Idris Goodwin plans to be obnoxious for a few months.
That’s because Goodwin, local poet, playwright and director of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College, has been awarded a high honor: a United States Artists (USA) Fellowship, and a $50,000 grant to go along with it.
“I’m usually a humble guy, but not this time,” Goodwin says. “Expect a huge, mass entourage.”
United States Artists, a Chicago-based nonprofit that funds arts and artists nationwide, selected 60 fellows among 10 creative disciplines for the class of 2021 — the largest in the organization’s 15-year history. It’s an illustrious group that includes creatives like Minneapolis poet Danez Smith, Alaskan visual artist Nathan Jackson and New York violinist/composer Mazz Swift. United States Artists President and CEO Deana Haggag said in a news release: “The 2021 USA Fellows are a testament to the power of art in shaping the world around us and navigating its complexities.”
In other words, Goodwin has every reason to brag.
While United States Artists works on various funding initiatives, and even helped raise $20 million for struggling artists in 2020, the USA Fellowship is the organization’s flagship program, “and is central to its mission of believing in artists and their essential role in our society,” according to the release.
“Part of what’s so gratifying about [this award] is I do so much applying for funding and initiatives and this was just like, ‘Hey, someone told us you were dope. Tell us if they were right,’” Goodwin says.
When Goodwin took the helm of the Fine Arts Center in February 2020, he was already locally beloved. Before becoming artistic director of Stage One Family Theater in Louisville, Kentucky, he taught theater at Colorado College; wrote, performed and directed for organizations like the Fine Arts Center and UCCS, as well as multiple venues in Denver; and published plays and poetry for national audiences.
“I’ve been doing this so long,” Goodwin says, “I’m very much in tune with different phases and chapters of my creative career, my creative voice. And as I step into arts leadership roles as well, I’m now moving into wanting to make the art, but really wanting to make the art in conversation with the country, ultimately to galvanize and create together, and work with others, and empower other artists.”
Community has been at the heart of Goodwin’s recent initiatives. Among them: During the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, Goodwin made available multiple scripts he had written about the issue, so people could read, understand and educate themselves. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he has led the expansion of the FAC’s digital offerings, including hosting video “check-ins” with other local creatives.
“The award is ... basically saying, ‘We see you, we believe in you. Keep doing what you’re doing,’” Goodwin says. “As an artist in America, and more specifically, listen, as a Black artist who has consistently been saying ‘Black lives matter’ in his work... it means the world to me.”
The timing of the award is also fortuitous, Goodwin says, as it coincides with the nationwide Be an Arts Hero campaign, of which the FAC is a part. The campaign is described on its website as “an intersectional grassroots campaign comprised of Arts & Culture workers, Unions, and institutions in the United States pushing the Senate to allocate proportionate relief to the Arts & Culture sector of the American economy.”
“This is a nationwide campaign,” Goodwin says, “so to have something like [the USA Fellowship] happen in the midst of this as well is — it’s really gratifying. ... It’s very commendable what they’re doing, to have been able to fund so many artists for so long, but there’s so many artists that deserve this and more. We’ve got to keep pushing that fight. We [artists] generate a lot. We generate a lot of tangibles and intangibles for the world. Part of why Denver has grown and is popping is you can’t ignore the arts and culture there, and what it’s done to transform that city.”
Colorado Springs, Goodwin says, is due for a similar transformation — and he’s hopeful it’s on the horizon. “It’s the second-largest city in the state,” he says. “We gotta represent!”
Meanwhile, what will Goodwin do with his personal windfall? The $50,000 prize comes with no restrictions, and a year of free consultation with a financial adviser. It’s a resource he doesn’t plan to take lightly; he knows how fleeting financial support for artists can be.
“To me,” he says, “the measure of an artist is your ability and your dedication to continue to create when the money’s not flowing, and when the audience didn’t show up, and the reviewers were not kind, and — bless your friends and family — when they couldn’t seem to care less about something you’re super excited and passionate about. But when things come along like this it’s a reminder, and it’s a recharge, and it’s an elevation. But it’s melancholy because you know there will also be a moment down the road when you’re in that rut. Where it’s just you and that blank page or that blank canvas. You get halfway through it and you’re like, ‘This is trash.’”