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!

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