A fascinating blend of Old and New West‚ Cheyenne is a city where arts‚ culture and style are in full bloom.
That comes as a surprise to many first-time visitors‚ who associate the city only with cows‚ cowboys and its annual Frontier Days celebration. While Cheyenne is justly proud of its Western heritage‚ it is just as proud of its professional symphony orchestra and its thriving community theater‚ as well as three choral groups‚ outdoor Cheyenne music concerts‚ Shakespeare in the park‚ museums‚ art galleries and an “art walk” tour‚ a botanical garden‚ and much more.
“Our fame developed because of the cowboy world‚ and while that is extremely important‚ it is not our only facet‚” says local historian Bill Dubois. “Cheyenne is truly blessed with a lot of culture. There’s something here for everybody.”
The citizens’ love of culture has its roots in the city’s past. In the late 1800s‚ Cheyenne was peopled with rich cattle barons who wanted to recreate some of the high culture they had left behind on the East Coast and in Europe. At one time the largest city on the rail line between Chicago and San Francisco‚ Cheyenne had several opera houses and attracted some of the country’s finest performers.
L.T. “Larry” Atwell‚ president of the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce‚ says Cheyenne was once No. 1 in millionaires per capita. “It was a very upscale community‚” he says‚ as evidenced by historic photographs of ceremonial events showing men attired in suits‚ ties and hats – “and not bolo ties and cowboy hats!”
Today‚ the 1‚500-seat Cheyenne Civic Center provides the stage for performing artists from near and far‚ with a 2003-04 season that includes The Music Man‚ John Tesh‚ Natalie Cole and Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance.
It is also home to the Cheyenne Symphony Orchestra‚ which carries 110 paid musicians on its roster – unusual for a city of 60‚000 – and attracts strong community support.
“When it comes to backing the arts‚ Cheyenne is a very generous community‚ both in terms of corporate and individual sponsors and in terms of coming out to see performances‚” says Chloe Illoway‚ executive director of the orchestra‚ which is heading into its 50th season.
The 75-year-old Cheyenne Little Theatre Players group also has enjoyed robust patronage‚ drawing about 17‚000 people a year to its performances. “The generosity of this community when it comes to the arts matches its caring and generous spirit as a whole‚” says Managing Director Randy Oestman.
The visual-arts scene is equally vibrant. Harvey Deselms‚ owner of the Deselms Fine Art Gallery‚ says most of the throngs attending a national art show held each summer are interested in collecting and buying‚ but “it’s a social event‚ too. People like to come out and see and be seen and just be part of the arts community.”
“Cowboy High Style” is how the elegant Plains Hotel – a proud fixture of Cheyenne for nearly a century – describes itself‚ and the phrase suits the city as well. That Cheyenne is comfortable living with both its Western image and high-culture heritage is exemplified by the name of its largest fund-raising event‚ “Denim and Diamonds‚” a gala that supports the United Medical Center in Cheyenne.
“It seems like the whole community does everything‚ from rodeos to art shows‚” Deselms says‚ adding with a laugh‚ “There can’t be too much of a sense of competition – there aren’t that many of us‚ so we have to get along.”
Looking at the city from his historical perspective‚ Dubois says it continues to be “a fun mix – one of the reasons those who live here love Cheyenne. Just because you like opera doesn’t mean you can’t like country music and vice versa‚ and here in Cheyenne‚ we’ve got it all.”