Woman of Influence: Susan Edmondson

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Susan Edmondson, executive director, The Bee Vradenburg Foundation

Susan Edmondson appears to have a dream job: She manages a foundation that gives money to arts organizations. But there’s a downside. Today, the need is so great within the arts community that selecting organizations to support has become increasingly difficult.

“There are tremendous things going on in the Colorado Springs arts community,” she says, “but we can’t even begin to fund all the worthy requests.”

Yet Edmondson’s tireless efforts with the Bee Vradenburg Foundation to nurture the local arts community have indeed yielded results. Arts groups large and small are flourishing because of the foundation’s support. The many accolades recognizing her role in the community testify to the foundation’s success.

The Bee Vradenburg Foundation was formed in 2001 in recognition of the late Bee Vradenburg, longtime general manager of the Colorado Springs Symphony Orchestra. Its mission is to support the local arts community.

That mission became sharply focused the very week that Edmondson was hired as its first full-time executive director in 2003. The symphony had been suffering financially and filed for Chapter 11 protection from creditors the day she accepted the job.

“Then it filed for Chapter 7 (liquidation) my first day on the job,” she recalls. “The first order of business was to put a challenge grant out there to rally the city around its symphony.”

Other area foundations teamed with Vradenburg to create a matching grant. The community responded. The challenge grant was met and the symphony was eventually brought back to life. It was a heady and hectic time. But the pace suited Edmondson. She likes to be where the action is.

A native of Bakersfield, Calif., she chose journalism as her first career. After a stint as night editor in Las Vegas, she relocated to Colorado Springs. There, she became the arts and entertainment editor of The Gazette. Seven years of covering the arts community gave her the opportunity to indulge her love of the arts. But she was pulling away from journalism, seeking a deeper level of involvement in the arts.

“And then,” she says, “this opportunity came up. It was quite fortuitous.”

Now, she could indulge her passion for community service full-time. While the foundation continued to support cornerstone organizations such as the symphony, she pushed hard to provide seed and second-stage funding for grassroots theater companies, music ensembles and visual arts startups.

The Manitou Art Theatre got kick-start funding from the foundation. “We are so proud of what they have done,” she says. “They produce original theater in an intimate setting, for both adult and young audiences. A city needs those kinds of organizations in order to have a complete and vibrant arts community.”

The foundation frequently engages other organizations in initiatives designed to strengthen the arts community. Edmondson’s efforts in that area were recently recognized when she received the Colorado College Business & Community Alliance “Partners in Service” Award. She was described as “an indispensable champion of the local arts, a constant supporter of the cultural development of our community as a whole, as well as a staunch community ally of the college.”

She thinks Colorado Springs’ arts community can hold its own against any city’s.

“As a community, we should understand and appreciate what we have right here in Colorado Springs a bit more,” she says. “The arts talent pool is incredible.”

By Dan Cook