2011 Forecast: A new philharmonic conductor, a new COPPeR chief

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Next year will bring change, challenges and even peril to the Colorado Springs arts community.

Two of the community’s most dynamic leaders will leave, while one of the city’s most treasured institutions may struggle to survive.

Laurence Leighton-Smith, who has conducted the Colorado Springs Philharmonic since it rose from the ashes of the Colorado Springs Symphony eight years ago, will step down after the final concert of the season on May 22.

His successor, to be chosen from five finalists who served as guest conductors during the season, will face challenges that are familiar to every small-city symphony orchestra. Programming, community outreach, and maintaining the ensemble’s already high artistic standards are important, but long-term survival depends upon attracting younger audiences and finding new ways to increase revenue.

CEO Nathan Newbrough has been effective in a difficult job. If Newbrough and a new conductor can achieve the kind of vital partnership that existed a generation ago between symphony conductor Charles Ansbacher and General Manager Bee Vradenburg, the organization will thrive.

A new boss will take over at the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region, after founder Bettina Swigger leaves to become director of Festival Mozaic in San Luis Obispo. Under Swigger, COPPeR became a forceful advocate for regional artists and arts nonprofits and the go-to arts information source. The region’s first cultural plan emerged from her leadership, but it’ll be up to her successor to implement the plan’s recommendations.

The city will continue to fund the Pioneers Museum during 2011, albeit at a level drastically below that of previous years. Will the institution be successful in weaning itself from municipal funding, and become a privately funded, stand-alone history museum? So far, there’s little evidence that the museum can quickly build an endowment and a revenue structure that could allow it to achieve its goal.

Swigger calls the plans to do so “sort of squishy.”

Elsewhere, last year’s production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Jacket” was the most successful event in the Fine Arts Center’s history. In 1936, Martha Graham’s dance troupe performed at the FAC’s opening, a performance which will be repeated during the organization’s 75th anniversary celebration in April. Such a splashy event, combined with exhibitions featuring two distinguished contemporary Colorado artists, may help the FAC rebuild its membership and its revenue.

Swigger’s prediction for next year?

“I think 2011 will not necessarily be a bigger year for the arts,” she said, “but I think that it will be better.”