Sunday profile: Amy Kimberly knows how to create community
Anyone who has attended the singing, dancing, drumming, fire twirling, limbo bending, log splitting summer celebration that Carbondale calls its Mountain Fair would agree — Amy Kimberly knows how to throw a party.
Kimberly has directed the annual festival since 2004, but her history of music promotion goes much further back, to 1984 when she and a partner purchased the Fly Me To The Moon Saloon in Telluride.
“I had no idea what owning a nightclub meant — at that time I was a theater gal,” Kimberly said. “But we had the “Moon” for 18 years during the jamband heydays. We were one of those off-the-beaten-path kind of places to play. We had many historical nights.”
Fly Me To The Moon Saloon was the first venue that the band Phish ever played outside their home state of Vermont, and members of the Telluride-based String Cheese Incident also worked the door and made stained glass windows for the bar.
Coming to Carbondale
Kimberly moved to Carbondale in 2001 to become the development director at KDNK radio where she also voiced a popular show called “The Shimmy Shack.”
But with her background at the “Moon,” as director of Telluride Arts for five years, and helping create the Telluride AIDS benefit, Planet Bluegrass and other festivals, Kimberly had bigger plans.
After taking over as Mountain Fair director, she immersed herself in the Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities, as it was then known, eventually moving to a full-time position with the nonprofit in 2008.
“I always knew I was destined to be in the Arts Council,” Kimberly said. “So I spent many hours above and beyond what I got paid to keep building the council up.”
She assisted then-director Ro Mead until 2011, when Kimberly’s festival background helped her move into the director’s position.
“They realized that not everyone could run a festival — the talents of a nonprofit director are not always the same as are needed to run a festival,” she said. “So they realized they had to break out the fair director job from the main job, and they knew I knew how to run a festival.”
When Mead lost her battle with cancer and died in 2015, Kimberly stepped into the dual role again as director of both Carbondale Arts and the Mountain Fair.
Making Mountain Fair happen
The logistics of creating a festival as big as Mountain Fair — lining up the music, vendors and events — is a huge undertaking. But Kimberly credits the more than 300 people who volunteer each year for keeping the Fair rolling.
“A lot of it is tapping into what the community is feeling and how to bring the community together — people feel like it’s theirs, so everybody really makes it happen,” she said. “Basically, people just show up and bring what they have.
“Any crisis we’ve ever had, literally without anyone even knowing there’s a crisis, would be solved by some random person showing up and saying ‘hey, I’ve got this,’ whatever it is.”
Kimberly said that when the Fair first started in 1972, two rules were made: No visible sponsorships, and the majority of the fair has to be run by volunteers.
“As long as we honor those two things, it runs beautifully,” she said. “We might not make as much money as we would if we got sponsorships, but what we’re doing maintains the integrity of the fair.”
The Fair has always been free, but Kimberly said that every year someone brings up the idea of charging an entry fee.
“People say, ‘why don’t you charge to get in? Think how much money you could make,’ and every year that is the one idea we always nix,” she said.
“The fair is something that benefits so many people in the community. So, it’s main purpose is not to make as much money as we can. The main purpose is to keep our community coming together once a year, and spreading the wealth out among the community.”
The annual Mountain Fair runs next weekend, Friday through Sunday, at Sopris Park in Carbondale.
Kimberly was presented in May with the prestigious Governor’s Creative Leadership Award, an accolade she called “a real honor.
“When you’re in a room with 350 colleagues from around the state and they give you a standing ovation, that was really powerful,” she said.
The award, she feels, was for all the good work Carbondale Arts does, including integrating the community, working on bigger issues like affordable housing, and wayfinding and connecting the community’s different cultures.
“I think of it as the work I’ve been doing since way back when I was in Telluride,” she said. “It’s been many years of trying to keep communities strong.”
An unintended side effect of the work Kimberly does, she said, is that it eventually makes her community more desirable to a greater number of people, thus raising the community’s cost of living.
“It’s a conundrum — how do you find that balance of bringing community together and making an awesome place to live and still maintain the cost of living to be affordable?” she said. “That’s why it’s so crucial for artists and creatives to sit at the table and try to solve some of these problems, because we have to think outside the box.”
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