Friday, March 1, 2019

Peak Arts Prize individual artist finalists want to spark conversation and share stories

Posted By on Fri, Mar 1, 2019 at 1:00 AM

The Peak Arts Prize, a grant contest run by the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region and the Pikes Peak Community Foundation's Fund for the Arts, kicked off public voting for its second year on March 1, open through March 15.


Anyone in the community may take a look at the videos on Peak Arts Prize's page, and vote on the project they most want to fund in three categories: large arts organizations, small arts organizations, and individual artists.

We at the Indy chatted with each of the finalists in the individual artist category to learn more about their projects, what they wanted to do with the funds, and what value they feel their work will bring back to the community that invests in it.


See our print issue on Wednesday, March 6, for a chat with Angela Seals of COPPeR about changes made in the prize's second year.

Kailani Dobson: Atlas.Promisi

click to enlarge COURTESY KAILANI DOBSON
  • Courtesy Kailani Dobson
Local dancer Kailani Dobson proves unique among the finalists in this year’s Peak Arts Prize, as she has been here before. Last year, she and her project partners Robert Stokes and Bailey Wilde made it into the finals for their ambitious photography project. This year, however, Dobson’s proposal proves more personal.

“I lost my grandma last year in November,” Dobson says. “And she was a really big part of, like, why I do art and why I dance. And I was stuck with these weird kind of feelings of what to do with the promises that we had left with each other.” She asked herself whether or not she still had to follow through with the promises she had made, or if any of those promises changed now that her grandma had passed away. “I got interested in what other people would say if I asked them to share a promise with me.”

Since then, Dobson has been collecting written promises by leaving submission boxes at the coffee shop where she works, and asking friends to collect promises from people they know. These promises can be simple, Dobson says, the “tiny contracts we make in a day” like telling someone you’ll call them when you get home. But Dobson has collected promises that delve deeper, too. One promise reads simply, “Me time,” while another says, “I promise to live through you and for you, dad.”

“And after I started collecting them, I realized that it was this weird kind of untapped vulnerability in the community,” Dobson says, “and that people wanted to share these things, but they didn't have a platform.” She has collected more than 100 promises already.
Her project, Atlas.Promisi, aims to combine these hand-written notes into a physical art installation which will provide an environment for Dobson’s culminating performance. She plans to choreograph a dance to a custom soundscape, all inspired by the promises she has received. But that’s far from the last of it. In conjunction with the project, Dobson will host workshops to help people tap into whatever their promises happen to bring up — memories, sadness, joy, guilt — any emotion that needs an outlet. She hosted her first workshop already at Ormao Dance Studio, and encouraged people to explore their promises through journaling and movement. 
click to enlarge KAILANI DOBSON
  • Kailani Dobson


Should Dobson receive the Individual Artists grant from Peak Arts Prize, she hopes to spruce up her submission boxes and place them in more locations throughout town, and to make the workshops more accessible to the wider community by traveling them to different locations. Then, later, she will use some grant money to copy and bind these promises in a book so everyone who anonymously submitted their promise may take home a piece of the project. “They can also see the vulnerability of the entire community … all the other things people are struggling with,” she says.


Thom Phelps: A Farewell to Bees

click to enlarge COURTESY THOM PHELPS
  • Courtesy Thom Phelps

Thom Phelps may have gotten his start in cartooning, and may consider himself a cartoonist at heart, but over the course of his career his artwork has taken plentiful turns. For decades he worked in graphic design, and more recently he has become a prolific sculptor.

His sculptural works can be spotted throughout town, such as the “Giving Tree,” crafted in steel and stone, situated outside Giving Tree Montessori School, or “High Plains Desert Flower,” a sculpture purchased by the city of Colorado Springs in 2017 to occupy a flower planter near Acacia Park on Tejon Street.

Phelps’ most ambitious sculpture project to-date, though, will take on a different kind of design, moving away from his usual abstract works to focus on a poignant image that he hopes will spark conversation. “We love bees,” Phelps says. “I love bees … and they're usually such a sweet image. But then when you see one dead, you know, it kind of hits us viscerally.”
After seeing a great many articles about the slow extinction of Earth’s pollinators, then conducting his own research into the depth and breadth of the problem and its controversies, Phelps was struck by this image of the dead bee as a representation of climate change and our planet’s future. “The conversation needs to be made, and I think it should be a conversation about the image ... And I personally feel very strongly about it, but I wanted to come at it from a sense of 'well, let's look at this objectively.'”

He hopes to recruit other artists for a gallery show, to be titled A Farewell to Bees. Whether contributing artists and visiting community members believe bee extinction is a genuine problem or a natural process whose impact is up for dispute, Phelps simply wants people to talk about what the bee means to us.
click to enlarge THOM PHELPS
  • Thom Phelps
Should Phelps win the Peak Arts Prize this year, he plans to put most of the money into the centerpiece of “A Farewell to Bees,” a massive steel sculpture of a dead bee, legs curled as it lies on its back. With any extra funds, he hopes to compensate other artists contributing to the gallery show, and perhaps offer a cash prize for an opening night “people’s choice” award.

He believes drawing attention to this in Colorado Springs, especially, can be valuable, because this city hosts so many different viewpoints.

“You've got the, you know, the right and the left, right here on … the environment and climate and GMO and all these different topics; this is a great place to have that kind of conversation.” He hopes being confronted with such visceral imagery may encourage people to “be more aware of the images that you are taking in, that are being put in front of your eyes — and not necessarily ‘be wary,’ but be aware.”

Adam Williams: Humanitou 2.0

click to enlarge Xanthe Alexis, photographed for Humanitou - ADAM WILLIAMS
  • Adam Williams
  • Xanthe Alexis, photographed for Humanitou
Three years ago around Christmas, photographer Adam Williams moved from St. Louis with his family to Manitou Springs. Both he and his wife worked from home, and they struggled to find ways to engage meaningfully with their new community. However, with a background in journalism, and with an entire town of creative, fascinating individuals surrounding him, Williams hatched an idea for a project to not only connect him to the community, but to allow him to share that community’s stories with the world.

In 2017, Williams launched Humanitou, a website where he has since collected almost 60 interviews with Manitou Springs locals, especially the town’s artists. But these interviews don’t just scratch the surface of what these people do for a living or how they make their art. Williams doesn’t document small-talk or chit-chat. “I want to get at the heart of how they see life, maybe where they — well, definitely where they've learned that from. That comes from life experiences.” He mentions a 65-year-old man he interviewed recently who lost both of his parents suddenly when he was only 15. “You know, these are things that really have influenced him, of course, through the rest of his life,” Williams says. “And I think when we talk about those things, that can be about resiliency, struggle, can be about love and marriage, or any kind of relationship that people are in.”
Williams has interviewed some of the area’s biggest names, from nationally recognized artist Floyd D. Tunson to prolific illustrator Charles Rockey to drummer and dancer Dallo Fall. But Williams wants to spread the wings of this project, and he wants Peak Arts Prize’s help to do it.

click to enlarge Dallo Fall, photographed for Humanitou - ADAM WILLIAMS
  • Adam Williams
  • Dallo Fall, photographed for Humanitou

“The 'humanness' aspect of [Humanitou] is about inclusivity and diversity in every way that we can think of that,” Williams says. “So I want that in age, and I want in race, and I want it in religion and I want it and sex and gender matters, and just every way that a person, you know, holds their story.” His goal is to expand into Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region at large, and to open up both the audience and the participants in order to better share the region’s stories.

Of his project’s importance, Williams speaks with passion for the people he has met, and those he hopes to meet as Humanitou breaks out into its next phase: “Humanitou is about those connections of humanness especially, and creativity. And I think especially in the current ongoing climate of negativity, division, fear, anger — it's probably fair to even say, hatred — then to have this project be about bringing us together, to learn about each other, to hear from voices we're not necessarily always connecting with, whether that's socially or professionally, I think it's important that there be a project that focuses on the common ground of our humanity.”

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