Peak Radar offers virtual hub for online arts 

Art online

click to enlarge Counterweight is one of the organizations using Peak Radar. - ETHAN EVERHART
  • Ethan Everhart
  • Counterweight is one of the organizations using Peak Radar.

On March 26, Peak Radar, a program of the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region (COPPeR), rolled out a new section of its website that offers virtual content from local artists and organizations. Peak Radar has been an online calendar and marketing asset for the arts scene for years, and now, with Peak Radar Virtual, is pivoting its focus to accommodate new needs in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Peak Radar has always been about connecting residents and tourists to the local creative scene,” says Jonathan Toman, Peak Radar Manager at COPPeR, “and as we followed what was happening nationally, we were already envisioning what our adaptations would look like. We wanted to make sure people could stay connected to our arts community, no matter where they were.”

Since mid-March, when the practice of social distancing began to take hold locally, most events have been canceled. Now, with the stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Jared Polis on March 25, venues that were holding out hope for a quick resolution have shut their doors, albeit temporarily. This applies to massive institutions like UCCS’ Ent Center for the Arts and the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College, as well as smaller organizations like Funky Little Theater Company and The Gallery Below. In light of current circumstances, everyone needs to find new and creative ways to garner a broad audience.

As of March 27, Toman says 21 organizations are now sharing digital content on Peak Radar Virtual.
Last week, the Indy reported on G44 Gallery, which put its exhibit of Betty Ross paintings online for folks to peruse from their homes. This week, we talk about Kreuser Gallery, which has done the same with its current exhibitions. As more and more arts events like those go digital, Peak Radar will be a kind of landing page, a hub for artistic engagement.

One small arts organization that has begun to share its work online: Counterweight Theatre Lab. This theater company doesn’t have a venue of its own and therefore doesn’t have literal doors to shut, but Counterweight director Ethan Everhart says via email, “We’re having similar challenges to other theatre companies, I think, in that theatre is sort of inherently an in-person artistic medium... Filmed versions of plays, for example, are really difficult to pull off and usually require a lot of money/production value, and even then it turns it into a different sort of thing. Theatre’s whole reason for being is the live element and the interaction between audience and performer, so it’s a problem.”

Counterweight had to cancel its final two performances of King Lear, its Shakespeare classic with a twist, where all the actors learned all the parts and rotated roles throughout the show.

But in that void grew innovation. Counterweight has now added a free-to-stream audio play to its website: The Fever by Wallace Shawn. Everhart says that, because so many people listen to podcasts these days, an audio play format should be accessible and familiar, and it is a way Counterweight can continue to share plays with a purpose. “Nobody at Counterweight does what we do to make money,” Everhart says. “We do it to tell meaningful stories. This is another way to do that.” He hopes their next audio play will be available online in a few weeks.

Audio plays are just one example of content offered by our local arts scene on Peak Radar Virtual. For instance, Old Colorado City-based art gallery 45 Degree has begun posting interviews with its contributing artists to its Facebook page, free to watch.

“Their [the arts organizations’] content includes everything from livestream concerts and artist interviews to audio plays, museum exhibit tours, and even take-home pottery kits,” Toman says.

Peak Radar has noticed an increase in organizations submitting content to the site themselves, so it is likely that as word spreads and further creativity comes out of seemingly insurmountable challenge, the hub will host even more content.

One event everyone’s excited to see: A virtual First Friday art walk.

First Friday is consistently the biggest night every month for local arts, when galleries across the city open new exhibits, feature live demonstrations and music, and encourage camaraderie and engagement. COPPeR even runs a First Friday shuttle bus April through October that takes participants through the city’s three main creative districts. That is obviously not a possibility in the stay-at-home age. But how can the arts community recreate the First Friday feeling online?

“Claire Swinford [urban engagement manager] at the Downtown Partnership is coordinating Virtual First Friday,” Toman says, “along with representatives from Old Colorado City and Manitou Springs. Peak Radar is going to host the landing page, which will also be part of Peak Radar Virtual.”

The landing page is available now at peakradar.com/virtual-first-friday. Sure, you may not be able to take advantage of The Modbo’s amazing hot food spread or Chavez Gallery’s legendary First Friday parties, but these galleries are stretching their creative muscles to offer unique and engaging experiences to continue to provide us with quality local art — an effort that speaks to the indomitable creative spirit of this community.

“I think a highlight of Peak Radar Virtual moving forward will be the breadth of content that users will be able to enjoy, all from one place,” Toman says. “Driving revenue for arts groups is also on our mind – financial health and stability is part of a healthy arts community. In addition to awesome free content, perhaps we’ll be able to showcase paid livestreams or other similar opportunities down the road.”

The Pikes Peak Community Foundation and the Bee Vradenburg Foundation have teamed up to offer an Artist Recovery Fund to help creative businesses, organizations and individuals affected by closures and lost revenue. Find help or donate at ppcf.org.


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