Wednesday, March 4, 2020

David Siegel on learning, listening and supporting local arts

Posted By on Wed, Mar 4, 2020 at 1:00 AM

click to enlarge COS Creatives: David Siegel, March 11, 4:30-6 p.m. • SCP Hotel, 2850 S. Circle Drive, Tickets: $25, includes appetizers and drinks, - JESSICA KUHN
  • Jessica Kuhn
  • COS Creatives: David Siegel, March 11, 4:30-6 p.m. • SCP Hotel, 2850 S. Circle Drive, Tickets: $25, includes appetizers and drinks,

One beautiful thing that unites so many creatives here in the Pikes Peak region: If it seems there aren’t enough local opportunities in the arts, folks don’t just give up and leave. They stick around, and they work to turn this into the vibrant, creative community they want to see. Such was the path taken by David Siegel, who was only 23 when he became executive director of the Bee Vradenburg Foundation in 2013.

In this position, he has helped the foundation distribute funds to arts organizations, while working to connect the community with creative pursuits and creative solutions to problems.
In addition to that and the various boards and committees to which he lends his talents, Siegel also serves as the music adviser for the annual Green Box Arts Festival in Green Mountain Falls, just up the pass from his hometown of Manitou Springs.

Of course, those outside the business of art world may recognize him also as a six-year member of Grass It Up, a local bluegrass band where he rips a mean fiddle alongside bandmates David Jeffrey, Shannon Carr, Jon Bross and Jim Marsh.

Siegel will be joining us onstage March 11 at COS Creatives, a new event series that brings the arts community together to talk about creativity, connection and our vision for the region’s arts. In advance of the event, we caught up with Siegel to give our readers a taste of what to expect.

Indy: I’d like to start at the beginning. What drew you to music?
David Siegel:
What drew me to music I think is the same thing that draws many people to music; I went to a concert. I think it was a Colorado Springs Symphony concert, and I couldn’t have cared less about the music. I was fascinated by the way — so when you hold a violin in rest position, you clamp it under your arm, sort of like a chicken wing. I think I must have been like 3½ or 4. And I thought that was the coolest thing ever, and I wanted a violin to clamp under my arm like a chicken wing. I couldn’t care less about playing. So I don’t know, I think there was something in the back of my mind going on. I really was interested in music. But that was the thing that pushed me over the edge and made me say, ‘I want to play violin.’

So it was violin from the very start?
It was violin from the start. And I was a Suzuki student [a method of learning that builds musical skills alongside the development of language]. So I played classical, Suzuki violin till I was, I think, probably 10 or 12. And I showed up at the Colorado Springs Conservatory thinking I was going to sign up for a string quartet class. The string quartet wasn’t meeting that day, but the jazz band was. And so they said, ‘Oh, maybe David can play in the jazz band.’ I loved it immediately.
I’m not a great reader. And so that also extends to reading music. I mean, I can. I read music all the time just fine. But as a 10 or 12 year old, I would play the wrong note or mismatch notes and I couldn’t really care less about what this classical piece of music was actually supposed to sound like. If it sounded OK to me, I was cool with that... and the ability to use the instrument to say things that I had in my mind but couldn’t necessarily say through classical music was so liberating. …

So it’s not fair to say you made a “change” because you still play many different genres, but how did you end up playing bluegrass?
It was totally backwards. I went to college thinking I wanted to be a jazz violinist. And I’m really glad that I did because it teaches you to say so many different things. And because there’s not a terribly rich history of jazz violin, there’s not like a particular style that you’re expected to adopt. I really started playing bluegrass, as I said, totally backwards and late in life. ...
When I really started playing bluegrass, I was at MeadowGrass [Music Festival] at La Foret [Conference & Retreat Center] in Black Forest. And Jim Marsh, who’s the banjo player in Grass It Up was there, and we were standing in the meadow. And I think I just said like, ‘Hey, I’d love to jam with you guys at some point.’ And he said, ‘Great come to rehearsal tonight.’ And so I showed up at rehearsal and just sort of kept showing up. And they haven’t kicked me out yet.
I come to bluegrass very differently. Like I come at it as a jazz player. So I am not a technical, like, traditional school of fiddling, but I’ve kind of adopted bluegrass to jazz technique and classical technique, and it just so happens that that fits really well with David Jeffrey’s songwriting and the sound of that band.
How would you say that being a musician — but also having this really awesome experience with the band — has influenced your professional life with Bee Vradenburg and Green Box and the like?
I pinch myself all the time because I get paid to think about how to make the arts community successful and how to support that arts community through advocacy and funding as part of my day job, and then at night I get to be part of that arts community and create as part of that arts community. So, just on a personal level, I’m so lucky. I give a ton of credit to the Bee Vradenburg Foundation trustees. ... When I applied, I was really clear like, ‘I am both an administrator and an artist.’ And I give them a ton of credit for saying, ‘We are an arts foundation, and how great that our executive director can be — is — an artist himself?’
And what we do at the Bee Vradenburg Foundation is so broad and genre-agnostic, so in some ways it’s two different skill sets. At the same time … one of the skills that you get from music is learning how to listen. And so much of my job now is really deeply listening to artists in the community about what it takes to take their creativity to the next level, and listening and then understanding what the foundation can do to support that work. Listening to city leaders and people that speak at park board meetings and understanding how arts and culture and creativity can augment the work that they’re already doing.

You know, there’s such a stigma out there that you’ll never be able to make a career in the arts. Did you ever worry there wouldn’t be a career out there for your passions? And on that note, any advice for creatives, kids who might be put down by the idea that the arts aren’t a ‘real job’?
I have no advice for kids. I have advice for the society that tells kids that there is not a career in the arts. I think that’s totally — you probably can’t print this — but that’s totally bullshit.

We can absolutely print that. May I?

Go for it. What we hear all the time from employers is we want a talented, creative workforce. And particularly as the economy changes, and as technology becomes more prevalent, the thing that sets humans apart from AI is creativity. And so being creative and having that creativity instilled in you at a young age is the most valuable thing you can do for your career. And it’s up to you then to use that creativity to be creative about how you implement your art form and how you monetize your art form. But creativity is the most valuable professional asset that you can acquire.

What else should our readers know about you before the event?
I would just say, I am a product of this arts community and I am really grateful for that. I grew up attending the Colorado Springs Conservatory and was a student at the Youth Symphony. And then I felt like there wasn’t a future for me in Colorado Springs at that time, and the arts weren’t prioritized in a way that I saw a future. I went to New York City and was immediately turned off by this refrain that if it doesn’t happen in New York City or L.A., it doesn’t matter artistically. Immediately my brain said ‘No! There’s great stuff in Colorado!’ And so it’s just such a privilege to get to support and advocate for all of the great work that’s happening here. And then at the same time, you know, get to make music and be creative with the people that make this region and this state so colorful.

And you get to tuck your violin under your arm like a chicken wing! What could be better?

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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