For 27 years, the Manitou Art Center has fostered a thriving art community, offering a hub for creative thinkers to engage, experiment and learn. Providing artists and visitors far more than the standard gallery experience — although the center has four of those, too — the hallmark of the MAC has been its persistent dedication to collaboration and innovation.
At the helm of this symbiotic collective of more than 96 artists and nine organizations is Executive Director Natalie Johnson, who took on the position three years ago. Before joining MAC as director, Johnson had developed extensive experience as a community-builder, serving the center as a volunteer and working with various nonprofit boards in Manitou Springs.
During her tenure so far, she's helped to facilitate what she sees as a natural evolution of MAC's purpose in the community at large.
"The thing that intrigues me the most about where we're headed as an art center is the idea of tool sharing and skill sharing, and the idea that as things progress [in society], we're probably going to live smaller and smaller," says Johnson. "We can't own everything we need, so we will be going to places like the art center to do the things that we can't do at home anymore."
As part of expanding that vision for the future, the center welcomed the Pikes Peak Makerspace to its collective of artists and organizations early this year, and celebrated its grand opening in April. Makerspace introduced even more possibilities to the center's already broad offerings, including 3D printers, an expansion of the existing wood and metal shops, welding shops, and vinyl cutting.
The new resources are certainly a deviation from the ordinary in the expected concept of an art studio. Johnson is proud of this differentiation, saying, "The variety of things — when we talk about making and creating — is larger than people realize when they think about a traditional studio art space."
The addition of the new organization has not diverted attention from the MAC's dedication to art and artisanship. If anything, it's expanded it.
Kelly Snyder, President of the Board of Directors and a long-time volunteer, has been delighted with the engagement between the various organizations.
"There's all this tremendous overlap between the makers and the studio artists — the makers are also considered studio artists," notes Snyder. "We've had a lot of really fun collaborations.
"One of the most exciting things in the 21 years I've been involved volunteering at the art center has been having that new, forward-thinking focus," Snyder adds.
Bringing in the Makerspace has provided a new dynamic — and a host of new activities — within the space. Currently, the MAC offers 24/7 access to members and hosts as many as 50 events each month, including gallery shows, classes in everything from charcoal drawing to robotics, and theater performances and music.
One of the most surprising things to learn about the MAC is, despite the perpetual activities and events, it has just two paid staff members. So the model of a collective operation, Johnson explains, is an absolute necessity for success, as is the mutual respect, positive community and willingness of that community to work together to keep the center moving forward.
"In each specific area, there's usually someone who emerges as the manager of that space, and they are the people we turn to, to train new folks," says Johnson. "It is primarily self-managed and that's the only way we can do it."
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