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COVID prompts art of a different breed in downtown Longmont

Former Downtown business owner explores her newest passion in art.

How much is that doggie in the window? Cynthia Barnes could probably give you a reasonable price on a portrait, if the dog in question is yours.

After six years in Longmont, Inspiration Art Academy closed its doors in April of this year. Barnes had always aspired to art, to being an artist. She studied art in college, honing her craft, but eventually shifting her focus into art therapy and teaching the deaf for her master’s. She taught in public schools for 23 years, from New York and Chicago to Africa and Turkey. After 13 years in one district, she came across the Main Street location that would become the home of Inspiration Art Academy.

Leaving public school to start her own business opened up more time with her family, and more importantly, more time to pursue her own art. Barnes still taught kids, encouraged their creativity and showed them opportunities for critical thinking and problem-solving through art, only without the grades. She even began teaching sewing classes for her daughter and friends. Within a few years she was hosting 12 classes a week.

Fast forward to 2020, with the renewal of the Art Academy’s lease looming, Barnes was happy with the work, and with the students she still got to inspire. She had originally intended to renew the lease on the space for another three years, until the COVID-19 pandemic struck. With the closure it became more apparent renewing the space could prove detrimental financially, as well as for the safety of the families that supported Inspiration Art Academy.

That doesn’t mean Barnes is giving up on art. Her love of painting, of beauty and the joy that comes from pets has continued to open up opportunities for her.

“My goal was always ultimately to be an artist,” she said. “And I thought OK, well, let’s try that. So the pet portraits and wedding bouquets are what I’m focusing on really hard on right now.”

Barnes feels the advent of social media has made this an ideal time to be an artist. “The world is my market,” she said. “And so things in the past where it’s weird, like I only paint purple wizards that fly or whatever, there’s a market for that.”

While pursuing the opportunity to make the art she enjoys the most, Barnes didn’t rule out a return for Inspiration Art Academy when the world begins to stabilize again. In the meantime, she’s had the opportunity to be the artist in residence at the Longmont Downtown Development Authority and paint her puppy portraits to share with the world.

“Having Cynthia in our space has been a fantastic addition. We love to see her paintings evolve and we get community members who come in to look at the art. She is always full of ideas and creativity, which adds great value in our office environment,” said LDDA Executive Director Kimberlee McKee.

Barnes’ work has inspired Del Rae Heiser, downtown specialist for LDDA, to consider a painting as a gift. “I have commissioned Cynthia to do a small portrait of my sister’s dog. I’ve seen an initial sketch and she really captured his essence. She also had an option of painting on wood versus canvas, which I think is a nice alternative. I can’t wait to see the final portrait!”

More of Barnes' art can be found on her website.