Monday, December 29, 2008

Year-End Reflections

It's December 29, 2008, and I'm staring down a pile of year-end work, getting a bit introspective about the past year. In COPPeR-specific terms, we had a banner year. While several of our formal programs launched in 2007 (The COPPeR Pages, PeakRadar), 2008 was really the year we became "real." We moved into our downtown office and arts information space (and then moved across the street in August!), we hired full-time staff and we dove into our work connecting people with arts and cultural opportunities in the Pikes Peak region. From our collaborative "Art Creates Community" bumper sticker advocacy campaign to the inauguaral Arts and Business Awards Lunch we co-hosted with the Chamber; from the release of the Sounds of the Pikes Peak Region CD to the launch of our cultural planning process, it truly was an exciting year. I am very proud of the ways in which we have been telling the story of our strong creative community, but the fact is, we here at COPPeR are storytellers, and without the numerous artists, arts organizations, cultural institutions and arts educators in our community, we would have no story to tell.

That's why I feel it would be disingenuous to ignore the turmoil that is taking place around us. The past few months have been filled with economic uncertainty, and I believe it's time to get real about what we may face in the coming months. The current recession is unlike anything our country has faced in many, many years, and the new global economy is shifting and changing in an unprecedented manner. Here in Colorado, we often feel the effects of such events later than our friends on the coasts. (I have a friend in New York who works for Morgan Stanley and is a big supporter of the arts who posts daily status updates on facebook: "___ still has a job." He's been doing this since October.) For example, we are extremely fortunate that the housing market in the metro Colorado Springs area has not been affected by the mortgage crisis nearly as badly as other communities around the country.

However, the budgets of the City of Colorado Springs and El Paso County are in serious condition. Voters struck down ballot initiatives that would have provided essential services to our community. Sales tax revenues are down. Businesses are closing. Unemployment is up.

And unfortunately, in our society, the arts are often the first thing to be eliminated when times get tough. Nonprofit arts organizations are especially vulnerable when charitable giving is down across the board. Food banks are experiencing extremely high demand for their services, while simultaneously suffering from fewer donations. We as a society are trained to think of the arts as an auxiliary function to basic human existence and not as a core part of who we are. Of course you out there who are reading this know that is patently untrue. Now, in fact, it is more important than ever to recognize the importance of creativity, innovation and imagination. Our future depends on it.

And guess what? Times will continue to be tough. I was especially saddened this fall to see the closing of WeUsOur in Manitou. And coming up this week, Edifice Gallery is also closing its doors. Both commercial galleries, they served as incubators for fresh, young, hip and wacky talent that just isn't seen in many other galleries. Their openings always had imaginative urban art, great music and incredibly quirky people. I'm unsure how their closing will affect some of the younger art community. Similarly, Smokebrush has trimmed down their exhibition space and staff (though with some exciting new educational programs planned for Woodland Park). Unfortunately, I have a feeling we'll see more of this in early 2009.

The good part? I feel confident that we will see great insight and action from our established arts leaders. The Dream City initiative is connecting and enriching people across sectors to engage in long-term planning for our region, with the power of the arts at the core of its message. We also have many new arts leaders in our community, among them Nathan Newbrough at the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, Sam Gappmayer at the Fine Arts Center, Caitlin Green at the UCCS Gallery of Contemporary Art and incoming executive director Amber Cote at Futureself. What I find most inspiring, however, is the hundreds of individual artists who have felt inspired and empowered to become part of the broader community. We can and must depend on their vision and leadership if we are to succeed in making this a community united by creativity.

On a national level, we have an incoming president who is looking to celebrate the arts. Thanks to the superior advocacy work of Americans for the Arts, Obama is able to talk about the importance of the arts in a meaningful way. After the bitter 2008 election, this is good news for arts supporters.

When times get tough, people start having difficult conversations. I'm optimistic that those conversations will generate positive change and worthwhile activity. I encourage you to visit Westaf's year-end prediction post by clicking here. Also, check out the blogroll on the right column of this blog to see what other arts bloggers are talking about around the nation.

I hope to see you at a concert, play, opening, festival, coffee shop, class, workshop or some other creative place soon. Happy 2009!

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