Begging for government help was definitely out of the question.
That sentiment was part of the thinking as arts community leaders and others worked to develop a new cultural plan for the Pikes Peak region, a roadmap that includes a number of proposed projects that mean new venues and would cost millions of dollars to build.
“I’ve read dozens of these plans,” COPPeR Director Bettina Swigger said this week, “and they’re almost all government-directed and government-funded. This is entirely the creation of the arts community and of community volunteers.”
The plan’s vision: “to develop, enliven, enhance and promote arts, culture and the creative industries in the Pikes Peak region to the benefit of residents, visitors, the cultural sector and the business sector.”
“We already have a really strong arts community,” said Swigger, noting that the region is home to more than 200 nonprofits that produce an annual economic impact of $100 million.
Colorado Springs ranks in the top 15 percent of 276 large metropolitan areas nationwide in the number of arts businesses per capita.
“The plan isn’t designed to give direction,” Swigger said. “It’s not a plea for money or a list of demands.”
Its immediate goal is to create a lasting framework for cooperation, and to foster the development of reliable metrics to assess the impact, direction, and health of regional arts economy.
Arts advocates in many peer cities use what’s known as the Creative Vitality Index, developed by the Western States Arts Federation. It’s an annual measure of the health of the arts economy in a specific area, providing both a snapshot of the local scene and a basis for comparing it to other cities and regions. Its cost: $6,000 annually.
It’s the first item on the plan’s shopping list.
Vision, cooperation, and reliable metrics may be critically necessary in the next decade. The plan lists multiple local and national trends that will impact arts participation in the region.
An expected tripling of the U. S. Latino population in the next several decades will create a more diverse local population, which will seek different art forms. Result: shrinking audiences for traditional classical music, theater, and visual arts.
Within the same period, the nation’s elderly population will double. Arts organizations may experience a surge in demand and volunteers, but will also be challenged to provide transportation to increasingly frail audiences, and even bring performances to assisted living/retirement centers.
Live performances are threatened by “screens” of all kinds, from Ipods to home theater systems.
Attendance at live mainstream arts events is already in decline. The plan calls for local arts organizations to increase their offerings of experiential arts activities, such as art classes and performances in smaller, more intimate venues that “engage audiences as more than passive observers.”
Nationally, nonprofit arts organizations are losing their market share of philanthropic donations. In recent years, foundation support has dropped by 4 percent, and corporate support by 6 percent.
Employers increasingly demand creativity as a necessary skill for new hires. Such creativity is most strongly linked to self-employment and arts-related study in school.
The task: to seize the opportunities that broad social and demographic changes bring, rather than be overwhelmed by them.
To that end, the plan incorporates five goals, each of which will be addressed by volunteer task forces. Once formed, the task forces will meet at least twice a year and provide written reports on their progress in March and September.
Increase engagement, access and participation in the cultural life of the region;
integrate the arts into the social, economic and political fabric of the community;
strengthen and expand arts learning;
foster thriving arts organizations;
support creative individuals and advance arts leadership.
Each of the five goals includes multiple objectives and action suggestions. For example, the first goal, “Increase engagement, access and participation in the cultural life of the region” is augmented by 25 specific long and short-term action steps. Some, such as measuring and tracking public participation in cultural programs, seem obvious and unexceptional.
Others are very specific to the region.
The report calls for the arts community to “increase and document partnership cultural activity on post at Fort Carson and other military installations.” This may be particularly important to the growth of community arts organizations, since Fort Carson has grown from 12,600 troops a few years ago to more than 25,000 today. More than half of the soldiers live off-post, many in the southern part of the region, which lacks venues for arts activities.
The report also includes some intriguing, and potentially expensive projects. They include:
Creating an outdoor performance venue that can accommodate 800-plus.
Building a quality, affordable midsize performing arts venue seating 750-1,200 people.
Renovating and update the City Auditorium.
Developing three new “black box” spaces with affordable seating for 50-200 people.
No funding sources are specified.
“We don’t think that this is the time to ask for (public funding),” Swigger said. “That’s not the purpose of this plan.”
Down the road, however, doing so may be more practical.
“It may be that there will be an opportunity to link up with the parks and open space advocates at some point,” she said. “Remember, the city parks department also includes cultural services.”
Nearly 20 years ago, an attempt to gain voter approval for a proposed “cultural facilities tax,” similar to that levied in the Denver metropolitan area, was narrowly defeated. It was never revived.
“I don’t know anything about that,” said Swigger. “That was before I came here. Anyway, that’s not at all what we’re about.”