Creede is just like many other tiny mountain towns. It has beautiful views, a lot of hiking and recreation, and a place or two to meet friends and have a beer after work.

It also has those values that might seem old-fashioned to people who live in larger cities.

“Your neighbor may be the person who helps you out when you need something,” said Manuel Zarate, who said he has relied on those neighbors more than once, including a time when his dog went missing. “To me this is what America should be about—this is a place where you can have conversations even with the people who don’t agree with you.”

While Creede is set right into the Colorado Rockies, with enormous cliffs on either side of its main street, the thing that keeps residents there is not the mountains.

“I’m very fond of these people,” said Annie Butler.

The people. So when they decided to hold an art exhibit featuring the town’s beauty, they looked past the cliffs, and concentrated on something else.

“The opportunity to have a whole town willing to be painted is hard to pass up,” said Katrina Zarate, an artist from Portland, OR.

She painted 172 portraits—including more than 250 people in the town of about 500. The portraits are varied in styles. The people depicted are different ages, from babies to the oldest woman in town. But nearly every painting has something in common—a smile.

“I saw a lot of beards, a lot of plaid, and a lot of personalities,” Katrina Zarate said as she hung the exhibit in the town’s community center, which just happens to be a cave. “I’ve never done a show in a cave--this is definitely the most interesting place I’ve ever done a show.”

Zarate did not happen upon Creede and this opportunity by chance. She is the daughter of Manuel Zarate, the founder of HBMG Foundation, and part-time Creede resident. Manuel, along with his wife Ann Zarate, started the National Winter Playwrights Retreat, which is an opportunity for playwrights all over the country to come to Creede in the winter, write, and enjoy the outdoors.

The paintings Katrina worked on for a year, without accepting a paycheck or donation, will all be sold to support the retreat.

“Everyone who is painted has the opportunity to buy back or pay what they can,” Ann Zarate said. “Whether that’s $10, or $1,000, or $10,000.”

Ann Zarate said the economic impact of these playwrights coming into town for a handful of weeks in winter, gives Creede a shot in the arm during what is typically slow for tourism.

“It’s beginning to change the winter commerce and make a difference in the lives of people who really struggle in the wintertime, when there is no tourism, and there aren’t a lot of jobs,” Ann Zarate said.

Her husband Manuel said he has dreams for what this could bring to the town that already has a booming theatre scene in the summer, with the Creede Repertory Theatre.

“We want to turn this into a year round arts community, where dollars are coming in, feeding people’s lives,” Manuel Zarate said.

The exhibit is called Be the Art, and will be hanging up through the weekend of February 16th. After that, people are welcome to take the paintings home with them.

Annie Butler said the painting of her dog, Hercules, is going to have a spot of honor in her house.

“If I had a foyer, that’s where I’d put. I can’t wait to see you,” Butler said while snuggling Hercules.”

For Butler, the exhibit will show that the people in the town, even though they might look different, and have different political beliefs and opinions, always have each other’s backs.

“When we see each other’s portraits I think there will be some tears, laughter, and just an appreciation for everybody in this town,” Butler said.

Rhonda Brown, owner of Arp’s restaurant in downtown Creede agreed.

“We’re about helping each other, and loving each other, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the whole wide world,” Brown said.

To learn more about the National Winter Playwrights Retreat go to their website: http://www.hbmgfoundation.org/foundation/writers-retreats.aspx

To see more of Kristina Zarate’s work, go to her website: https://www.petiteastudios.com/