Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top 11 of 2009

Top ten lists are everywhere these days, so I figured I'd jump on the bandwagon. There is no way to list all the amazing creative events that took place in the past year. There were hundreds of concerts, plays, art openings, festivals and musical events that showcased the amazing talent in the Pikes Peak region. Here are the top eleven of oh-nine, that I believe had a strong impact on our community, in no particular order:
  • Stargazers Theater opened as a much-needed music venue in the old Colorado Music Hall building. Owners Cindy and John Hooten host blues, Americana and lots of other music, as well as offering space for community events like the Pikes Peak Arts Council Awards and Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day.
  • Poetry While You Wait, a project designed by first-ever Pikes Peak Poet Laureate Aaron Anstett, launched with books of poetry, table tents and posters with local poems in places you'd least expect it. More than 25 poems by local poets were on display, and an exhibit of poetry at the Fine Arts Center Modern also opened in April to celebrate National Poetry Month.

  • Dream City: Vision 2020 hosted visioning sessions across the community and had a specific focus on arts and culture as a means for envisioning a thriving community. The process engaged artists young and old in arts contests and made a special effort to educate people on our rich arts and cultural legacy. More than 300 people attended the Dream City summit in July, where an arts and culture vision statement was unveiled.

  • The Pikes Peak Arts Fest brought thousands of people to America the Beautiful park in downtown Colorado Springs to see art and performances. Despite taking place during a hundred-year flood, tourists and locals alike flocked to the park for the cultural experience, opening their pocketbooks to purchase art by the carloads.

  • The ModBo opened its doors in summer. This funky gallery space (its name is a hybrid of the words "modern" and "bohemian," in case you were wondering), in concert with neighbor gallery Rubbish, has breathed new life into the dark alley we like to call the "Alley Arts District." Owners Lauren Ciborowski and Brett Andrus hold monthly art openings, open-mic poetry, live bands, and classical music salons.

  • The Colorado Springs Youth Symphony Association kicked off its 30th anniversary season in Fall 2009. Educating young musicians since 1979, the CSYSA continues its tradition of presenting excellent training and also acting as musical ambassadors for the Pikes Peak region. Conductor and co-founder Gary Nicholson will take the Youth Symphony to perform at the Sydney Opera House in Australia and the Wind Symphony will perform at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in 2010.

  • The Meadowgrass Music Festival launched this summer with two days of music, food and brewskis at the beautiful La Foret grounds in Black Forest. Despite intense rain and cold temperatures, music lovers shivered under ponchos, enjoying the dulcet tones of local musicians like Edith Makes a Paperchain and John Alex Mason alongside national acts like Magnolia Electric Company and Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles. When the sun did come out, the crowd celebrated. We hope this becomes an annual tradition that requires sunscreen in the future.

  • The Colorado College Summer Music Festival celebrated its 25th anniversary. This festival has a devoted following and brings the finest in chamber music and orchestra to the Pikes Peak region. This year, the orchestra commissioned a piece by Patrick Zimmerli, which was inspired by the architecture of the Cornerstone Arts Center. The performance of that piece included video projection of the building and an exhibit at the I.D.E.A. Space, and the evening was an exemplary model of the interdisciniplanary programs the Cornerstone was designed to inspire.

  • The Colorado Springs Philharmonic launched their new Vanguard series, a concert series featuring 20th century composers as well as past masters, in order to expose Pikes Peak region audiences to contemporary work. This series was a bold move for an orchestra in this economy, as was Executive Director Nathan Newbrough's decision to slash ticket prices for new subscribers. The risk paid off--audiences are responding to the new energy, and subscriptions are up for the orchestra: good news in this uncertain economy.

  • The Cottonwood Center for the Arts opened triumphantly in May, with thousands of visitors streaming through the doors during opening weekend. Cottonwood's new home features two huge galleries, teaching classrooms, a kiln yard and ceramic studio, and more than 65 individual artists' studios. It is a bustling hub of creativity in downtown Colorado Springs, and their last Friday openings are packed.

  • And if I may say so, I do believe that COPPeR has made a real difference in 2009 through our work connecting people to fantastic opportunities like the ones above. Just a smattering of our accomplishments in 2009: we published the second edition of The COPPeR Pages, our free guidebook to all the arts and cultural organizations in El Paso and Teller counties, the traffic at our calendar website grew 50% from 2008, we collaborated with the Chamber to host a successful 2nd annual Business and Arts Luncheon, we hosted a number of bootcamps designed to help arts organizations survive the recession, we continued to support local music by co-sponsoring the lively Showcase at Studio Bee concerts at the Pikes Peak Center, continuing our research to complete a cultural plan for the region. And of course, there is the ongoing, essential work we do every day to advocate for the value of the arts as essential to our communities--from the economy to education, from helping seniors to youth education, from public policy to neighborhoods. If you feel the work we are doing is making a difference, please consider making a tax-deductible gift to COPPeR by clicking here. Thank you!
What were some of the most meaningful arts experiences that really had an impact on the community in 2009? Please feel free to share in the comments below. As I said earlier, there is no way to list them all. I will lift a glass tonight to celebrate all the accomplishments of the past year and I eagerly look forward to seeing what 2010 will bring!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

How Art Saved My Life

The following essay was read today at Tony Babin's memorial service. Please enjoy and share with others. If you'd prefer to download and print a PDF, please click here.

How Art Saved My Life

By Tony Babin (1957-2009)

Adolescence is a hard time for all of us. I know I had it rough. At 16 I was a 350-pound fat kid with bad acne whose only friends were girls. I sucked at sports, but excelled in choir and the Forensics Team. I had won every tournament the Forensics Team went on in my category of “Dramatic Interpretation.” I was religious. I was a junior deacon, a member of the church choir, and often the featured soloist for Sunday sermons. My grandmother’s favorite was my rendition of “How Great Thou Art.”
I also had a terrible secret. I was gay. Of course, at that age and in that time in a small farm town, I wasn’t sure of what that was. I just knew I was different and that all the jocks in school called me a fag.
I remember our church hosting what was called “The Lay Witness Mission,” which was basically lay church members giving testimonials. It was a revival of sorts. On the last Sunday, we were told to write on a piece of paper something in your life you want to change. We were then to lay that piece of paper on the altar and then they led us in a group prayer that was supposed to address the piece of paper. I wrote “I am a queer” on my piece of paper and folded it about eight times to make sure no one else would see it, and I left it on the altar and prayed. I prayed hard. I asked God to show me a sign. I was only 16.
I waited and waited for some kind of answer from God. After a few weeks, I decided that there was no answer. I became depressed and started thinking about suicide a lot.
Then, one Monday in school, our choir teacher told us that we would be participating in the entertainment tent when the Art Train came to town. Yes! The Art Train was coming to our town!! For those of you who don’t know what that is, the Art Train was a project funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. A train was loaded up with masterpiece works of art and then it toured the country stopping in small towns across America for farm kids and migrant workers to experience and see. Our whole town was abuzz! My speech teacher convinced me to sign up to do stand-up comedy and dramatic monologues. I did.
There I was, a 16-year-old fat gay kid with pimples standing up on a makeshift stage in a tent doing a monologue from “Death of a Salesman” and looking out into a crowd of strangers who were crying. Later, as I was telling jokes, those strangers were laughing.
It is hard to describe the feeling I felt as I stood in that dark room sharing laughter and tears with a crowd of strangers.
When it was my turn to board the train and see the artwork, I was filled with excitement and a sense of awe. As I walked down the corridors looking at the beautiful works, I was stopped by a reproduction of Michelangelo’s painting “Creation of Man.” I stood there for a long time with tears in my eyes until they eventually ran down my cheeks. It was one of the most emotion-stirring paintings I had ever seen. I am not sure why it touched me the way it did at that time. I was so afraid someone would see me crying in front of a painting and my big secret would be out. I looked to my right, and there was a little old lady with white hair and a lace collar. She was crying too. She looked over at me and said, “Isn’t it beautiful?” and handed me a tissue from her purse. She then took my hand and patted it and walked on down the corridor.
At that moment I could see my destiny before me very clearly. I knew that I would move to a bigger town, become an actor, and all thoughts of suicide and being different and not fitting in seemed not to matter so much.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized why that particular painting had touched me so deeply. And it wasn’t until years later that I realized that the Art Train was the sign from God I was waiting for.
Now, whenever I see a news story about arts funding being cut from schools and art programs being dropped or dismissed as not being a necessary part of the curriculum, I can’t help but get sad. Somewhere, there is an overweight teenager who feels like a misfit, whose only hope of feeling a part of something is being taken away. Art has the power to heal, to change lives, to answer prayers, to make us all feel like we are part of the Cosmic Dance. Art is more important than any sporting event can ever hope to be.
Art saved my life.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tony Babin,

Beloved actor and director Tony Babin, founder of the Upstart Theatre Company and the Upstart Gay and Lesbian Theatre Festival, died of a heart attack Wednesday.

Tony was a force of energy and a genuinely kind man. He will be dearly missed.

The Gazette's Arts blog is collecting memories. Please click here to visit and post your own.

UPDATE: Memorial Celebration will take place Wednesday, December 16, 2-4 p.m. at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.

Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Theatre, 30 W. Dale St.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Welcome to the neighborhood, UCCS

Our mini-cultural district in downtown Colorado Springs is getting a new member! UCCS, representatives of Nor’wood Development Group and the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center announced last week that the space which has been known as the FAC Modern will be reborn as the UCCS Gallery of Contemporary Art 121, or GOCA 121, and will continue to build on the long tradition of contemporary art exhibits at UCCS. Caitlin Green, interim director, Gallery of Contemporary Art, said the new venue provides an opportunity to reach new audiences and develop a forum for critical discourse on contemporary art. GOCA 121 will be situated between two other downtown creative centers, us at COPPeR and the fabulous foodies at Nosh. The FAC Modern’s final exhibition closed Nov. 13. UCCS will open its first exhibit Feb. 5, 2010. More when that comes around.

We're sad to see the FAC move out, as they have been excellent neighbors, but we also understand. “The FAC MODERN served us well,” said FAC President and CEO Sam Gappmayer. “We will be forever grateful to the generosity of Chris Jenkins and Nor’wood Development for providing the Fine Arts Center and its patrons this amazing space. The MODERN allowed us to continue to present world-class exhibitions without interruption during our expansion. But the time has come for us to pay it forward. We couldn’t be more pleased to hand off the MODERN to UCCS and their talented gallery director Caitlin Green, who will bring exciting programming to the Plaza of the Rockies.”

We're delighted to welcome GOCA 121 and UCCS to the neighborhood, and we look forward to co-hosting Friday art opening receptions with GOCA 121 in the new year.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Cal Otto

Sad news last week from the Pikes Peak Library District:

"Calvin Otto, our Pikes Peak Library District Board of Trustees member and champion of literacy, historical preservation, and community engagement, died Monday, November 23. His death is a great loss to our library family and the community that we serve.

For those of you who did not have an opportunity to know Cal personally, here, in brief, are some of the things he did on our behalf:

Cal’s involvement with us spanned nine years, during which time he co-founded All Pikes Peak Reads and the Regional History Symposium, orchestrated the development of the PPLD Foundation, established an endowment to support Special Collections programming in perpetuity, fostered PPLD’s partnerships with UCCS THEATREWORKS and the World Affairs Council, and worked tirelessly on projects such as the 1905 Carnegie Garden, Fountain Branch Project, and others.

Cal attended every Summer Reading Party during his tenure, never missed an opportunity to represent the Trustees to staff and the public, and treated everyone he encountered in a gracious and genuine way.

Before coming to Colorado Springs, Cal founded the American Ephemera Society, The Virginia Festival of the Book, and served on the Vermont Council of the Humanities, The Virginia Humanities Council, and eventually Colorado Humanities.

Cal is survived by his wife, Patricia Otto; his daughter Sharon Mertens, Gary H. Mertens, and grandson Christopher Mertens; his son James R. Otto, Laurel Otto, and grandson Nicholas Otto.

A memorial service will be held Friday, December 4 at 2 p.m. at Broadmoor Community Church, 315 Lake Ave. All Pikes Peak Library District facilities will close at 1 p.m. on December 4 to allow staff to attend if they so choose.

If you wish to make memorial dedication, donations to the PPLD Foundation have been requested by the family in lieu of flowers."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Eight Years of Cultural Resurgence

Last week a number of folks gathered for a discussion about the state of the arts in the Pikes Peak region. Hosted by the Bee Vradenburg Foundation, about 45 people gathered to talk about how to capitalize on the momentum gathered in the past few years and move forward to continue to capitalize on the incredible depth and breadth of our arts scene. Check out this slide show to see what we're talking about!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Rocco Landesman announces new direction for NEA

At the 2009 Grantmakers in the Arts conference, Rocco Landesman laid out his new direction for the National Endowment for the Arts. Click here to read his full remarks.

In it, he talks about the need for optimism. "Art is the most optimistic of activities: the ballerina standing en pointe or being thrown high into the air, lovers breaking into song in musicals, painters through history rendering success in war and hunting, or religious imagery or the exuberant discovery of new forms and shapes, the thrilling, spontaneous riff of a jazz saxophonist, the emotional release of comedy, even tragedy in the Aristotelian sense of catharsis and lessons learned."

He also lays out his simple direction for the NEA:

Art works.

I hope you read it. It's given me lots of food for thought this week.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Theater scene in Springs expanding

This weekend serves as a poignant reminder of the tragedy of abundance.

There are too many cool music events, festivals, art openings to hit them all up. This is true most weekends, but this weekend in particular features an abundance of theater. Our theater scene, all of the sudden, is thriving!

This weekend, count 'em:

Broadway Bound at the Fine Arts Center

Our Town at Theatreworks
The Arte of War presented by Theatre 'd Art
Ten Minutes Max at the Manitou Art Theatre
Face The City at Venue 515

and the newly resurrected Star Bar Players are performing The Weir in a warehouse space.

Plus, in two weeks, the new theatre troupe, Springs Ensemble Theatre will launch with a fundraiser.

Whilst perusing the blogs this morning, I stumbled upon this blog about audience development in the theatre. As our theatre community grows (and I, for one, believe a population of almost half a million can support a lively and diverse theater scene), we might do well to heed the advice of our peers in the industry. Make sure you read the comments at this blog.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Four years ago...

Like any good nonprofit, we here at COPPeR recently held our annual strategic planning session with our staff and board of directors. 2010 will bring us to the end of our initial five-year strategic plan, so as part of our meeting, we looked back on our accomplishments. I'm going to share some of the highlights with you here, since it tells the story of how far we've come in such a short time.

Let's take a trip back through time. Imagine, if you will, a distant moment in the past. It was the year 2005. Having trouble remembering what the world was like way back then? Here are some reminders.
The White Sox had their first World Series win since 1917. Chicago fans went wild.
Everyone was reading The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.
New Orleans was still an intact city.
House Majority Leader Tom Delay was indicted. Now he is appearing on "Dancing with the Stars."
Nobody except for a few college kids were on Facebook.
An unknown named Miley Cyrus audition for a role called Hannah Montana.
Everyone thought real estate was the most secure investment ever
Nobody tweeted.
And of course, there was no COPPeR.

After the 2003 Arts Summit, Susan Edmondson, Kimberley Sherwood, Michael Coumatos, Judy Noyes and other key leaders in the community got together to start exploring the options of founding a cultural office. Through their research they discovered that Colorado Springs was the largest city in the nation without a professionally staffed cultural office, so they moved forward with a plan to create a regional nonprofit organization that could serve that function: operating as the spokesperson for our entire creative community--a central source for information about our arts scene. After many focus groups and planning, an initial strategic plan was written. The following are goals from that plan.

In the plan? Our proposed budget was $203,000, with monies coming from foundations, individuals, and $49,000 as a contract for service from the City of COS, two full-time staff and one part-time employee. Reality in 2009: Our annual budget is around $175,000 excluding rent and in-kind gifts, and we receive $39,000 from the City of Colorado Springs. We have two full-time staff and a part-time intern from UCCS, who receives credit. The fact that these numbers are so close is impressive indeed. However, it's important to note that this is about 1/4 the budget typical for a cultural office for a city our size, and 1/10 the city support typical for a city our size and 1/3-1/4 the staff typical for a city our size.

Our 2005 Mission: Connecting residents and visitors with arts and culture to enrich the Pikes Peak Region.
Our 2005 Vision: A community united by creativity.

Our goals:
1. Build cultural participation
2. Foster sustainability of the region’s cultural arts industry.
3. Advocate for the region’s cultural vitality.
4. Leverage cultural assets to promote a positive regional brand and image.
5. Foster authenticity.
6. Provide sustainability, growth, accountability and diversified support for the cultural office.

Mission, vision and goals in 2009? Ditto.

In addition to those broad goals, we had some very specific outcomes in mind.

1. Launch a comprehensive cultural events calendar. Done and done! After painstaking research, we contracted with Artsopolis to build, which went live in 2007. We now have full-time staff, Kevin Johnson, and PeakRadar is the number one arts website in Southern Colorado, experiencing hundreds of thousands of page views monthly and proves month after month that is building audiences for arts groups in the Pikes Peak region.

2. Coordinate "Arts and Economic Prosperity III" impact study. Together with the Bee Vradenburg Foundation and Americans for the Arts, we participated in this national benchmark study in 2005 and 2006, releasing the results in 2007. We will participate in Arts and Economic Prosperity IV starting in 2011.

3. CBCA Leadership Arts – This goal was to create a workshop to engage more business leaders in arts nonprofit boards. Because the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts does such a good job with this training, we refined this a bit to instead offer trainings to arts nonprofits, with topics like marketing and communication, board governance, budget performance and digital media. Early this Spring, our arts "boot camps" helped more than 70 representatives from arts organizations all over the region.

4. Publish cultural amenities brochure with info on more than 80 arts organizations. The first edition of The COPPeR Pages was released in Fall 2007. Then, after two years of research, the second edition of COPPeR Pages was released in August 2009. People pick up their free copies at our office every day, and to date more than 9,000 copies have been distributed.

5. Offer best practices leadership for community projects – This was originally conceived to be providing leadership on projects like like Memorial Hospital healing arts group, City Auditorium renovation. Instead this has been: The Quality of Life Indicators Project (I serve as co-chair for a vision council), Dream City, Fire Station 8 art commission jury (I served on the jury and helped with the RFP), and serving on the marketing committee for the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

6. Assist in business planning and launch of Arts Fund
Currently the Bee Vradenburg Foundation is doing a feasibility study with the Pikes Peak Community Foundation. COPPeR staff and board have participated in interviews.

7. Develop membership structure - while not a formal membership structure, we did launch our Arts Partners program, in which we encourage local arts organizations to show their buy-in by making a donation to our organization.

8. Neighborhood Arts Program - this isn't developed exactly, but some elements of this will likely be addressed in the Cultural Plan.

9. Cultural tourism support - we work closely with the CVB, and have been quoted in American Way Magazine and United Airlines Hemispheres magazine, as well as Denver's 5280 Magazine and others.

10. Launch high-visibility community event – We have certainly accomplished this with our Studio Bee concert series, The Business and Arts lunch (a partnership with the Chamber of Commerce), and our participation in First Friday art walks and gallery openings.

11. Brand identity project – We launched Volume I of the Sounds of the Pikes Peak Region CD in 2008, which has birthed a concert series and more notoriety for the local music scene.

12. Provide networking functions, e-newsletter of arts and cultural news for the region. Yes! We do both.

We couldn't have anticipated the rise of new media: Facebook, Twitter, integrating PeakRadar with the Fort Carson texting service,, and more!

We certainly didn't expect to have a fabulous downtown storefront office space necessitating regular office hours and where every day people walk in off the street to find out about arts opportunities

We didn't know that space would be adjacent to a fine art gallery, enabling joint art opening receptions and staff time in ensuring solid exhibits for our walls.

We didn't know that the we would be encouraged to launch a process for the Cultural Plan by a statewide planning process.

We didn't know we would have the opportunity to partner with the Chamber of Commerce on the annual Business and Arts lunch, honoring businesses that support the arts and showcasing local performers.

We didn't expect to have booths at festivals and send our staff for speaking engagements all over El Paso and Teller counties.

We didn't expect to co-sponsor a free, monthly concert series at the Pikes Peak Center.

We didn't expect to be a presenting partner for the region's first Poet laureate project.

Of course, we also couldn’t have anticipated a global recession that affects city budget, tourism/LART revenue, foundation giving, corporate giving and individual donations.

Our staff is earning accolades on the state and national level. I have received scholarships from Americans for the Arts and am an active participant in AFTA’s emerging leaders network and U.S. Urban Arts Federation. And just recently I was asked to join the Colorado Council on the Arts’ Peer Assistance Network. And Kevin Johnson is a tech whiz whose expertise has guided our success. He also received a full scholarship (including air travel and room and board!) to the 2008 National Arts Marketing Partnership conference.

Now is not the time to rest on our laurels. We have more work to do, and it is good, honest work. But in this time of uncertainty, it is nice to look back at our accomplishments....just think where we will be four years from now!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Federal Stimulus Money Arrives

Remember way back in early 2009 when Americans for the Arts (including Bob Lynch, Robert Redford, John Legend and others) and countless other brave souls in congress successfully lobbied to include a paltry $50 million in the stimulus for the National Endowment for the Arts? (In case you're curious, that $50 million represents barely even a droplet in the $787 billion stimulus package)

Well, that $50 million has now been distributed, and it's trickling down to our own local arts community. There are some extremely misinformed comments on the story in today's Gazette about the $30,000 awarded to three organizations. It appears that despite our best efforts to educate the public that arts jobs are real jobs, there is still much work to be done.

In accordance with federal stimulus policy, these funds are specifically earmarked for retaining jobs in the arts. These are real jobs held by real American people. They are artists, musicians, filmmakers, cultural managers, stagehands, gallery staff, technicians, costume designers, marketing directors, IT staff--the list goes on and on. They are part of the economy. They earn paychecks, they pay sales taxes, they enter into mortgages. They work hard to support their families.

The stimulus money was designated by the NEA to the more than 4,000 local and state arts agencies throughout the nation. The reason for this? These agencies have nearly 50 years of proven history as good stewards of tax dollars and can ensure speedy disbursement to local projects. In Colorado that meant the Colorado Council on the Arts (CCA), the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs (DOCA), and the Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF) awarded 47 Colorado non-profit arts organizations with $568,040 in federal recovery funds to preserve or restore 313 salaried and contract positions.

DOCA alone announced $225,000 in stimulus grants to 15 Denver arts organizations. A few people have been contacted me, concerned about a perceived inequity between Denver and the Springs. It's important to note the distinctions between our communities. There's more going on here than immediately seems apparent. As I pointed out to the Gazette reporter, we have fewer arts organizations with paid staff in the Pikes Peak region, and these grants are specifically for preserving jobs, not creating programming.

Second, we don't have a mechanism for delivering the funds to arts organizations in the Pikes Peak region. While COPPeR is in many ways a parallel organization to DOCA, we are a private nonprofit, and we are not set up as re-granting organization at this point in time. Similarly, the Department of Cultural Services within Colorado Springs City government also does not operate as a re-granting agent. In fact, Cultural Services was not even eligible beacause they had not received a CCA grant in the designated time. Furthermore, if Cultural Services had been eligible, they would have most likely applied to save the jobs that are hemorrhaging from the 2010 budget. To read more about proposed City budget cuts, which include closing the Pioneers Museum,click here.

Our arts community has grown immensely in the past five years. I truly believe that momentum is not slowing. But we face new challenges, and we must accept that we are growing incrementally. Like many, I wish that more than $30,000 had made its way to the Pikes Peak region (and indeed, I know many worthy organizations that did apply), but at this time, we simply don't have the infrastructure of Denver to offer the kind of support they can.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Online Forum discussion of NEA and Federal Arts Policy

Over on the right side of this blog, you can see links to some of my favorite blogs from around the community and dealing with arts on a state and federal level. I don't have nearly enough time as I would like to read all of the scholarship and research out there. Thankfully, there are blogs that aggregate the information in a well-written, concise way. One of my very favorites, Barry's Blog by WESTAF's Barry Hessenius, just announced perhaps the most ambitious online Federal Arts Policy discussion ever attempted.

Starting on Tuesday, September 15, this six-week long online discussion will attempt to bring together arts service organizations, past NEA administrators, the private sector, artists, foundations and emerging leaders, including one of my other favorite arts bloggers, Createquity's Ian Moss, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at the Americans for the Arts Convention in Seattle this June.

If you're not an arts policy wonk, consider the questions that will be among those addressed in this six-week forum:

• What should be the role of arts & culture in the economy, in foreign affairs, in education, in health services, in civic life?

• How can the various federal agencies that have some role in arts funding or otherwise coordinate their efforts, and where and how should the arts be represented in the White House and in formal policy making – or should it?

• How do we best nurture and develop all the multicultural arts traditions of a diverse society?

• How do we create equal access to arts & culture for every citizen?

• How do we build bridges between the "for-profit" and nonprofit arts industries and promote cooperation and collaboration where it is to the mutual benefit of both parties, or to the larger society?

And what should be the role of the National Endowment for the Arts in any of this? In terms of a national arts policy, what do we want for our artistic community in America, and what do we want from it?

This has a lot of potential, and the technology truly means that everyone can participate. So I ask you--please alert any artists, arts organization staff, Board and constituents/client base about this upcoming online forum so that as many people as possible might participate.

Read more about the project here.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Feeling the Love

Be prepared for a dose of cheerfulness. And all this on a Monday, too! A few weeks ago I was approached by a writer from 5280 Magazine who was interested in doing a story on the arts scene in the Pikes Peak Region. I sent him a quick email describing what I would do if I were him, and lo and behold, this story appears in this month's issue. Thank you, Dougald McDonald, for your kind writeup. Glad you liked it; come back again soon!

It tickles me pink to read the first paragraph:
The beauty of Pikes Peak has inspired artists since the 19th century, yet only in the past few years has a diverse, truly exciting arts community blossomed in Colorado Springs, the city that lies in Pikes Peak's shadow. With major museum expansions, new galleries, and a wide range of community efforts to bring fine arts to the fore, the Springs has seen a burst of artistic energy that's drawing art lovers from all across the state.

This follows quickly on the heels of Outdoor Magazine naming Colorado Springs the Best City to Live in America. That writeup refers to our cultural amenities, proving once again that having a strong arts community builds civic pride and provides a sense of place.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Arts Organizations for Health Care Reform

Unfortunately, artists and employees of nonprofit arts organizations are keenly aware of the state of healthcare today. I am inspired to read that 23 national arts organizations have added their voices in support of healthcare reform. Here is their complete statement:
August 12, 2009

As national arts service organizations representing thousands of nonprofit arts organizations at the state and local level as well as serving thousands of individual artists across the country, we call on Congress to pass a health care reform bill.

The current economic crisis has affected the cultural sector as dramatically as it has the millions of unemployed and uninsured Americans. Like others who have fallen through the cracks of the current system, many in the cultural workforce work independently or operate in nontraditional employment relationships, leaving them locked out of group healthcare coverage options. Additionally, soaring health care costs are consuming the ever decreasing budgets of nonprofit arts organizations hit hard by today’s economic recession. The time for reform that delivers high quality and affordable health care for businesses and individuals is now. We call on Congress to pass:

• A health care reform bill that will create a public health insurance option for individual artists, especially the uninsured, and create better choices for affordable access to universal health coverage without being denied because of pre-existing conditions.
• A health care reform bill that will help financially-strapped nonprofit arts organizations reduce the skyrocketing health insurance costs to cover their employees without cuts to existing benefits and staff while the economy recovers. These new cost-savings could also enable nonprofit arts organizations to produce and present more programs to serve their communities.
• A health care reform bill that will enable smaller nonprofit and unincorporated arts
groups to afford to cover part and full-time employees for the first time.
• A health care reform bill that will support arts in healthcare programs, which have shown to be effective methods of prevention and patient care.

There is little time to waste as a broken system continues to leave far too many behind and adds trillions to our national debt. Millions of cultural workers stand ready to assist our leaders with solutions that protect all Americans and its creative sector with guaranteed universal insurance coverage deserving of the wealthiest nation in the world.

Americans for the Arts
Alliance of Artists Communities
American Art Therapy Association
American Association of Community Theatre
American Dance Therapy Association
American Music Therapy Association
Americans for the Arts Action Fund
Arts & Business Council
Association of Independent Colleges of Art & Design
Association of Writers & Writing Programs
Business Committee for the Arts
Fractured Atlas
Grantmakers in the Arts
Literary Network
National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture
National Center for Creative Aging
National Dance Association
National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts
Theatre Communications Group
VSA arts

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Jason Zacharias, 1975-2009

I am brokenhearted to report that the Pikes Peak region arts scene suffered yet another devastating loss yesterday. Jason Zacharias, artist and creative champion, took his own life in Green Mountain Falls this week. A native of Kansas City, Jason became a force in the arts after moving to Colorado. His journey as curator began with his website, Optical Reverb, a place for artists and writers to post their work. He went on to run the gallery space at Cedars Jazz Club, then later a space in the Downtown arts district next to Smokebrush. But he is perhaps best known for working with dozens of restaurants, clubs and bars to place local art by emerging artists on their walls. Among the many establishments he worked with are Phantom Canyon, V Bar, Blue Star, Blondie's, and many, many others in Colorado Springs, Pueblo and beyond. He also was a great friend to COPPeR--in 2007 he curated an art exhibit at the Warehouse that was a fantastic fundraiser for us. That picture of him is from that event--typical Jason in a sassy wink.

Click here to read Kathryn Eastburn's profile of Jason, the "Little Curator Who Could," in The Independent from 2006.

All of us here at COPPeR send out sincere condolences to all of his friends and family. A strong and vital arts community depends artists and the people who, like Jason, are champions for bringing together different forms of creativity and making sure art is visible and valued. His contributions will be deeply missed.

It breaks my heart to write this blog post. Suicide is an extremely painful issue, no matter when it happens. I am extremely disturbed that our arts community has been touched by this horrible issue so many times this year. Depression is real. Please, folks if you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please know that you are not alone.

JZ, we miss you.

Friday, July 24, 2009

2009 State of the Arts

Today's Gazette features the annual special section on the State of the Arts in the Pikes Peak Region. It features interviews with Sam Gappmayer from the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Nathan Newbrough of the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, Drew Martorella from Theatreworks, Peggy Vicaro from Cottonwood Center for the Arts, Amber Cote from Futureself, Susan Edmondson from the Bee Vradenburg Foundation, and many others. I can't find the special section online just now, but I thought I'd share my full comments on this blog.

2009 in a nutshell: At the national level, lobbyists on Capitol Hill successfully argued that arts jobs are real jobs, and that the arts industry is a vital part of the economy. An additional $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts was included in the stimulus package as a result. That money helps arts organizations all over the nation.
On a state level, the Colorado Council on the Arts conducted a study showing that the creative industries are the fifth biggest sector of the state economy. However, CCA was forced to cut 25% of their budget, awarding $907,000 to individuals, organizations and government agencies in 33 counties across Colorado in 2009. $90,400 was awarded to arts organizations in El Paso and Teller counties, compared to $183,490 in 2008, which is obviously a significant decrease.

Drilling down to the local level, in 2009, American Style magazine named Colorado Springs among the top 25 arts destinations for midsize cities, which means we must be doing something right! Of course, the City of Colorado Springs budget crisis has taken its toll on our arts community--because of City budget cuts, the Pioneers Museum (an absolute gem in the heart of downtown) was forced to reduce hours and staff and the Parks department has been unable to water the parks, which has impacted concerts and festivals. The good news, however, is that our local arts community has not suffered as much as other places around the country, mostly due to the fact that our organizations and artists have been operating at the small but scrappy level for years. Very few local institutions had endowments to begin with, so they could not take a beating.

We did, of course, have our casualties--Springs Magazine and Bon Vivant shuttered their doors, some smaller galleries closed down. In 2010 and beyond, I am concerned about about the impact a prolonged recession will have on the ability for arts and cultural organizations to thrive, effectively market their services, and continue to build audiences. However, I believe that the creative momentum in our community has not slowed down; the cultural renaissance we have been experiencing for the past five years continues. There is an energy and buzz about the arts, and civic leaders from all over the region are truly starting to understand the value of arts and creativity.

From COPPeR's perspective, we feel our programs are reaching more people than ever--we were thrilled to celebrate PeakRadar's second birthday this summer with a fundraising campaign that exceeded its goal. (PeakRadar traffic is booming and we have information about hundreds of arts events at any given moment, as well as a robust artist profile directory with information on 150 local artists.) The local music scene is starting to emerge from its hidden treasure staus, thanks to the Showcase at Studio Bee series, KRCC Concerts, Stargazers Theater, the Black Sheep, the Rocket Room and Kinfolks.

We also lost some beloved artists this year. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of Gerry Riggs, Bob Pinney and Timber Kirwan.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Best in Public Art from Around the Nation

I've got public art on the brain these days. Sitting at my desk in downtown Colorado Springs, I have a fantastic view of several pieces of public art, including Chris Weed's new paperclips, two butterflies and the bronze sculpture of William Seymour by Stephanie Huerta at the bench where the downtown shuttle stop used to be (sigh...).

One of the most enjoyable sessions at the conference in Seattle was the public art year in review. Jurors Janet Echelman and Mildred Howard selected 40 of the best public art works in the United States, including projects from 32 cities in 15 states. The works were chosen from more than 300 entries across the country.

All of the projects were stunning, but here are just three of my favorites:

Language of the Birds in San Francisco, CA at Broadway and Columbus (in front of the legendary City Lights bookstore) by Brian Goggin and Dorka Keen. It is the first permanent solar-powered public art piece in the United States. Note that the sculptures are suspended books with solar panels, that, when illuminated, look like birds. Here's a video of the installation.

Language of the Birds from Thomas Both on Vimeo.

The second project is in the Jacksonville, Florida airport. Called simply "Gotta Go," this piece by Gordon Heuther is a breath of fresh air for weary travelers. Bob Lynch, head of Americans for the Arts, told a story about being in the airport looking at the piece when someone came up next to him. They started talking about the work and the person said, "This is really beautiful. Is it art?"

The third is Raine Bedsole's Remembering Boat in New Orleans. The piece is a memorial to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. It features a poem by Tony Fitzpatrick
water has nothing to do with luck
and everything to do with chance
water is the music of consequence
the water is hungry... the water wants

These are just three of the 40 projects we got to see. I like these three because they show the real range of public art. It can be evocative, representational, symbolic, a statement of memory or whimsical. But it always starts a conversation.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Paperclips, Public Art, and the Pacific Northwest

Wow--leave town for a week and a giant landmark arrives! After arriving back from the Americans for the Arts convention in Seattle, I was delighted to discover Chris Weed's newest piece of large-scale public art in front of our office. Friday night at the opening reception for Art on the Streets Chris won first prize! Congratulations to him. We're thrilled to have such an eye-catching and playful piece in front of our office and doubly thrilled that it's by a local artist. Go, Chris. It's been a ball to watch the passersby gawk and the children climb all over the work. The paper clips have also resulted in a dramatic increase in traffic into our office (see the little door - that's COPPeR- come visit us!), so I have been woefully neglectful in writing in this little blog. Hi, readers, nice to see you.

So, Seattle. This was my second year attending the Americans for the Arts annual convention, and I was pretty excited about its location (the convention is in a different city each year; last year was Philadelphia, next year will be Baltimore) because my mother and one of my best friends live there. I was also excited because this convention provides such great opportunities to connect to my colleagues at local arts agencies around the country in a truly meaningful way. This year the Pikes Peak region had four representatives--in addition to me, the fabulous Susan Edmondson of the Bee Vradenburg Foundation and COPPeR board member was there, along with my dear friend (and PeakRadar's Kevin Johnson's fiancee) Amber Cote, executive director of FutureSelf, and Wendy Mike, former executive director and founder of FutureSelf and creativity champ. It was great to have such strong representation from our community-- and I think it's a real sign that our arts community is growing up.

I arrived in Seattle and my mom picked up from the airport. We decided to have a late dinner before she took me to the hotel (thanks to Amber for letting me crash in her room. I would have stayed at mom's but she lives in West Seattle and commuting would have taken away valuable networking time). I have a thing for grocery stores, especially Asian grocery stores, so we went to Uwajimaya.

After yummy sushi and a bahn mi, Mom dropped me at the hotel and headed home. Sidenote: my mother is a working artist and she lives in the coolest place ever -- the remodeled and repurposed Cooper School, which has been converted into an arts center complete with affordable housing for artists, part of the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center. More about that in a later entry.

The conference kicked off with a lively plenary by Bill Ivey, in which we got a behinds-the-scene glimpse at what life in DC was like during the presidential transition. Bill Ivey was chair of the National Endowment for the Arts during President Clinton's administration, and he was also part of the transition team and is the author of Arts, Inc. . One of the most important pieces of advocacy Americans for the Arts completed last year was lobbying to have every single presidential candidate form an official arts policy. I remember hearing about this at last year's conference--it ended up taking on a much bigger scope when Obama was elected, since his was among the strongest arts policies. Here's an interview with Mr. Ivey at the conference in Seattle, courtesy of ArtsJournal.

More coming soon. Just wanted to give you a teaser!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Americans for the Arts - Seattle 2009

I'm tying up loose ends here before I head off to Seattle tomorrow for the annual Americans for the Arts convention. I attended the convention for the first time last year (in Philadelphia) and found it incredibly inspiring. I will post my takeaways and big ideas here when I return. In the meantime, here is a blurb from the incredibly moving 22nd Annual Nancy Hanks lecture on American Arts and Public Policy delivered by Wynton Marsalis at the Kennedy Center in March. If you have a few minutes, please watch this video at the Americans for the Arts website.
This is entitled “The Ballad of American Arts.” Before we sang, we spoke. Before we danced, we walked. Before we wrote, we told stories. Before we told stories, we lived. Those songs, dances, writings allow us to speak to one another across generations.
They gave us an understanding of our commonality long before that DNA told us we are all part of one glorious procession. At any point on the timeline of human history, there are tales to be told of love and loss; glory and shame; profundity and even profound stupidity; tales that deserve retelling, embellishing, and if need be, inventing from whole cloth. This is our story. This is our song. If well sung, it tells us who we are and where we belong.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Austin Trip: Part IV

After our meeting with the San Antonio Chamber, our group took a brief jaunt over to the Alamo (the building was smaller than I expected; the grounds much more magnificent than I could have dreamed). Then Dave Csintyan from the Colorado Springs Chamber took me and Angela Joslyn from Senator Michael Bennet's office in Colorado Springson a tour through the Riverwalk. It was about 90 degrees and quite humid, but down on the riverwalk it was cool. We wandered past the many restaurants, mariachi bands, and hotels. It is a vital and bustling tourist destination, and Dave, a former resident of San Antonio for many years, assured me that the locals spend time there as well. I would like very much to go back and spend some more time there, specifically to see Fiesta Noche del rio, the longest running outdoor performance series in the country, at the Arneson outdoor amphitheater.

We headed back to Austin, and I collected my bags from the AT&T hotel up by UT-Austin and headed downtown to the Radisson (My contact at the Cultural Arts division, Vincent, kindly arranged a very reasonable rate for my last night in town). I checked in and then headed toward the 2nd street district, to Cru wine bar to meet my cousin Jessie. Jessie and I hadn't seen each other for more than ten years, but we reconnected instantly. She just completed her first year as an assistant professor at Western Carolina University, but has lived in Austin since the mid-1990s. She is a historian with a keen interest in urban and suburban history, so she had lots to say about Austin's development, particularly with regard to how the housing boom had affected many of her friends. Her husband, for example, bought a loft in 2004 and is now trying to sell it at nearly three times what he paid for it. House-flipping was common and the incredible swell in real estate values caused radical gentrification and pushed families out as wealthy young workers moved in. After only hearing about the positive aspects of economic development, it was refreshing to hear about the real-world impact on Austinites and their families.
Jessie had dinner plans, so I headed back to the hotel to get a better view of the bats at dusk. The hotel is on the river, so I stepped through the pool area, and headed down the hill. On this second night at the bridge, I saw more bats--the Congress bridge colony is estimated at 1.5 million Mexican free-tail bats. Each night during the spring and summer, the bats emerge at dusk, and the spectacle has become an extremely popular tourist attraction.
On my own for the evening, I began wandering up toward 6th street. The weekend was in that strange in-between-time of post-regular performing arts season, pre-summer season, so I couldn't catch a formal event. I wasn't worried, though--one of my favorite things to do in unfamiliar cities is to wander around and see where I end up.
As I walked among the crowds of people heading uptown from the bat bridge, I happened to overhear a gentleman pointing out various landmarks and telling funny stories about Austin architecture. I boldly stepped up and asked if I could join their tour. "Why, sure!" said one. "Where are you from?"
When I told them I was visiting from Colorado Springs, they were astonished. It turns out that two of the guys in the group, Jim and Mark, graduated from Mitchell High School in the 1980s. Jim had been living in Austin since then, and Mark was visiting from New Hampshire. They hadn't seen each other in about ten years. With our 719-connection established, they kindly let me follow them around on their night on the town. Jim knew many of the business-owners on 6th Street. We ate dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant, visited a bar called Maggie Mae's where a friend of Jim's had some photorealistic oil paintings of local music legends hanging on the wall. Jim moved to Austin because of the nanotechnology boom (he does something that has to do with semiconductors, I must confess, the details were beyond me). After a brief stop at Lovejoy's, a very punk rock sort of place where they brew their own beer, we headed to Emo's, the legendary rock club. Jim knew the property owner, so we got in for free and caught the Detroit Cobras, a great lo-fi rock'n'roll soul band. On the way out, we stopped at Best Wurst, a fabulous street vendor, then said goodnight.

My new friend is in Colorado this week for Apogaea, the Colorado arts and outdoor festival, put on by Burning Man. I promised to show him around when he returns from camping--here's hoping I can return the favor and get him some behind-the-scenes access!

The next day I went on a long walk on the river path and met up with Jessie again. We had a leisurely lunch at Enoteca, a charming restaurant on South Congress. The South Congress neighborhood is a hip revitalized area with quirky shops, restaurants and a parking lot filled with retro airstream trailers converted to food vendors, including the original "Hey Cupcake."

We poked around in Uncommon Objects, a thrift store/antique shop crammed full of strange and delightful curios, then stopped at the outdoor street market, where local artisans sell their wares. One of the merchants stopped me to compliment me on my watch and then recommended a pair of hand-carved wooden earrings. I have a bit of an earring habit, so I happily obliged. We walked the whole stretch of South Congress in about an hour, stopping in boutiques and peeking in the glamorous hotels that have become destinations for film industry folks.

Just a few years ago, the entire South Congress area was, to say the least, seedy, with a reputation revolving around prostitution and drugs. A strategic initiative to redevelop the neighborhood resulted in the South Congress Combined Neighborhood plan. In the commercial guidelines, one of the first instructions is "Keep It Funky."
The urban design guidelines for South Congress Avenue set out to create a
distinctive district with a “funky, Austin-centric” feel. This development should not be a replication of other areas of Austin; rather, a new expression of the energy, culture, and individuality embodied in the slogan: “Keep Austin Weird”.
It's a very cool neighborhood.

With just a couple of hours before my flight, we headed down to the shops at 6th and Lamar, where the first Whole Foods began. Now an 80,000-square feet museum of a grocery store, it's a destination all in itself. Jessie bid me goodbye, and after I drooled over the foodstuffs (but miraculously did not buy anything!), I headed across the street to Book People, one of the largest independent bookstores in the country. I spent two hours happy as a clam (a painful reminder of how much I miss the Chinook bookstore and Hathaways), bought the new John Hodgman book, then phoned for a taxi.
My cabdriver arrived, apologizing that he had his sister along with him, but explained that she was visiting and he wanted to show around. I asked where she was visiting from and was delighted to hear that she was visiting from Paris. We quickly discovered that they had grown up in in the same neighborhood I stayed in on my trip to France two years ago. The siblings had not seen each other for several years. The last time they had seen each other they had gone on vacation in.....wait for it...Southern Colorado! They reminisced about skiing at Monarch and going to art galleries in Salida. We had a lovely time chatting and they tolerated my very poor French. I was sad to get to the airport.

I neglected to mention this so far, but since I was representing all you groovy artists and musicians out who call the Pikes Peak Region home, I gave a copy of our local music compilation, Sounds of the Pikes Peak Region, to each one of the fine speakers who met with our group. Austin may be the live music capital of the world, but we have some incredibly talented people here as well, and I was pleased to be an ambassador.

The entire visit left me (and all the participants) with much to think about. The biggest takeaway for me was that successful community-planning depends upon a delicate balance between careful planning and long-term vision and valuing the characteristics that make a place unique and authentic. We need to figure out who we are -- then be the best we we can!

I also feel very confident that the community arts development, the work we at COPPeR are engaging in on a daily basis, is putting us on the right path. Of course there are many components of a successful city, but the arts help us tell the story of what makes us human. Right here in COPPeR's brochure, we have a list that answers the question, "Why the arts?" It's simple:
  • the arts foster vibrant neighborhoods and urban revitalization
  • the arts are a magnet attracting young professionals and a skilled, innovative workforce
  • the arts shape a "destination city," luring cultural tourists, who stay longer and spend more money than other travelers
  • the arts create a positive, unique and authentic brand for our community
  • the arts bridge ethnic and cultural divides, helping us to better understand people of different backgrounds and viewpoints
  • the arts build community identity, inclusion and pride.
Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Austin Trip: Part III

Thursday evening wrapped up with a huge group dinner at Carmelo's. Everyone was in high spirits, and Dave Csintyan, head of the Chamber, gave a toast, ending with, "and no one else can give a toast unless they do so in the form of a limerick." Kevin Reel, headmaster of the Colorado Springs School, stood up to the challenge. Unfortunately I can't recreate his spontaneous poetry from memory, but, inspired, the group then decided to go around the table and create a new poem using rhyming couplets. As you can imagine, this resulted in much hilarity and merriment.

After dinner the honorable Mayor of Manitou Eric Drummond took us down to the Congress Avenue bridge to see the bats come out at dusk. A group of people headed off to the Broken Spoke to do some two-stepping, but I decided to stay on 6th Street with a small group. We wandered into an Irish pub with a blues band playing. The very talented guitar player, Ulrich, from Germany, had just received his Masters in music from UT-Austin. Yet another connection between the university and the lively cultural scene...

Next morning, we had breakfast with Pike Powers (or, he joked, as he is frequently introduced to people, "Austin Powers"). In 1983 Pike began the planning and organizational tactics for attracting two of the nation's most ambitious projects around global competitiveness in electronics and is widely viewed as one of the senior voices on technology development and as the designer of important legislative and public policy solutions resulting in new enterprise and corporate models for attracting and retaining technology-based activities. If that description sounded complex and jargon-y, Pike himself is the opposite of that. He has frequently been quoted in Richard Florida's work and is a spokesperson for why the City of Austin has become successful.

His lesson? All his accomplishments stood on the legs of what Florida calls the "Three Ts:" Tolerance, Technology, and Talent. Listen to each other, widen the conversation, be respectful. One of the most powerful stories he told was about how he invited young people to join the conversation about
economic redevelopment. He talked about the importance of understanding people's differences and making sure you are genuinely inclusive. He may be coming to Colorado Springs in November--I will keep you posted. He's well worth hearing.

Our group split again, for the last time. My group made the two-hour drive to San Antonio, during which I had a lively conversation with El Paso County Attorney Bill Louis and Angela Joslyn with Senator Michael Bennet's Colorado Springs Office. We discussed Law school, children's creativity, playground equipment and more. We arrived in San Antonio at the Chamber of Commerce, located right on the Riverwalk. Upon walking in, we saw local contemporary artwork all over all the walls. The Chamber has monthly rotating art exhibits, all featuring local artists.

Representatives from the Chamber, including Chair-elect Carri Baker Wells, and staff Bill Mock and Mark Frye, discussed how they are leveraging San Antonio as an economic center for health technology. Ann Stevens, the President of BioMedSA, a new initiative to promote
the local healthcare and bioscience industry and its importance to the local economy. She talked about the medical community's unifying moments--hospitals would fight against each other for patients, doctors, and funding, but when it came to raising the entire industry's profile, their leaders came together, realizing that they needed to do this as a sector.

We also discussed how industry drives job creation and growth. If competitive industries exist in a region, they can serve as an incentive for young people to stay. Congruently, if there are skilled workers in a region, they can convince a business or industry to stick around. This got me thinking: I believe that the only way the creative sector is going to survive is if we can promote ourselves as a viable, productive sector of the economy. Every business leader I know talks about industries as having clear definitions of different industry sectors (Military, health care, nanotechnology, etc.) A recent study by the Colorado Council on the Arts points out that creative industry makes up the 5th largest sector of the Colorado economy. We are big. We matter. So every lesson I try to learn from Business leaders is how to translate those lessons into the work we do.

We can have a touchy-feely feeling of community here in our arts community all we want (and in fact should have a supportive, nurturing environment to bolster our creative spirits), but the fact remains that if there is no infrastructure to support our artists--no market for artists selling their work, no institutions of higher learning offering them superior advanced degree programs, no museums, galleries, or performing arts facilities for our creative people in which to do their work, it is all for naught.

These same San Antonio leaders told us about a project they had been working on called Pathway to a Great City. Please note: the their informational brochure prominently features an enormous piece of public art (Mexican artist Sebastian's The Torch of Friendship (La Antorcha dela Amistad). This document makes a series of recommendations to the City for what it will take to move San Antonio from a good city to a great city. Among their recommendations:
  • Great Cities are known for their parks and vibrant cultural and entertainment centers, and as such, this plan calls for a new cultural and performing arts center
  • Great Cities think big and know that making their city unique involves a variety of innovative and creative funding strategies, as such, this plan calls for the expansion and improvement of the San Antonio river district
  • It is desirable to highlight many cultures and western heritage and provide more access to historical sites and monuments

Food for thought? Perhaps the work ordinary citizens are doing to create a long-term vision for our community through Dream City: Vision 2020 can be harnessed into something similar.

Coming soon: Final thoughts and a night on the town.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Austin Trip: Part II

Promptly at 8 a.m. on Thursday, we dove into our first session with Dave Porter, Vice-President of Economic Development at the Austin Chamber. In many communities, Economic Development and the Chamber of Commerce are merged, creating one umbrella group responsible for retaining and cultivating existing businesses while simultaneously seeking out new businesses and industry. In Colorado Springs, the Chamber and the EDC are separate organizations (they were once aligned, but split in the early 1990s). Dave spoke about the importance of attracting and incubating small businesses in the high-tech field. Because UT-Austin is such a fantastic training ground for highly-educated, skilled workers, businesses began to move there, knowing they would have a rich pool of talent from which to pick their workers.

Austin's story began to unfold as we met with Downtown developers and Lee Cook, the former Mayor of Austin. In the 1980s, Austin was in the midst of a huge recession. During the Savings and Loan crisis, more than 30 local banks closed (out of about 750 that failed nationwide). Real estate plummeted, and the future of the capitol city was uncertain. Austin had been "branded" the Manufacturing capital of Texas in the early part of the 20th century. Local leaders realized they had to shake off that mantle and move forward with a more clear and compelling direction in order to compete.

You may have seen the bumper sticker campaign: "Keep Austin Weird" (Manitou Springs has also adopted this slogan). The slogan was generated by the Austin Independent Business Association and is a perfect example of how Austin takes pride in being quirky, independent and visionary. Over and over, the people we met with kept invoking this indescribable Austin creativity and sense of pride.

Just one example of this--Austin is known as the Live Music Capital of the World. Most people know that. But what you don't know is how that came to be. Former Mayor Lee Cook told us the story about Max Nofziger, a flower City Councilman. From his bio:

Max's love of the city prompted him to become involved in the political process. He felt that he could legitimately and effectively work to keep Austin environmentally and culturally unique.

In 1979 Max made his first run for City Council -- Place One, campaigning for a clean environment and against Austin's involvement in the then newly proposed South Texas Nuclear Project. A political new-comer, Max won several thousand votes, but not enough to win. Not to be discouraged, he tried again in 1981 and got even fewer votes! Again not to be discouraged, Max was determined to be a voice in the city he had adopted as his own. 1983 saw "Max for Mayor" this time getting enough votes to force his contenders into a run-off. Another run for mayor in 1985, another run-off, this time he endorsed the eventual winner. Finally, on his fifth try for elective office Max won Place One on the City Council in 1987, edging out a well funded opponent in a very tight run-off race!

He went on to serve nine years in City Council. As Mayor Cook told the story, Max "Max for Mayor" Nifzger suggested calling Austin the Live Music Capital of the World. Not the live music capital of Texas, or the Southwest, or even the United States. THE WORLD.

That, folks, takes guts. And leadership.

Later that afternoon, we headed down to Ballet Austin (that's the lobby of this to-die-for facility with acres of sprung floors and a modular performance theater with moveable seats that, when removed, reveal a floor the exact dimensions of the stage of the Long Center, where the company performs).
We met with Vincent Kitch, head of the Cultural Arts Division at the City of Austin. Vincent was kind enough to agree to give a presentation to a group of people he'd never met coordinated by a woman he'd never met (me). But all of the new connections I made in Austin were easy--I picked up the phone and called people and they agreed to meet with me. The arts community is like that, I suppose--just one more reason I feel so fortunate to work in this field. Also, just another reason why having a Cultural Office in a community is so essential; our peer network gets us access.

I gave a bit of a background on COPPeR and how we were founded, and then Vincent talked about what his office does. Most U.S. cities have cultural offices embedded in their local government (as a nonprofit partnering with the City, COPPeR is different). Austin's department of cultural affairs is under the Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services branch of Austin city government, and it's easy to see why. Just a few quick facts:
  • Live Music contributes $616 million in economic impact and $11 million in local tax revenue
  • There are 1,543 music-related businesses in Austin and 1,903 Austin music acts.
  • The not-for-profit performing arts and visual arts generate $532 million in economic impact and $6 million in local tax revenue.
  • The City of Austin provides nearly $5 million annually of the Hotel Occupancy Tax to contract with non-profit arts and cultural organizations for services rendered.
  • Creative industries in Austin generate $2.2 billion in economic activity and create 44,000 permanent jobs.
That is a huge chunk of revenue. Vincent explained that the Cultural Arts division grants millions of dollars to local arts organizations and individual artists. While I wiped the drool from my chin and attempted to collect my jaw from the floor, he told us more about how this all came about.

In 1985, a 2% tax for the arts was approved by voters. The money comes out of hotel/motel tax, and results in all the funding. Vincent's division now has 9 employees and the majority of the work they do is regranting to arts groups and artists. Austin just recently completed a Cultural Planning Process, called Create Austin. All the figures above came from that process. You can read the plan and see how they are implementing it here.

After this extremely educational session, a few of us wandered over to City Hall. This might look familiar to Pikes Peak regionettes, since it was designed by Antoine Predock, who also designed Colorado College's new Cornerstone Arts Center.

City Hall is a perfect example of Austin's purposeful integration of arts and civic life--this gorgeous building is also one of Austin's most important art galleries. City Hall showcases the talents of local artists with an extensive annual art exhibition in the atrium and open areas of the first three floors. Approximately 150 contemporary artworks are on display, including paintings, photographs, sculptures and other mediums. Upon entering the building and going through the metal detector, we picked up a 24-page booklet guiding us through the pieces of art. It is breathtaking.

The bottom line: Austin took a time of scarcity and true hardship and harnessed creativity to cultivate a thriving arts and music destination city as well as a center for emerging technology. They consistently take the long view and continually search for ways to learn from other successful communities. They listen to their leaders, they communicate, and above all, they COLLABORATE.

Coming soon in Part III: more leaders dish, going green, and I hit the town with some locals.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Austin Trip: Part I

Several months ago I heard about a strategic planning mission coordinated by the folks at the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce (with whom COPPeR co-hosts an annual award luncheon honoring businesses that support the arts) to try to figure out why Austin left us in the dust in terms of economic development 20 years ago. Two decades ago, Austin and Colorado Springs were competing neck-and-neck for businesses and high-tech industries. Now, Austin boasts a population of 1.7 million people, a thriving nanotechnology industry, a world-class research and teaching university, and of course, it is the live music capital of the world.

The Southern Colorado Innovation Strategy Leadership Trip to Austin, coordinated by the Chamber and UCCS, took place last week and I was extremely honored to be among the attendees, representing the arts and cultural community in the Pikes Peak region. Elected officials City Councilwoman Jan Martin and County Commissioner Sallie Clark and Manitou Springs Mayor Eric Drummond were there, as was Pam Shockley-Zalabak, chancellor at UCCS. About 30 movers, shakers and leaders in the business and education world from Colorado Springs, Manitou and Pueblo went on the trip. My job was to connect the dots between a quirky, authentic and vital arts and cultural community and a thriving economy. I quickly got to work connecting with my counterparts in Austin cultural services coordinating meetings and sessions so all the attendees could see firsthand why a vibrant arts scene is essential to economic and community development.

I flew out a bit early on Wednesday morning so that I could do some reconnaissance around town before the rest of the delegation arrived. It may betray my hipster pedigree to admit this, but I had never been to Austin before last week. I stepped off the plane and immediately noticed the placard in the jetway ("Welcome to Austin," it said, "the live music capital of the world."). I flagged a taxi, got a basic geography lesson from the friendly cabdriver, checked into the AT&T Conference center and hotel up at the UT campus, and then wandered down Congress Ave, past the capitol and in to the heart of downtown.

I found myself at Arthouse, a contemporary art venue. I caught the last week of the very cool local show up right now called 5x7, in which hundreds of contemporary Texas artists create unique works of art on identical 5” x 7” boards, all displayed anonymously and on sale for extremely reasonable prices. An old family friend, Ben Slade, is working there as membership coordinator and new media coordinator, so he and I chatted about the visual arts scene there. Ben and I both grew up in New Mexico, and after he graduated from college he got a job working at a gallery in Santa Fe. Shortly after, he left to move to Austin. He vastly prefers the authentic arts community in Austin to the glittering commerce-based community in Santa Fe. I also talked to Nathan Green, staff from Okay Mountain, an artist-run gallery space.

Ben and Nathan told me that between the Univerity of Texas art students, the South by Southwest music and film festival kids (Austin is a festival town--it's the #2 major U.S. City in the number of festivals per thousand population), there is creative energy burbling up all over the place. Young artists will start art galleries in their living rooms and host First Friday receptions with bands playing. They both praised the new-ish Fusebox Festival, which focuses on performing arts.

Ben and Nathan had to get back to work, so I left them and trudged around the 2nd St. district, peered in at the Austin Children's Museum (noting that their informational brochure is completely bilingual), and drooled over a couple of very chic design boutiques.

Later that night, we broke off into small groups to enjoy dinner. I took a small group to Moonshine (note: beer-battered asparagus is delicious; I regret not ordering the corndog shrimp) and we met up with some local longtime arts mavens. Rick Hernandez, the immediate past Executive Director of the Texas Commission on the Arts, an organization he was involved with since the mid 1970s as an artist-in-residence. Rick is warm, outgoing, and full of insights about how Austin completely transformed during the 1980s. Latifah Taormina also joined us--she is the executive director of Austin Circle of Theaters, a co-presenter of (sister and fellow Artsopolis site like Latifah has a fascinating past--she started the legendary Committee improv troupe in San Francisco. We had a wonderful dinner sharing stories and laughing, then Rick and the rest of our gang set off to see the town. We just missed the solar-powered outdoor concert series in Republic Square (a brand-new initiative to prove that even the music scene is part of the environmentalist movement in Austin), but we cozied into the Elephant Room and heard a great set of jazz. Then the diehards in the group headed up to 6th St., where among the dozens of bars --all featuring live music-- we found Pete's dueling piano bar and laughed our way into the wee hours of the morning. Along the way we played one of the GuitarTown guitars,a public arts project feautring local artists' takes on ten-foot Gibson Guitar sculptures.

I'll continue with Part II tomorrrow, in which we meet with the head of Austin Cultural Affairs (responsible for giving $5 million to arts organizations and individual artists in 2008) and continue the cultural tourism.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Philharmonic Music Director Stepping Down

I found out this morning that Lawrence Leighton Smith is leaving the Colorado Springs Philharmonic after next season.

Larry's leadership has been incredible for this orchestra and this community. His loyalty to the musicians, especially during the very turbulent past few years, has been immeasurable. My first introduction to Larry came when I was a freelance writer for the Colorado Springs Independent. I was hired to do classical reviews and previews. Not only did Larry always take my calls, he and I would frequently engage in lengthy philosophical conversations about composers. He has done so much for this orchestra.

But then, we get to see Mahler 9 this weekend, and we have all next season to appreciate him!

Here's the full press release:
Lawrence Leighton Smith will hand off the baton after 11 years as music director of the Colorado Springs Philharmonic and its predecessor, the Colorado Springs Symphony Orchestra. Smith announced his decision at a rehearsal for Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 on Wednesday night.
“I feel it’s time for something different for everybody,” said Smith, who has led
the Springs’ only professional orchestra since 2000. “In the professional arena, this is my longest stay anyplace.”
“Larry is giving us two years notice,” said Nathan Newbrough, the Philharmonic’s president. “And that’s great, because the shoes he leaves us to fill are enormous.”
“He’s been the perfect person for this orchestra,” said concertmaster Michael
Hanson. “He’s the experienced musician and steady person we needed to take us through turbulent times.”
The most turbulent time of all was the bankruptcy of the Colorado Springs
Symphony Orchestra in January 2003. Smith’s announcement that he would stand by the musicians was a major impetus behind the decision to form the Colorado Springs Philharmonic that spring.
Now that Smith feels the orchestra is ready for a different pair of hands, the task
begins for Newbrough and others to find Smith’s replacement.
“The search is a long and thoughtful process that’s extremely rewarding for the
orchestra and the community,” said Newbrough. “Right now we’re in the process of
assembling a group of musicians and community representatives to commence the search process.”
“A conductor search is an exciting opportunity for an orchestra to find out about
itself,” said Hanson. “It’s a marriage of personalities. Each new person brings something different, and the orchestra responds differently and sounds different for everyone.”
Smith plans to take some time off come the summer of 2011 – but not too much
time off. “I have some guest-conducting coming up,” he said. “I have a lot of composing on my plate. As long as I hang on to my marbles, there’s no lack of things to do.”
Asked about highlights of his music-making in Colorado Springs, Smith
mentioned the 2006 performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 and the 2007 performance of Dvor├ík’s Symphony No. 6 as two that stood out.
“But I’m not leaving for two years,” he said. “There are some highlights I don’t
know about yet.”