SILVERTON – Two musicians played on a small carpet that demarcated the stage from the mass of visitors clad in duct tape-patched jackets huddled around a wood stove – the lone source of any meaningful heat – at the Silverton Powerhouse Spring Fever Event in early March.
Black and white photographs clung to the walls of the former industrial building, covering up decades of wear.
When the Silverton power station was built in 1906, it was a critical piece of infrastructure responsible for the distribution of hydroelectric power that was farmed from the Animas River and relayed to a network of mines scattered among the peaks of the San Juan Mountains.
And while the telltale circular holes in the brick facade through which high voltage lines once ran still remain, the building now enables the mining of something else: artistic talent.
Four Silverton artists – Hannah Green, Hillary Cable, Anne Chase and Julian Hood – are what one could call the mining foremen of the Silverton Powerhouse, although they prefer the term “founding artists.”
Over the last year, the team has worked to convert the former power station into a collective space for artists to work and host community events that incubate Silverton’s artistic talent.
It is the building itself, Green says from her balcony studio overlooking the space’s expansive footprint, that propelled the Silverton Powerhouse into existence.
“People walk in here and have 10 million ideas,” she said.
The Silverton Historical Society put the building up for lease in November 2021. It had sat unused, filled with ski-making detritus, after ScottyBob Skiworks vacated the space several years earlier. Green took the initiative to gather Silverton’s artistic community and gauge what interest there might be in converting the space into an artist collective.
Cable, Chase and Hood were willing to commit to the project, and in February 2022, the group signed a lease. The artists range in age from 23 to 36.
“Last year was a lot learning, just figuring out what we really wanted this space to be and how we wanted it to work,” Green said.
Since signing the lease, the four artists have begun to make the space their own and open it up for community events.
Many of the Powerhouse’s facilities are still under construction and meet only the minimum needs of the founding artists. The temperature in the poorly insulated building hovers below 50 degrees winter days, making it difficult for the artists to justify renting space to others.
But having studio space has enabled – and in some cases required – the four to expand their artistic endeavors. They come and go as they please, although most of them are limited by the constraints of having at least one full-time job.
Hood works in the uppermost balcony of the building, where he runs his brand, Notorious Blair Street Tees. His multi-armed screen printing press occupies much of the space, which he says is a step up from the basement of The Avon hotel.
“It feels like I'm starting to be an actual business,” Hood said. “It feels legitimate.”
A floor below him, Chase sits in front of an easel perched at the edge of the building’s second tier. She recently quit her day job in favor of artistic career. Chase makes landscape art across a broad range of formats, transcending the constraints of any single defined lane.
“I have stained all of my kitchen counters and my dining room table with paint,” she said. “I have room for all of my prints and storage and paints. It has been huge.”
Directly below her, Cable has a small enclosed studio where she is working on an epoxy backsplash for her brother’s kitchen.
“I can't do the project that I'm working on right now without that space,” she said.
She used to work in a section of her bedroom, cordoned off by sheets of plastic hung from the ceiling. She said the studio space has financial impacts that extend in both directions; it allows her to do more work while simultaneously necessitating that she produce more in order to cover her portion of rent.
Of course, the profits from Cable’s ski-pole plunger business supplement her income.
The four entrepreneurs say they are envisioning the future through two different lenses. One lens is focused one step ahead, on the Powerhouse’s immediate needs. In the other lens, the artists are looking at how their collective will fit into Silverton’s community.
The Powerhouse’s facilities currently include a photography dark room and a bare-bones music studio. The darkroom, sequestered under a stairway, darkened by hanging curtains, is ripe for improvement, Hood says.
The Powerhouse artists launched a Kickstarter campaign earlier this month to address some of the building’s immediate needs. The campaign, which ends April 2, has raised over $12,000 of the $19,500 goal.
First up, Chase said, is heating.
“We need to make the space usable year-round in order for it to be a viable business,” she said. “The four of us are pretty hearty and work in a 49-degree building. But I sometimes can't work when it's this cold because of my paint. So we need to make the building warmer.”
The founders have emptied their own bank accounts into the Powerhouse and are now soliciting community support because they say the vision of what the space can be, and already is, has been widely backed by the Silverton community.
“The whole community loves how beautiful this building is,” Cable said. “It's been really special to be able to share that with them and invite people out here and just enjoy the space with other people from the community.”
Already, the Powerhouse has hosted the Silverton Whiteout Fat Bike Race, bonfires, birthday parties and art shows. On April 1, the artists will host a silent auction to benefit their Kickstarter campaign.
Once the place can retain some heat, the founding artists say they want to create new studio spaces for up to three more makers, enhance the building for hosting events and turn it into a resource for Silverton’s broader community. They have even talked with Silverton School about opening the space up to kids. Using Durango’s Smiley Building as inspiration, the group is looking to foster a buzzing hub of artistic activity.
“It's so important to have a community space in such a small town,” Chase said. “The winters here are really isolating. And (know) so many artists who all work alone, who really value the idea of working together.”