It all started in the mid-1950s...
when master potter Betty Woodman convinced the City of Boulder to house its recreational pottery program in historic Fire Station #2 on University Hill. The Boulder Pottery Lab was the first city-supported pottery program in the country and was run by the Parks and Recreation Department for over 60 years. "When I started teaching there, there was one class, one evening a week, of seven people," she said in a 1991 interview. "Fifteen years later there were 400 students taking classes." It was so successful, in fact, that the Pottery Lab became a national model for other cities. Betty Woodman drew some of the most important local and national talent in ceramics to give workshops at the Lab. "It became a very big program."
For decades the Lab has served the Boulder community by providing accessible, affordable, high-quality ceramics education programs to people of all ages and abilities. Generations of Boulder families have walked through the historic firehouse doors on University Hill to participate in pottery classes and camps at the Lab. Many current adult students remember bringing their children or coming as a child themselves to pottery classes at the firestation, making the Pottery Lab a well-known and beloved local institution.
Studio Arts Boulder was founded in 2009 by Paul Heffron and staff, students, and friends of the Boulder Pottery Lab. They hoped to expand programs offered at the Lab and add other studio art forms. The "studio arts" are mediums that require equipment and facilities beyond the means of most individuals. Art forms such as ceramics, glass, metalworking, printmaking, sculpture, fiber arts, and woodworking typically require shared studio space and a collaborative environment to be successful. Mr. Heffron saw these art forms as the foundation for a showcase studio arts campus that would house multiple art forms in one central location and provide world-class instruction in each medium. With this vision, Studio Arts Boulder was launched and the search for a suitable home began.
Simultaneously, the City of Boulder began looking for a non-governmental organization to steward the Boulder Pottery Lab. Since the founders of Studio Arts Boulder had a deep relationship with the Lab and since ceramics was a vital component of the Studio Arts Boulder vision, overseeing operations of the Pottery Lab was a natural fit. Led by Lolita Higbie, Studio Arts Boulder signed a contract with the City of Boulder to take over management of the Pottery Lab on January 1, 2015.
After the initial three-year contract period, Studio Arts Boulder released the Momentum Report in 2018, showing the results of the Pottery Lab’s transition from city-run program to independent nonprofit. The report also outlines the future growth of the organization beyond the walls of the Pottery Lab, including the Studio Arts Bus (a mobile studio and gallery) and expansion into a second facility custom-built for community studio art education.