DCI Member Profile, Maria Cocchiarelli Berger, Museum of Friends, Walsenburg

11/03/2017 12:24 PM | Kylie Brown

By Eileen O'Brien, Outreach and Membership Specialist, DCI

Maria Cocchiarelli Berger has been an artist her whole life, a public artist actually, working on murals, garden reclamations and anything that speaks to the environment, inequity and racism in our culture. She has a BA in Art History and a BFA in painting, but her “life” degree should be in perseverance. 

With the idea that she would go for her MFA in New York, so she could teach art on a college level, she decided in the summer of 2001 to apply for an art program that was housed in the World Trade Towers. Sadly, all her slides and application went up in smoke on September 11. But she pushed on and got her MFA at Queens College, City of NY University, where she reconnected with a longtime friend and colleague, Brendt Berger. It was destiny as they grew closer and discussed how they each had amassed a personal art collection throughout the years from their artist friends and associates. Maria and Brendt married in 2006, and the idea of creating a permanent home for their life-long art collections was just a “twinkle in their eyes.” That twinkle became a reality when they started renovating a building in downtown Walsenburg, the Roof and Dick. The building would open in October 2007 as the Museum of Friends. The museum is now listed in The Art in America Guide to Museums, Galleries and Artists, as the only counterculture museum in the U.S. and the Roof and Dick building was put on the Historic Register for Colorado in 2016!

The art was all part of their personal collections and grows each and every day with another generous gift. The collection includes the works of over 250 artists including Richard Mock, Robert Rauschenberg, Yoko Ono, Peter Max and Dean Flemming, to name a few. It was Brendt’s relationship with Dean Flemming that led to his discovery of Walsenburg and the building that would eventually become the Museum of Friends. Brendt and Dean would visit Drop City on their trips to California. Eventually, Dean would create his own art community in Libre, where he lives even today and Brendt bought a place in Gardner. He and Maria eventually moved closer to the town.  

And so Walsenburg became their home and their love of art coincides with the Bergers’ interest in developing the downtown area of Walsenburg and raising the visibility and awareness of contemporary art in Walsenburg and the region. Indeed, Maria says that “Walsenburg and the area around it, is a burgeoning artists community.” Maria and Brendt quickly realized that being an advocate for the museum would also involve being an advocate for Downtown Walsenburg. And, this is where DCI comes into our story!

Being a DCI Member - Maria has been a member of DCI for three years now. She learned about DCI in 2012, when DCI did a Downtown Assessment and Plan for the City of Walsenburg. Since then, they have implemented many pieces of that plan and earlier this year DCI had a URA Training event there. And at the 2017 DCI Annual Conference in Breckinridge, the city was accepted as one of the conference’s Challenge Studio’s. Maria was a participant in the challenge about sustainable financing for cultural amenities. (Read the full report on this Challenge Studio here!) Maria said “Being on a Challenge Studios with our peers really gave us clout! It helped us talk about who to collaborate with in the community and how to discover mutual ideas in order to find support for all the cultural amenities in the downtown area.”

(If you want to nominate YOUR community to be a Challenge Studio Topic for our next conference, CLICK HERE for more information.)


Join DCI as we help celebrate and support Museum of Friends GALA to raise funds to support their $199,000 award from History Colorado! In order to get the award, they have to raise another $66,000 in matching funds! We will be in Walsenburg all day and night December 2ndFrom 4:30 PM – 6 PM, DCI will be having a Downtown Institute for Business: Small Business Thriving in an Amazon World.

Then, come with us to the “Save the Roof and Dick” GALA Benefit on Saturday, December 2, from 7 to 10 pm with Go Ask Alys Catering, live music and a huge art sale of local and national artists. For tickets visit the link event title above and for more information about the museum, call 719-738-2858 or write to Maria at mcocchiarelli@gmail.com

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