. She describes her work as building communities through arts programs. “Typically,” she said, “arts programming allows an opportunity for people to gather and learn something about each other and themselves. She attended Western State Colorado College in Gunnison, and jumped at every leadership possibility. She was involved in events through student government and student camps, and the National Leadership Camp.
“Western is the greatest place on earth if you want to get involved,” she exclaimed. “You don’t have to wait to be a senior to be the director of something.” At Western she managed the substantial budget for the college’s program council.
King-Grambley spent seven years as the director of the Gunnison Council of the Arts. She took a brief sidestep to the Vail area, but found she liked smaller towns better. King-Grambley ended up in Ridgway on the day of the deadline to apply for director of Weehawken Arts. A good friend had called the selection committee and asked if they would delay their decision until she could get there. She hopped in her car and deadheaded to Ridgway.
There was one thing that she particularly liked about Weehawken that was totally different from other places she had worked. Weehawken had no emphasis on bricks and mortar. There was no building. “An Arts Council is not about bricks and mortar and rooftops,” she said. “It’s about the programs, and the programs can be wherever we decide that the programs are going to be.
“We really felt the impact in Gunnison,” she recalled. “We thought ‘if we didn’t have this building, think what we could do. If we didn’t have this 100 year old rooftop…’ ”
Weehawken was different. “We could offer programs in both Montrose and Ouray counties,” she explained. “This is the reason that Weehawken has been free to evolve and develop the way we have because we aren’t shackled to a building. There are great community spaces everywhere…the library, the community center, the Pavilion.”
In 2004 when Weehawken was first founded its primary focus was actually on “excellent, national quality arts workshops for adults.” The idea was to generate tourism and they did a very successful job of it. Students from New Zealand, Scotland, England and Canada came to Ouray and Ridgway to take a nationally known artist’s class. In the early days it was about seven classes a year. The directors at Weehawken believed “that the arts could be an economic driver for Ouray County.” King-Grambley started in the spring of 2008, just a few months after the dance program came on board.
Weehawken realized then that they would need paid staff to handle all the registrations and the money. It was too much for a volunteer staff to handle. “At our fullest schedule, which was around 2010, we were offering over 370 programs in a year.”
They’re now offering about 300 programs a year. Classes, e.g. Ballet 1 and 2, count as one program. Any individual class that someone might sign up for, whether it’s one day or 12 days, counts as one program. There were close to 400 classes a year when the economy was going great but it came to a grinding halt as the recession caught up to southwestern Colorado in 2011. “We started to back off on adult programming because adults weren’t spending their money on things that weren’t absolutely essential. We had a couple of years of backing off on things that weren’t working. $600-800 acrylic workshops weren’t working.
Ouray County is bursting with talent and creativity, and King-Grambley is working with Alpenglow Arts Alliance, a collaboration of nine arts organizations in the area to to offer her skills and experience to market the different groups as one voice. For information on upcoming summer classes which include mixed media, creative writing, photography and more, visit https://alpenglowarts.com/