On Saturday September 10, among the many artistic events in the Upper Arkansas Valley, was an open house for a new concept in community space in Buena Vista. The Watershed, which harkens to the Upper Arkansas Valley area it serves, is located in the unassuming former U.S. Forest Service office at 410 E. Main St. between Simple Eatery and Jailhouse Craft Beer Bar. It houses Katy Welter and Rick Bieterman, a couple from Chicago who found the old building for sale during a trip here and had a vision of its potential. “I guess we are moving to Colorado,” Bieterman recalls that conversation.

Part of realizing the dream of a community-based arts incubator and classroom space was bringing out New York artist Micah Ling as a resident. Ling displays her Colorado-inspired photography and poetry at The Watershed, showcasing the gallery function of this multi-faceted space. On Saturday, Ling read her work and hosted a reception where she shared the idea behind her recent project. We learned that a smitten Ling has relocated to the area as a byproduct of her involvement in the project.

Micah Ling

Ling’s installation is entitled Point of Interest, drawing from the familiar state road signs placed near the sights and crossings of Colorado. As a New Yorker, Ling found these, and other signs, to be a window into thinking about her new cultural surroundings in Colorado as compared to the greater context of New York and the outsider. The result is quirky and insightful. For instance, in Ling’s eyes the photo of a ubiquitous tractor crossing sign blends with the ideal pastoral scene behind it, with blue sky, puffy clouds and grazing cattle. In her printed poetic commentary below the photo: “Only a farmer on a tractor would make this scene complete.” 

Thoughts from the city upon seeing a country road .

She interprets other signs for us, some literally, others impressionistically, but all with a sense of humor. Some of her discoveries were meant for this show, it seems. An animal-crossing sign that had been graffiti altered to a centaur crossing is fodder for her imaginative explanations. “If he entered a race, would he be his own jockey?” Micah finds deep meaning in a dog-walking sign, person and dog. “Have you seen a person and dog so perfectly matched that you wonder if they’re not literally related? That exists here.”

Ling’s installation flows throughout the Watershed building, but the space is also available for community groups to hold meetings. The front room has housed the Surf Factory for the last few months as they incubated the business. Welter uses her training as an attorney to assist businesses like the Colorado Surf Factory with organizing their ventures. Bieterman has been able to bring in his training as a science educator to create classes and partnerships with BV schools and youth.

The back classroom space is adapted for multiple types of presentations while maintaining a cozy feel, complete with antique couches saved from the Tabor Opera House renovation and an old-timey turntable for music. They hope to have an outdoor classroom space by spring. The possibilities are still being realized for The Watershed, and Welter and Bieterman are soliciting community involvement to help steer their venture into a public utility that can foster creativity and bring creatives together in a central BV location.

Welter and Bieterman live in Leadville and have invested emotionally in the Upper Ark Valley for the long term. They met on a backpacking and outdoor leadership trip in Colorado, and although the change from Chicago is an adjustment, it has inspired them, like Micah Ling, to rethink their lives in just the right way.