People often associate Wyoming with natural beauty: Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Park and Devils Tower are what people think about when they have Wyoming on the brain. Beyond that, Wyoming is perhaps the center of what people consider the Old West, further evoking romanticized images of cowboys and Indians and abundant wildlife to people worldwide.

Artists often play on the emotions these things evoke, so it may be unsurprising that Wyoming is becoming a more visible nexus of the visual arts. While much of the art has traditionally emerged from the northwest region of the state where the national parks draw most attention, the arts community is actively reaching into many communities across the state, said Michael Shay, spokesman for the Wyoming Arts Council.

The resultant “lively” arts communities springing up are refreshing many towns around the state, even as arts mainstays stay mainstream. In 2011, the most recent data the Arts Council had on hand, independent artists contributed $85.5 million to the Wyoming economy. Art dealers contributed another $17.6 million.

On a creative index put together by a regional arts supporting organization, Wyoming scored higher than most regional states as well. Western Wyoming, bolstered by Jackson, Pinedale, Cody and other artsy towns, in fact scored higher than all other state averages in the region. The rest of the state scored high enough to only be outpaced by Colorado while Montana, Idaho, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona all had less “creative vitality.” Following are some of the arts meccas and up-and-comers in the state with some reasons you should care enough to check them out.

Jackson Hole

The biggest art market in the state is hard to ignore.

“I will say that Jackson Hole as an arts destination is one of the biggest in the Rocky Mountain Region, so that says a lot,” Shay said.

And one of the largest draws to Jackson Hole has become the Fall Arts Festival. Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce President Jeff Golightly said the event is one of the drivers of the arts community in Jackson. The festival has grown over the last 31 years to its highest volume in 2014, and Golightly said he has no reason to believe it will get any smaller this year.

The event has reshaped the contours of Jackson’s tourism economy, which once tapered off quickly after Labor Day. Now, though, September is on par with June for tourism in Jackson and is only eclipsed by July and August. While he said that the festival isn’t the only thing that has made the month viable, it has certainly aided it.

“More galleries, more people connected to the arts are continually trying to figure out how they can be part of the festival, which continues to spur new and creative ideas,” Golightly said.

The Fall Arts Festival includes a quick draw and auction the Chamber puts on; a show that puts small works from well-respected artists on sale in the National Museum of Wildlife Art; the Jackson Hole Art Auction which sells through millions of dollars’ worth of art, often from famous deceased artists.

“That art auction – I’ve seen the catalog for the thing, and it’s kind of humbling,” Shay of the Arts Council said.

Beyond that, many of the 30 or so galleries in Jackson organize their own shows and events in coordination with the festival that is already drawing in buyers, creating a synergistic draw that has drawn arts renown to the small town.

Cody to Powell

Flanking Yellowstone’s eastern edge, Cody is another natural arts community. Adding to the feel are several well-respected galleries and of course “the biggie,” as Shay puts it: the Buffalo Bill Center for the West, which since its name change in 2013 can be shortened to the appropriately Western acronym of BBCOW.

“I don’t think they like that acronym,” Shay said, using it anyway.

The museum in an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, and was recently named the Top Western Museum by True West Magazine, among other honors. The museum is a collection of five museums arranged like a wagon wheel, with each wing dedicated to a certain facet of Western history: natural history, Western art, firearms, Plains Indians and namesake Buffalo Bill.

The museum draws about 200,000 visitors annually, according to the New York Times. Its annual art show and sale of contemporary Western, wildlife, landscape artists has been generating more than $1 million in sales each year, drawing in some big names in Western art as well as those that collect it.

Shay tagged the Simpson-Gallagher Gallery as worth visiting in Cody as well.

Up the road in Powell, he said the presence of Northwest College helps the arts scene. The Plaza Diane Community Center for the Arts has sprung up with a rotating art exhibit and an arts festival of its own.

Sheridan area

Sheridan is also aided by a college-town feel. The Sheridan College has been investing in public art in its new buildings, several galleries have cropped up around town and the Sagebrush Community Art Center seeks to buoy the arts community in the area generally.

“Comparing [Sheridan] to Jackson is kind of tough, but it’s lively,” Shay said.

Perhaps most important, though, the Brinton Museum in June put the finishing touches on a 23,000-square-foot expansion that rang up at $15.4 million. That has helped the museum draw in its own fairly prominent art show as it partners with the Western Rendezvous of Art in 2016, which used to be in Montana.

The museum staged its expansion through a $21 million fundraising campaign that will help set it up on an endowment to fund its future.

“That new building is amazing,” Shay said.

Casper

The Casper College, Casper Artists’ Guild and of course the Nicolaysen Art Museum anchor the Casper visual arts community. The guild set up art walks on the first Thursday of every month starting in June this year.

The Nicolaysen just completed a nearly $100,000 renovation on Sept. 8, and Shay bills it as “a great place.” The museum tends to feature contemporary Wyoming artists, with a current exhibit of deceased Jackson landscape artist Conrad Schwiering indicative of what the museum does.

The museum occupies a 25,000-square-foot building built in 1924 by the Mountain States Power Co. It was the sixth museum accredited by the American Association of Museums in 2009.

“It’s a real professional art museum,” Shay said. “It’s really well done. I guess it’s kind of an anchor to the arts in downtown Casper.”

Elsewhere

The arts community is growing in Wyoming, so this is necessarily far from exhaustive on what’s out there. Shay said Pinedale, Dubois, Laramie, Cheyenne and even Rock Springs all have their own offerings as well.

In other words, the key to finding the best art anywhere in the state is simply to look for it.

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