With some flamboyant emceeing from Rodney Wood and a few fantastic George W. Bushisms ("revibration of the arts community"!) from our own City Manager Lorne Kramer, the Depot Arts District (DADA) unveiled their sparkling new brown street signs at the Conejos exit ramp last week. As part of the festivities, they announced that the local architectural firm of Michael H. Collins will be the official design team for the extremely compact five-acre site between the Colorado Avenue and Bijou Street bridges. Together at last were: Vice-Mayor Lionel Rivera, DADA members Elaine Bean and Eve Tilley, the new Chief of Police Luis Velez, local organic farmer Doug Wiley, and many more.
If all goes according to plan, DADA will break ground next summer, with the aim of building sustainably affordable housing for artists, a year-round farmers market, a cooking school and more space for retail galleries and other arts-related events.
Hopefully the unveiling will mark the beginning of the end of what's been a long drought in truly innovative and sustained local cultural activity. What with the new wing of the Fine Arts Center, Jason Spears' anticipated music venue at the corner of Colorado and Tejon, the recently transplanted International Experimental Film Festival, the Business of Art Center's additional garage space, Elaine Bean's spectacular new Phototroph Gallery, the growth of the talent-ridden music communities, rumors of a future UCCS expansion that would include a new museum, the impending national renown of Starr Kempf, and the ongoing efforts of many existing venues and festivals, Colorado Springs is poised to shake off the bitter crust of the evangelical '90s.
There's just one thing missing: Colorado Springs needs an accredited undergraduate and graduate arts and music school on par with the former Broadmoor Academy.
Yeah, art schools are glorified playgrounds for deviant minds looking to milk another four years of slack from the system, but that's the point. People always have gone and always will go to art schools to meet like-minded people and find the time to let their ideas run amok. What young art students bring is new blood, new ideas and new energy.
Take the Broadmoor Academy (which later fused into the Fine Arts Center when it opened in 1936), for example: In its few decades of existence beginning around 1919, the Academy made Colorado Springs one of the great art meccas in the western United States. Boardman Robinson, Starr Kempf, Archie and Irene Musick, Randall Davey, Laurence Barrett, Ernest Lawson, Thomas Hart Benton, Charlie Bunnell, Frank Mechau, Lew and Martha Tilley, and Eric Bransby are just a few of the artists to emerge from its ranks.
When the social realismbased school died out during the rise of the abstract movement in the '50s, Colorado College then took control of what was left of it, and all but killed it off. Though it has graduated some talented artists, Colorado College still doesn't offer a Bachelor's degree in fine arts.
Colorado Springs presently has its share of incredibly talented artists. Sean O'Meallie came by just the other day and left his gorgeously disturbing sculpture "Eat Me" (pictured above) on my desk for a few days ... just because. Woodcut print-master Jean Gumpper just received a fellowship from the Colorado Council on the Arts as did Lenore McKerlie and Daniel Raffin. Local CC grad Daisy McConnell (see Livelong Days) and UCCS student and photographer Brian Doan both have solo shows now hanging in Denver.
Point is: The talent we have here often evaporates into other cities and galleries that offer thriving arts communities and schools. And since the '50s, there's been little to help an arts community congeal and sustain itself locally. An art school has the potential not only to keep talented artists and musicians in the community, but to attract talent from abroad.
By the way, even if you don't have a spare five or ten thousand to invest in art, it'll still be worth your while to head to Ross Auction this Saturday at 10 a.m. for the Virginia Hanauer Estate Auction just to check out some gorgeous works by Gustave Baumann, Ernest L. Blumenschein, Mary Chenoweth, Birgir Sandzen, William Henry Bancroft and a whole bunch more.