New COPPeR director: Springs is ‘a real hidden gem’

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Christina McGrath has a degree in architecture, was an El Pomar Foundation fellow, sits on the board of the Pikes Peak Habitat for Humanity, and took over in January as executive director of the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region — and she’s only 25 years old. We spoke with McGrath at her COPPeR office about how she’s spending her first weeks on the job, and about the impact of the arts on the Springs.

How did you become executive director at such a young age?

I went directly from an undergrad to working as a fellow for El Pomar Foundation. The experiences El Pomar gives you are unlike anything I could’ve imagined to have even 10 years into my career. I was directing programs, meeting with the heads of organizations in the community and connecting with thousands of nonprofits. But I couldn’t do it without the support I get from hundreds of people in the community. As a 25-year-old, it helps to have that support system and know there are people out there I can call.

What are some of your immediate initiatives?

Our lead program is PeakRadar.com, which is a very sophisticated online arts and cultural website. But we’re also about to start collecting data for the next Arts and Economic Prosperity Study, and will be working with the Americans for the Arts on a local arts index. Both of those will give us a good idea of where our arts and cultural community stands compared to other cities of our size.

What’s your initial take on the impact of the arts on Colorado Springs?

The last Arts and Economic Prosperity Study came out in 2007 and we found there to be a $94.7 million impact on the area from art organizations in our community. $35 million of that was spending by non-profit arts groups and nearly $60 million was spent by their audiences, so I’m really looking forward to the 2011 results. We have over 200 nonprofit arts organizations in the region, and over 1,000 people working in the creative industry, which includes everything from graphic designers to record store clerks. Most people think of Denver or Boulder when it comes to the arts, but our community is a real hidden gem.

How has COPPeR been affected by the economic downturn?

COPPeR has not been affected like some organizations could say they’ve been affected. We’ve actually been growing through the downturn, and we’ve been able to provide a lot of services to cultural nonprofits in the region that have had to cut back because of the economy. Peak Radar is a perfect tool for small arts nonprofits that have had to cut back on their marketing budgets. The awareness is still out there for their events; it was really exciting to see how COPPeR could support them through the downturn.

Have you had any time to think about a long-term strategy for COPPeR?

We want to be supportive of arts and culture in all parts of the city, and I think there’s an opportunity to get new audiences to come to the table. We’ll be reaching out to other parts of the city, especially in the northern and eastern parts of town. A lot of people know we have a lot going on in the downtown area and west towards the mountains, but there’s also a lot in the north and east, and we want to connect with those areas so they know what we have going on.