This year, 2023, is the 60th anniversary of the Art Association. Before diving into where we are today, the progression and growth of the Art Association is better shown through time travel.
Let’s go back in time when the town of Jackson looked very different than it does today. The “winters of elk and crackers,” late founding member of the Art Association Georgie Morgan recalls, was a time during the 1950s which was very difficult for local residents in Jackson. Many folks subsisted on elk and crackers as their main food supply, devoid of the luxuries of today’s streets lined with delicious restaurants and accessible grocery stores that seem to defy the surrounding mountains.
Winters were harsh, and folks didn’t have the same comforts that they do today to help them survive the season. Today, we create barriers from the elements with our thick down jackets and customizable microclimates in our houses. People have been braving this harsh place for thousands of years, starting with Indigenous Peoples, which we see evidence of over 10,000 years ago around the Tetons. The first non-native permanent residents in the valley didn’t show up until 1884. These homesteaders did their best to survive out here, but the harsh winters, short growing season, and violent weather patterns made for a challenging time. Settlers quickly realized that nurturing people’s fascination with the wild west was the best way to make money, through dude ranching and other tourism pursuits. The folks that did make cattle ranching work were few and far between, but the pride they felt in making it work is still felt to this day in many legacy ranches. Even with leaning into tourism, people still struggled to make it work here, especially during the harsh winters.
There was a culture that emerged in the snowy mountain town of Jackson, a culture that we still work to cultivate, nurture, and preserve to this day. This culture involved the creation of art. There are records of humans creating art since long before we started to preserve pieces in museums and records; specifically, the first recorded piece of visual art was from 45,500 years ago of hand painted pigs in ochre. However, something very unique happened in Jackson that goes beyond mere creation. In the early 1960s – people started to come together to create. This new culture fostered a community of art lovers that created, shared, and marketed their art to survive in this mountain town. The Art Association was founded during a time of low employment in Jackson, with the goal of helping people develop their craft and art skills to supplement summer’s wages, while also creating a vibrant arts community.
2023 marks the 60th anniversary of the Art Association, and also marks the 60th year that people have been coming together in Jackson to create. As the oldest visual art nonprofit in the valley, we are proud to have created the founding community dedicated to nurturing art, and still to this day supporting that same mission – encouraging a vital, creative community by providing everyone with exposure to, education in and enjoyment of a wide variety of art experiences.
Just a few weeks ago in December we had our annual Holiday Bazaar, a tradition that was started in 1966 by the Art Association. In 1966, people gathered in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church to sell handmade knitted wool mittens, leather belts and bags, ceramic bowls – all of which you will still find at Holiday Bazaars today. Keeping warm and having a vessel to put your food in was still a priority then like it is now in the 21st century. Even in that time, people were creating and selling a variety of mediums of visual arts such as paintings and drawings. By selling their artistic wares and work, people found new ways to survive the harsh winters when naturally there was less income from tourism and agriculture pursuits. Today, artists still use art fairs to help them make a living so that they can continue to do what they love – create.
This can be a harsh, but also beautiful place. To many artists past and present, the importance of trying to capture the beauty of this breathtaking landscape and express one’s interactions with it through visual art is a vital part of surviving here, as much as food and shelter is. The Art Association recognizes this need, and works to create a place that nurtures these creators while also inspiring emerging artists of all ages and backgrounds. Here, the word “artist” isn’t reserved for any one kind of person, it can be anyone with the desire to create.
In 1985, the Art Association offered 25 classes, serving 260 students (111 adults and 149 youth). In 2022, the Art Association offered 300 classes, serving 2,290 students (586 adults and 1704 youth). The impact that the organization has on the community of Jackson has grown exponentially over the years, and will continue to grow in the coming years with your support. Our membership community supports us as we support them in their artistic pursuits. As the Art Association enters its 60th anniversary, we are continuing to support the legacy and honor the history of this vital Jackson community staple.
What will folks in 60 years say about how people live now? We hope that they recount how hard we work to foster a vibrant artistic community, how much we try to make the arts accessible to everyone, and last but not least, how much we love to create with others. Let’s make 2023 a year that history won’t forget because of our impact on the thriving arts community that we started during the winters of elk and crackers. We’ve grown so much since then, and we’re excited to grow more during our 60th anniversary and beyond.