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.