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.