Updated: July 24, 2009 at 12:00 am
The local arts scene, particularly theater, has taken some major blows this year.
The Star Bar Players community theater troupe stopped playing. The Colorado Festival of World Theatre, the most ambitious arts celebration in the region, drew its final curtain.
But the drama hasn’t descended into tragedy. The Manitou Art Theater has settled into its new black box theater, and it’s doing some of its best shows in years.
The biggest music and arts organizations in the region say that, although they face challenges with corporate donations, ticket sales are steady or slightly up.
Cottonwood unveiled its new expanded galleries on Colorado Avenue, and hundreds showed up for the opening, ogling the art long after the hors d’ouvres and wine were gone.
That suggests that even in tough times, the arts are seen here as more than useless frivolity. They’re meaningful and fun frivolity.
In the following pages, you’ll meet some of the people who are making their marks on that cultural landscape. In addition, some of the leaders in the local arts community weigh in with their views on the scene and its future prospects.
Executive director of the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region (COPPeR)
At the national level, lobbyists on Capitol Hill successfully argued that arts jobs are real jobs, and that the arts industry is a vital part of the economy.
An additional $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts was included in the stimulus package as a result. That money helps arts organizations all over the nation.
On a state level, the Colorado Council on the Arts conducted a study showing that the creative industries are the fifth biggest sector of the state economy. However, CCA was forced to cut 25 percent of their budget, awarding $907,000 to individuals, organizations and government agencies in 33 counties across Colorado in 2009. Of that, $90,400 was awarded to arts organizations in El Paso and Teller counties, compared to $183,490 in 2008, which is obviously a significant decrease.
Drilling down to the local level, in 2009, American Style magazine named Colorado Springs among the top 25 arts destinations for midsize cities, which means we must be doing something right.
Of course, the City of Colorado Springs budget crisis has taken its toll on our arts community — because of city budget cuts, the Pioneers Museum (an absolute gem in the heart of downtown) was forced to reduce hours and staff and the parks department has been unable to water the parks, which has impacted concerts and festivals.
The good news, however, is that our local arts community has not suffered as much as other places around the country, mostly due to the fact that our organizations and artists have been operating at the small but scrappy level for years.
Very few local institutions had endowments to begin with, so they could not take a beating. We did, of course, have our casualties — Springs Magazine and Bon Vivant shuttered their doors, some smaller galleries closed down. Some of our most beloved artists: actor Bob Pinney, artist and art director Gerry Riggs and artist Timothy (Timber) Kirwan died.
In 2010 and beyond, I am concerned about the impact a prolonged recession will have on the ability for arts and cultural organizations to thrive., effectively market their services, and continue to build audiences.
However, I believe that the creative momentum in our community has not slowed down; the cultural renaissance we have been experiencing for the past five years continues. There is an energy and buzz about the arts, and civic leaders from all over the region are truly starting to understand the value of arts and creativity.
From COPPeR’s perspective, we feel our programs are reaching more people than ever — we were thrilled to celebrate PeakRadar’s second birthday this summer with a fundraising campaign that exceeded its goal. (PeakRadar traffic is booming and we have information about hundreds of arts events at any given moment, as well as a robust artist profile directory with information on 150 local artists.)
President and CEO of the Fine Arts Center
The experience of the Fine Arts Center in the past year parallels, in many ways, the experience of other cultural non-profit organizations across the country. In a new economic context, there is both good and challenging news.
On the up side, we are seeing strong levels of participation in our programs. Our presentation of “The Music Man” was a virtual tie for the second highest attendance in our nearly 75 year history.
The opening celebration for the Botero exhibition was second only to the crowds we saw at the opening of our renovated building. Registrations at the Bemis School have seen nice growth over previous years with the ratio of children to adult participants shifting a little to the adult side of things. In our last fiscal year, we saw a record of just over 100,000 visitors to the Fine Arts Center. We are on a trajectory to exceed that number in the current one.
Meeting new levels of interest has been a challenge as nearly all activities at the Fine Arts Center are subsidized by the gifts of generous donors who have seen their personal portfolios decrease by as much as 40 percent. Business partners that have been very generous are having to make difficult decisions about community support which, in some cases, is no longer possible. The value of foundations, including our own endowment, have decreased in ways that will effect our operating income for years to come.
To address these issues, the Fine Arts Center has taken an eyes-open approach and anticipated the need for a long rather than short-term adjustment. We continue to work for greater efficiencies in every aspect of our operation and feel, with heightened intensity, the need to be the best possible stewards over the resources that are given to us. We are grateful that we have not had to cut or eliminate programs and have even been able to initiate new ones in response to the situation. These include our monthly fee days in the Taylor Museum and free admission for members all the time to name just two. We are working hard to develop new collaborative partners, recognizing that this is the key to growth and expansion when resources are scarce.
Because of these and other efforts, we will end our fiscal year (Aug. 31) in the black and with no debt. More importantly, we will have completed another year of phenomenal arts programming for this incredible community.
President and CEO of the Colorado Springs Philharmonic
A recession is the perfect opportunity to rethink the arts. More specifically, now’s the time for all organizations to take a hard look at how we organize ourselves, how we deliver our product to the world, and what we’re doing to create a bigger, more beneficial impact in Colorado Springs.
The last year has been an amazing, corner-turning time for the Colorado Springs Philharmonic. We believe that nothing succeeds like great programming — that’s the basis for our turnaround plan.
In spite of the recession, our artistic leadership team deliberately set out to revolutionize Philharmonic programming. As a result, the 2009-10 concert season includes some of the freshest, boldest and riskiest programs ever offered by this orchestra.
And our patrons have responded overwhelmingly. At last count, more than 20,000 tickets have been ordered for the 2009-10 season. That’s a staggering 81 percent increase over last year’s total. For the first time ever, we’re offering season tickets to first-time subscribers at 50 percent off. As a result, many current subscribers have ordered additional ticket packages, and hundreds of families are joining the Philharmonic as first-time subscribers.
At a time when it would be so easy to recede with the economy — scaling back programs and hunkering down financially — the Philharmonic has stood up to the challenge and now sees a rising tide of interest and enthusiasm for symphonic music.
With all the Philharmonic’s good news about new and bigger audiences, that’s only half of the story. Philanthropy has been a challenge for non-profits across the board, and the performing arts is one sector hardest hit by the economy.
Ticket sales cover just half our costs. We count on support from donors to pay the rest of the bills.
In total, we have been fortunate to receive more contributed support than in the previous year, but not quite enough to meet this year’s financial need. With some significant exceptions, foundation grants are down sharply; corporate underwriting is lower than normal; and city funding for the traditional July 4th celebration was understandably withdrawn this year.
Thankfully, individual investment has not fallen off as much as expected. Since this is a hard time for everyone, it means a great deal when our patrons choose to continue their generous support of the Philharmonic’s programs.
Let’s not forget that it’s the creative artists who drive our economic engine. I’m constantly amazed at the quality of the musicians of the Philharmonic. They’re all highly trained and committed professionals, and Music Director Lawrence Leighton Smith has made an immense difference in his nine years on the podium. We are all very grateful to him. Our search for his successor has begun and, thanks to his leadership, the position is likely to draw some of the world’s eminent conducting talents.
Challenging as it may be, this recession is the time for arts groups to reinvent, reconnect, and revive their place in the world. Now is a great moment to discover (or rediscover) the arts in Colorado Springs. The Philharmonic, for one, is set to deliver 41 mind-blowing performances in the season ahead. They’re accessibly priced, fresher than ever, and everyone’s invited.
Executive director of the Bee Vradenberg Foundation:
Like all foundations, the Bee Vradenburg Foundation’s endowment took a hit in 2008. But for 2009 our board decided it was not a time to hunker down or scale back. We have committed to maintaining our annual granting level and providing hands-on leadership in the arts in the region. We give to the arts because we know the arts are essential to people and to communities.
As an arts administrator herself, Bee Vradenburg steered many organizations – not just her beloved symphony – through difficult waters. She loved a challenge. And in these challenging times, the arts are needed more than ever. We need art and music to comfort, to provide times of family togetherness, to elicit joy and wonder, to prompt innovation and new ways of seeing the world.
Will the Colorado Springs arts scene survive these economic challenges? Yes, but it will take tough decisions and innovative thinking and most of all the continued support of everyone in the community. We’re fortunate that we’ve got great new leaders such as Sam Gappmayer at the Fine Arts Center and Nathan Newbrough at the Philharmonic who are the right people in the right places at this time. And good things continue to happen such as the new Cottonwood Center for the Arts and the new home for Manitou Art Theatre.
But everyone needs to remember that it is individuals, as donors and ticket buyers, who are the backbone of support for nonprofit arts – not corporations or foundations, which are very small parts of the overall financial picture. The arts will endure some serious challenges for the next few years. But I am hopeful that people understand that music, art, dance, film and theater are essential expressions of the human condition, essential parts of our children’s education, essential to our quality of life in this city. These people need to continue investing in our arts, now more than ever.
General manager of Colorado Springs World Arena and Pikes Peak Center
From the local patron’s perspective, we are hearing from many of our local patrons that there are many great entertainment options right here in Colorado Springs. There is no need to waste gas, money and time driving the I-25 corridor. In response, our organization has focused our message on “Stay Here, Play Here, See It In the Springs” to remind folks of the entertainment options we have in our own backyard.
From the promoter’s or venue’s perspective, being a presenter is like “legalized gambling” and we have to be able to fit all of the puzzle pieces together. We make decisions based on what acts are currently touring, what fits into our available windows, what fits into our price ranges (which is ultimately what you believe the public will pay for a ticket), our relationships with the talent agencies and promoters and what fits the demographics of our community. If we gamble wrong, we lose.
From our business’s perspective, like many other local organizations, we have seen a slight decrease in revenues. In response, we are focusing on our core mission: to provide world-class entertainment and community support within the Pikes Peak Region. To do so, we must be a profitable enterprise in order to continuously enhance our competitiveness for the entertainment dollar within Southern Colorado. We are not stopping what we do, BUT we are working smarter and more creatively to incorporate added value to the customer, evaluate and retool what we do best, economize and manage our resources without devaluing our day-to-day expenses, and we are also building upon our strong partnerships. We are positioning ourselves to hang on for the next wave of whatever the economy brings us.
For example, our summer concerts at the Pikes Peak Center are less risky to present than some of our other shows, we have added value by upgrading the concessions we offer, we have increased the Penrose Club Member benefits, we have increased the value of our sponsorship packages. As we work with local businesses, we are focused on building long-term relationships with like-minded businesses.
We are always looking to the future. We have programs to support or “grow” athletes and we have now developed a similar program for local musicians. You may have heard of it — Showcase at Studio Bee.
Cottonwood Center for the Arts co-founder
Art is thriving in Colorado Springs! In this tough economy it seems that people are turning to art as a positive aspect of their lives. Cottonwood Artists’ School’s new facility and expansion is evidence of this. Fifty-eight out of 71 studios are rented. We have a total of 79 artists working in the building. When we moved in in March, 2009 at about 65 percent occupancy, our goal was to fill one new studio per month.
We have done that each month since March and in June we filled four new studios. Art sales are up. Enrollment in art classes is up. “Last Fridays” art openings in the Cottonwood gallery are extremely popular with 1,000 to 1,500 people coming out to view and purchase art. Other new art venues, such as Modbo are further evidence of a thriving art community in Colorado Springs.
Cottonwood Center for the Arts co-founder
If the recession had not happened, we believe that our studios would be 100 percent filled. But even with the recession, we are meeting our goals for filling the studios and bringing in revenue from memberships and classes. Our contributions have been affected by the economy. Compared to recent years, people are giving smaller amounts in cash donations and less frequently. We have also received fewer grants from local foundations. This just means that we have to tighten our belts just like everyone else.
The good news is that we are having more visitors to the center each day. People just drop in because they noticed our sign or because they just heard about us from a friend. They come in, and they can’t believe how wonderful it is.
We are also seeing an increase in the sales of art. People who came to an opening, fell in love with a piece of artwork, came back for a second look, and then had to buy it. So many of the studio artists are reporting sales beyond what they thought possible. The cool thing about our center is that there is art here that everyone can afford. We are very optimistic about where Colorado Springs is going, culturally. So many great things have happened as a result of the Downtown Partnership’s goals and vision. And the support that the downtown community is receiving in the form of grants from the Downtown Development Authority is an important element in what is happening. It seems that the tide is turning and our community is seeing the intrinsic value of art for everyone.
Executive director of TheatreWorks
Our endowment is under-water at the moment and, in effort to bolster it’s value, we are taking no earnings from it. Where we used to generate between $25,000-40,000 per year, this coming fiscal year we are budgeting for no endowment earnings.
We’re budgeting about a 35 percent reduction in foundation support.
Corporate giving has been dwindling for many years. Nearly gone are the days of the great corporate angel who sponsors large chunks or our programming.
The bright side is that subscription sales and individual giving remain surprisingly strong.