A painter works on location during Wild About Colorado, a plein air event that benefits the Continental Divide Land Trust.

Even in a state in which the citizens dearly love their landscape, someone must work in order for the land to be conserved. The Continental Divide Land Trust, in Colorado, channels the passion Coloradans have for their state into the acquisition and management of open space. 

It may seem like an easy job, but the task is large, and the pieces need to work together. “In the late 1990s we established a state lottery, and it’s in our state constitution that the money go to open space and habitat protection,” says Leigh Girvin, the executive director of the Continental Divide Land Trust (CDLT). “It embodies the ethic of our state. In Colorado, we have a lot to be fond of — it’s an incredibly beautiful state.”

Plein air artists are generally eager to participate in events benefiting land trusts in Colorado.

Girvin says it’s not just the proceeds from the state lottery. There are also tax incentives and credits in place to nudge developers into embracing land conservation, and to convince landowners to set aside land for open space. “They can benefit through the tax credit if they set aside part of the land for conservation,” Girvin says. She points out that actually, conservation benefits all. “We all need green space for health, for clean air and water, and for mental health,” she says. “People are happier when they have access to nature. It’s our fundamental roots, where we all came from.”

Art on display at Wild About Colorado

The CDLT’s efforts intersect with artists most notably in Wild About Colorado, a plein air festival held in July in Breckinridge, Colorado. “Plein air events address a different demographic than typical land conservation audiences,” says Girvin. “The people we attract with Wild About Colorado are interested in art, especially plein air, and want to participate in workshops and attend parties where art is for sale. And, of course, landscape artists need land to paint as their subject. This emphasizes that connection.”

The beauty of the state of Colorado offers plein air painters plenty of inspiration. 

Colorado has many plein air painters. It’s hard to say if it’s more because the state attracts painters or because Coloradans feel moved by the beauty to pick up a paintbrush. But finding plein air painters to participate in the land trust’s events is not a problem. “A number of artists contact us and ask if they can help,” says Girvin. “We look for a commitment to plein air. We want people who are willing to participate in paint-outs and are comfortable working within the constraints of plein air painting.”


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