Suzanne Hazlett personifies someone who is simultaneously left- and right-brained. The financial consultant and former vice president of Merrill Lynch is also an artist and co-founder and president of the Wood River Valley Studio Tour (WRVST), an annual event that allows the public to visit the working studios of the many professional artists in the Valley. Not an easy feat, Hazlett manages her own business while striving each year to elevate the experience of patrons of the Tour whether that means changing the time of year of the event to allow the maximum number of people to experience it or changing how information on the Tour is published. A powerhouse and expert multitask master, Hazlett truly personifies the entrepreneurial spirit of Sun Valley, furthering the town’s reputation as a world-class arts destination.
Although deeply enmeshed in the Sun Valley arts scene—both as a professional artist and as president of the Tour—Hazlett has spent the majority of her life working in finance. After graduating from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, Hazlett went on to get a Master of Business Administration from the Albers School of Business and Economics at Seattle University. She earned her Certified Investment Management Analyst, CIMA designation from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and promptly became a certified financial planner, rising up to the rank of vice president of Merrill Lynch in Seattle, her former home.
In 2002, she and husband Chuck Rumpf moved to Sun Valley permanently where Hazlett continued financial planning, ultimately founding HAZLETT WEALTH MANAGEMENT, LLC. At the time though, art wasn’t on her mind. “I did have a passion for art, but not necessarily creating it,” says Hazlett. “My undergraduate minor was in art history. I always felt I was a creative person with other avenues like home interiors and cooking and dinner parties, but it wasn’t until 2005 that something sparked for me in creating. That’s when I established my first art studio here in Ketchum.”
Hazlett began to dabble in encaustic work, expanding her art repertoire and meeting fellow artists in the Valley along the way. Seeing the Roaring Fork Studio Tour in Colorado inspired Hazlett to start to suss out interest in creating a tour of artists’ studios in the Wood River Valley, a much shorter distance to span at 18 miles versus the Roaring Fork tour which spanned a full 42. “We knew that there were potentially up to 100 professional artists in this Valley and then we discovered there were more than 200,” says Hazlett. “That made it feasible, the physical aspect of the Valley makes it easy to manage a trip up and down whether by bike or car or if visitors wanted to focus on one area, they could feasibly see many studios on foot.”
Thus, in 2012 the Wood River Valley Studio Tour was born. Co-founded with founding board members Brooke Bonner and Mary Williams, the first year of the Tour attracted the attention of 55 artists who participated (they anticipated only 25 would sign up). Since then, roughly 50 artists a year participate between the towns of Hailey, Ketchum, Bellevue, and Sun Valley.
The Tour has changed dates over the years, but the structure is always the same: members of the WRVST participate in a group exhibition displaying one work of art that represents the artist’s current body of work that may be viewed in their studio. Additionally, each artist donates an original 8”x8” work of art which is installed in a mosaic-like installation coined the Mosaic Project. Each of the artworks is available for purchase through an online auction that starts several weeks before the Tour and benefits the nonprofit event. The Mosaic Project is also exhibited in person at a selected location where the weekend also kicks off with a reception with the artists. Then follows two days (Saturday and Sunday) where locals and visitors alike are encouraged to explore as many open studios as they desire.
Aside from the small size of the Valley for doing a tour, many factors played into the success of this art event. “We have this dense abundance of creative entrepreneurs who chose to make the Valley home,” explains Hazlett. “What made the Tour come to fruition was simply hard work and lots of communication. We have worked to foster trust with the artists and with the visitor – to let them know that this was an opportunity to break down barriers whether real or imaginary to understand more about art, to be in the presence of that artist who also is feeling exposed and vulnerable as a visitor may be in asking a question. That artist is welcoming strangers, neighbors, friends into the space where their work is created. How much more intimate can you be as an artist?”
For more information visit wrvstudiotour.org.