Over coffee last month, new KCME-FM general manager George Preston talked about hosting radio shows, and how, despite the far reach of each broadcast, it's a decidedly intimate experience.
"That's really what you're doing in radio, talking one-on-one," he said. "There might be thousands and thousands of people listening out there — hopefully there are — but it is a one-on-one connection. That's how the listener perceives it."
Truly, you can apply that to almost all forms of art. But locally, even the most dedicated patron will be challenged to keep a singular focus in the months to come. The final third of 2014 teems with cultural stand-bys like the Indie Spirit Film Festival and the handful of holiday Nutcrackers, but also with new events such as Arts Month, a nationwide awareness initiative that starts here for the first time in October, and multiple appearances from Charles Busch, the premier drag queen of New York City and Los Angeles.
In the following pages, we've done our best to put together as expansive end-of-year calendar as possible. (Feel free to send what we missed to firstname.lastname@example.org.) Hopefully you'll see why all seven arts leaders interviewed for our first piece — Preston included — indicated that all the ingredients for something of a renaissance are in place, from food to film, dance to drama.
And hopefully, after reading their thoughts and this preview, you'll feel that way, too.
Meet the mavens
Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center
Over the 19 years David Dahlin worked at Compassion International, he traveled the globe several times over. He went to the organization's 35 offices abroad, helping children with food, clothing and shelter.
"One of the things I've found interesting, though — and people who travel have seen this — it really doesn't matter how poor your community is, people still find a way to express themselves artistically," Dahlin says. "So we think art is just something for the elite or for the rich, [and] that's really a wrong understanding."
Street art, street musicians, he found them no matter where he went. "People want to express themselves artistically," he says. "It's part of the human experience."
Yet for all that Dahlin had invested in far-flung places, he realized he'd missed out on his own community. Even when he wasn't traveling abroad, he'd felt distant from Colorado Springs central and downtown culture, both geographically (living in the northeast quadrant of town) and personally.
So he applied to be president and CEO at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, and took the job in June. Since then, he's gotten to know the three-pronged institution both inside and out — from the employees to the donors to the people who have visited it only once, or maybe not at all.
He was tasked by the FAC board to expand the institution's reach, but one of his missions also is to bring the world to Colorado Springs, via the FAC.
"We may think everybody gets to go to New York, but the reality is no," he says. "So, can we bring some of those things here, so they can experience of bit of what they might experience in New York or Paris or London."
Dahlin is enthusiastic about this new chapter — which links back to his upbringing in a musical family — and candid about his mid-life changes. For one, he recently came out as gay, which will no doubt surprise those who figured they had a read on a former Compassion executive vice president and chief operating officer.
"Being gay in an expressly Christian organization is just too complicated, and I didn't want that complication for Compassion and I didn't want that complication for me," he says. "I loved the work that we did with kids. It was fantastic and it was very enriching, but I also knew that that wasn't the right place for me long-term, and certainly wasn't the right place to play the figurehead role, the public face of the organization."
Also, Dahlin had also long known that he simply didn't want to be the company's president. So he's adjusting to a work life that instead has him thinking about next year's Georgia O'Keeffe blockbuster exhibit, and Guys and Dolls opening in the theater next May. Until then, he'll be touring his new industry, identifying new revenue streams, and working to extend the cultural reach of the FAC, by way of partnering with other local entities, so someone out there like him can appreciate what's here.
"The more noise we can make, that maybe breaks into the northeast side of town, and the southeast side of town, that we can make enough of something, that people actually realize, 'Oh, there's something going on,'" he says. "Well, that's going to take a lot of us working together to make some of those things happen."
Pikes Peak Arts Council
On the day we meet, Nora Hardin turns heads in a cobalt blouse with matching glasses and impeccable jewelry. In her hands is a thick notebook, many passages of writing highlighted in bright yellow.
It takes little time to realize that Hardin's just as sharp as she looks. As the first executive director in the Pikes Peak Art Council's 47-year history, the 58-year-old is setting a fine precedent.
Not even a year into her stint, PPAC membership is at an all-time high at 170, and at its Pikes Peak Art & Music Festival in July, the organization broke a food and art sales record at $113,000. Hardin has revamped PPAC's grant program, and has pushed a new series of workshops for creatives with the Small Business Development Center.
Still, she says, "The learning curve has been pretty steep."
In 2013, it was clear to the Arts Council board — on which Hardin had served for three years — that someone would have to take on the challenge. In terms of influence, revenue streams and memberships, no great strides had been made in years.
Hardin stepped into the void, calling upon years of experience in corporate advertising and marketing; a background in fine art photography; and a recent five-plus-year stint as a senior vice president with the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance. That background has given her a bottom-line attitude that has already helped define PPAC — a chamber of commerce for the arts, she says — and looks to unorthodox resources for thinking critically.
"We have a 21st-century library now, so what does it mean to have a 21st-century arts community? What does that need? What does that look like? ... Those are questions we need to be asking ourselves."
First, though, there's the job of shoring up PPAC.
"I don't want the organization to be vulnerable to any one person, or any one style of leadership," she says. "I don't want it to be vulnerable to me. I want it to stand on its own. I want it to be well-articulated in the community, what we're about, what we do."
Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region
Punctuated by exclamations like, "I loved that" and "They were fabulous," Andy Vick lists the following as some of the cultural attractions he's enjoyed since coming to town earlier this year: Lil' Ed & The Blues Imperials, Venus in Fur, Hear Here (his first time at a poetry slam), a ReMINDers concert, Sideshow of the Absurd at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, and, generally, the Butte Theater and Tri-Lakes Center for the Arts.
Clearly Vick, the 49-year-old executive director of the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region, is both passionate about the arts and plugged into the here and now. Since leaving Maryland's Allegany Arts Council to assume the COPPeR helm, he's spent the bulk of his time getting to know the community and gearing up for Arts Month in October. This nationwide initiative to raise arts awareness will hit the region by way of a concentrated month of special programming and lots of publicity.
"In any community, there are people who feel like the arts aren't for them," Vick says. "Or they feel intimidated by the arts, or they've never had a chance to be exposed to it, so they don't know about it — it's just not on their radar. How do you engage them? I think that's sort of the crux of what Arts Month is supposed to be about."
Arts Month wasn't Vick's idea, but the execution is all on him. That has meant collaborating with other organizations to build up a roster of events. Already, the Pikes Peak Arts Council has moved its annual Awards for Excellence in the Arts to October, eight choral groups have come together to produce an all-new confluence show on the 19th, and the big-ticket item is a weekend workshop from Arts Incubator of the Rockies.
Which brings us back to events, and the good chance that you'll see Vick at some of them. "We need to be proud of what we have here, and we need to brag about it," he says. "And I think that's part of COPPeR's job, is to be the objective braggart."
Boopsie and Bunny Bee
Peaks and Pasties
Behind all the sparkle and flash of any Peaks and Pasties burlesque show, you'll find two women who have taken up the sequined baton of southern Colorado's only burlesque group. They go by their stage names, Boopsie, 30, and Bunny Bee, 43, and as executive director and executive assistant director, respectively, they run a 101-member group (and limited liability company) that does at least a handful of shows per month and teaches a burlesque workshop to anyone who wants to learn the art of striptease.
"I'm Pinky and she's the Brain. I'm the vinegar and she's the honey," Boopsie says over drinks at PP's home bar, the Zodiac. Both quintessential blonde bombshells, the women are also mothers with taxing day jobs: Boopsie's a stylist, Bunny Bee a self-employed defense contractor. Both have also been with PP since its early days "and have performed in places we probably don't want to remember, ever," Bunny Bee says, chuckling.
With Boopsie's leadership and Bunny Bee's head for organization and paperwork, the troupe is flourishing. Burlesque-workshop graduates increasingly go on to perform regularly, and core performers are showing at national festivals. (The latter is no easy feat, Bunny Bee says. Applicants often compete against 200 to 300 others to perform.) PP is also growing boylesque, with six or seven male members.
More importantly, Boopsie and Bunny Bee want to continue the work started by former leader Lola Spitfire, who stepped aside at the group's sixth anniversary show last December. The overarching goal is to promote the way burlesque accepts you for who you truly are.
"I'm not trying to toot my horn here, but people have literally come up to me and said that burlesque has changed their life," Boopsie says. "It makes people feel beautiful. No matter what they are, who they are, what they look like inside and out.
"We train people, if you will, to love themselves, love their body, and to show people that they love themselves and that they love their body."
And that means everyone, Boopsie insists: "Our oldest member of our workshop, I shit you not, is 73 years old. And he has performed."
Bee Vradenburg Foundation
David Siegel is the mythical young professional that locals always talk about. The 24-year-old executive director of the Bee Vradenburg Foundation grew up in Manitou Springs, went away to music school in Manhattan, and then stunned his colleagues by returning to his home area.
"After my sophomore year, I had this realization that none of my colleagues knew how they were going to make a living," he says. Prevailing wisdom was to complete school, audition for an orchestra, and get in; no one, he says, thought critically about it.
"Artists have lived in the 'Have art and they will come' mindset, and I think classical musicians are as guilty as anybody," he says. "To be successful as an artist you have to create a scene, you have to create work for yourself — it's no different than being an entrepreneur."
Further, "I was pissed off at all my New York friends [who] said, 'If it doesn't happen in New York, then it's not important.' So I want to prove we can do cool stuff in Colorado Springs."
Siegel became the first intern at the Bee Vradenburg Foundation — an organization that awards grants to cultural nonprofits in the area and seeks to raise arts awareness — and helped launch the program that now offers paid internships annually at various local arts organizations. Before becoming its second full-time ED (following Susan Edmondson), he earned a prestigious El Pomar Fellowship, and learned nonprofit work first-hand.
From his place at the foundation and his on-the-ground experience playing violin in Mango fan Django (along with numerous other bands in which he subs, including Grass It Up), Siegel sees the arts scene as both a participant and a professional advocate, and finds his life between the two nearly interchangeable. It's part of what makes him good at what he does.
Another part has to be his levity. Take his Ignite Colorado Springs talk from last November, which ended this way: "Let's take pride in the arts like we take pride in Peyton Manning."
To KCME general manager George Preston, Colorado Springs is a place with a lot of big-city amenities without a lot of the big-city headaches. Those amenities include the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, Colorado College, the ever-growing UCCS, and, get this, the Pikes Peak Center, whose acoustics "far exceed" those of Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.
"We get a lot of bang for our buck in our investment in music and culture here," he says.
Preston knows this because he spent almost 30 years in the radio business, a large portion in New York City (at WNYC), Boston (WBUR) and Chicago (WFMT). This made for some trepidation in leaving Chicago last year to pursue this job, but now Preston is eager to show Colorado Springs just how much good it truly has.
In KCME, he's found new ways to connect the station (at 88.7 FM) with the community, via live concert broadcasts, August's month-long Shakespeare celebration, Bardfest, and the KCME Culture Zone, a radio show that covers everything from music to food. The response to that was so great, the station expanded it from a half-hour to an hour (and that's with a rebroadcast later in the week).
"A listener came up to me at Nancy Lewis Park when we were recording this concert [with the Chamber Orchestra of the Springs] and she said, 'Thank you so much for the Culture Zone. I never knew that there was so much stuff going on in Colorado Springs.'"
He continues, "All the pieces are really in place. ... I think we're at the cusp of kind of a renaissance in the culture of Colorado Springs; the awareness of it, and how it can be not just an end in itself, but a real deal economic driver for the city in this region.
"I'm always popping awake, earlier than I have to be in the morning, thinking of this stuff. I'm tired but happy, because it seems there's so much opportunity and there's such an attitude of [positivity] and collaboration burgeoning in this town that I'm just tremendously excited about where we're going to be in the next 10 years."
The big cities have what they have, but one thing Preston deeply appreciates about his new locale is something he didn't find in New York or Chicago. "People aren't always on the same page here, so you've got to think about where you're coming from and why," he says. "I've found that people are really open to having respectful discussions and differences of opinion here."
Like Mom always said, no pressure, no diamond.