Expected to open in 2024, the new 11,000-square-foot Studio Arts facility will expand the work of the Pottery Lab (pictured here), which ceramicist, sculptor and painter Betty Woodman launched in the 1950s. Courtesy of Studio Arts Boulder

The legacy of ceramics artist Betty Woodman, the CU Boulder professor who died in 2018, is indelible in Boulder art circles and worldwide. Woodman was the first living woman to have a retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in 2006. Now, that legacy will be memorialized in an expanded Boulder arts studio that aims to continue what she began here decades ago.  

In the 1950s, Woodman launched the first city-sponsored pottery program in the country, funded by the Boulder Parks and Recreation Department. What began as a pottery class for seven students one night a week, grew over the years into a full-fledged program training hundreds of people.   

At the Pottery Lab at 1010 Aurora Avenue near Chautauqua — where it remains today — Woodman provided people access to expensive potter’s wheels and kilns to make tableware, mugs and flower vases. 

Eventually, her own work would propel the status of ceramics as fine art.   

Woodman “really wanted to challenge the divide between fine art and craft art,” said Kari Palazzari, executive director of Studio Arts Boulder, the organization that has run Pottery Lab programs since 2015 for the city. “We inherited that impulse, because a lot of our students make really beautiful pottery that’s also functional.” 

But the 3,200-square-foot studio Woodman founded has become too small to accommodate growing demand. The Pottery Lab has enough equipment for around 250 students to take weekly classes. There are 300 to 350 people on waitlists at any given time. 

Photos courtesy of Studio Arts Boulder/Salon 94

So when the developers of the new Diagonal Crossing neighborhood in northeast Boulder offered, in July 2018, to donate about three-quarters of an acre of land to Studio Arts as part of an effort to get city approval for housing, “we jumped at the opportunity,” Palazzari said.

For many Boulder arts organizations, revenue has fallen since the pandemic as competition for scarce city arts dollars and philanthropy has heated up. Plus, “it’s impossible to get land in Boulder,” Palazzari said. “Very few nonprofits own their own facility in Boulder.”

Expected to open in 2024, the new 11,000-square-foot facility will include teaching studios, event space and an art gallery. The Chautauqua location will continue operating as the Pottery Lab.

Expanding the Pottery Lab beyond pottery

In 2015, Boulder outsourced several city-run programs, including those at the Pottery Lab. Though the city still owns the Pottery Lab building, Studio Arts, in exchange for $1 yearly rent, leads classes with grants from the city through the Boulder Arts Commission (the most recent of which, in May, was for $20,000). Studio Arts is also spearheading the Pottery Lab’s expansion. 

The Yellow Room (2015) by Betty Woodman. “Combining ceramic forms with paintings was one of Betty’s hallmarks,” Studio Arts Boulder writes on its website about the piece. Courtesy of Studio Arts Boulder/Salon 94

Paul Heffron — a real estate broker, ceramics collector and former owner of Art Spirit Gallery in Idaho — started Studio Arts Boulder in 2009, with a handful of artists and Pottery Lab staff. The term — “studio arts” — refers to art created in, well, studios or other facilities with equipment that can be prohibitively costly for individuals to buy on their own.

Studio Arts will broaden Woodman’s original ceramics-making courses to include blacksmithing, woodworking, glass and printmaking at the new location. 

‘Community Benefit’ benefits Studio Arts

The 20-acre Diagonal Crossing neighborhood is lodged between the Diagonal Highway and the Foothills Parkway in northeast Boulder, across from the Pleasant View soccer fields. It sits atop one of the oldest oil fields in Colorado, according to city records

The neighborhood was annexed into the city in 1981, and over decades, various developers proposed different combinations of office space and mixed-use projects for the site. Boulder’s Planning Board rejected them on the basis that the location, between Diagonal Highway and Foothills Parkway, was isolated from transit options, businesses and services. 

But when the current developers — Trammell Crow, Allison Management and Thistle, a non-profit that manages affordable housing — added bike routes to their proposed housing plans, plus green space and sculpture paths, a restaurant, and the chunk of donated land to Studio Arts and Meals on Wheels of Boulder, the city saw more community benefit, according to Palazzari. (Under the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan, new housing developments typically have to provide some form of a “community benefit,” which includes increasing the number of affordable housing units or other means of achieving the plan’s land-use goals.)

The Planning Board and city council approved the Diagonal Crossing development in 2017.  Its apartments, about one-third of which are permanently affordable, were fully leased last year

The new Studio Arts building sits on about three-quarters of an acre of land that is worth roughly $1.7 million, according to Palazzari. Barrett Studio Architects designed the building with solar panels on the roof to power equipment, along with geothermal heat pumps. 

“That combination means we can capture heat from the room where the kilns are firing and send it to other parts of the building that are colder, and vice versa in the summer,” Palazzari said. “When regulating temperatures between spaces isn’t enough to keep the indoor climate comfortable, then the system will pull heat or coolness from the earth.” 

With building permits approved over the summer, Studio Arts will break ground once it receives the geothermal pipes, Palazzari said. 

At its new location, Studio Arts Boulder will broaden Woodman’s original ceramics-making courses to include blacksmithing, woodworking, glass and printmaking. Courtesy of Barrett Studio Architects

Members only: Another studio space opens

In the meantime, Studio Arts is raising money for a mobile pottery studio for classes and demonstrations in communities with limited access to the arts. The organization bought pottery wheels and installed them in a school bus donated by Boulder Valley School District right before the pandemic. 

The Spier Family Foundation, whose trustee lives in Boulder, gave Studio Arts a matching grant to finish the bus renovations last fall. This month, Studio Arts debuted the studio on wheels to fundraise for the last $10,000 and match the Spier Family Foundation’s grant. And in November, the bus will visit Studio Arts’ partners in 45 locations, including Emergency Family Assistance Association’s Boulder, Lafayette, Louisville and Longmont locations, Boulder Housing Partners neighborhoods and BVSD schools. 

Studio Arts Boulder debuted its studio on wheels in October 2022. Courtesy of Studio Arts Boulder

Studio Arts also supports more established ceramists who have pottery experience but not their own studio. 

Last month, it opened a membership studio space at 3063 Sterling Circle by Boulder Municipal Airport (which Studio Arts leases) can apply for 20 hours of weekly studio access, including storage space, glazes, clay and firing costs for $225 a month. In the same building, a few private studio spaces are available to artists of any medium who provide their own supplies, ranging from $400 to 1,250 a month.

“We’re pretty confident that the community is going to be enthusiastic about the programs,” Palazzari said of the new location’s offerings. “But whether that’s going to translate to needing a membership model, which is really for intermediate folks, in each of these art forms, that’s probably going to be further in the future.” 

Jessica Mordacq is a contributor to Boulder Reporting Lab focused on local food and drink coverage. Originally from the Chicago suburbs, she graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and has previously written for various trade and lifestyle magazines. Email: jessica@boulderreportinglab.org.

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