The folks at the Gallery of Contemporary Art want their spaces to become what sociologists call the "third place."
"Home is your first place, work is your second place and third is where you connect with your friends and make new friends," says Daisy McConnell, director of GOCA at the University of Colora do at Colorado Springs. "You have a community experience and feel welcome there. We want to be that niche."
The art party "Brilliant 2013" is one way they hope to make that happen. It's the second annual event of its kind. More than 300 people attended 2012's "Brilliant," which celebrated the GOCA's 30th anniversary. The event was recently nominated for the 2013 Pikes Peak Arts Council's Visual Art C.I.A. (creative, intriguing and astonishing) award.
"We're the best when we're engaging with our audience, and people are particpating in what we're doing," say McConnell, who was also recently nominated for the 2013 Pikes Peak Arts Council's award for Visual Art Excellence in Curatorship.
The event is Saturday on the UCCS plaza and includes food, drinks, art, entertainment and a live auction. Among the evening's festivities is a partnership between Ormao Dance Company and local artist Aaron Graves in his mannequin installation. Award-winning sculptor Sean O'Meallie created and donated an original piece of art for the six-item auction, which will be led by Joye Levy, a local actress and director. The Big Band group Thin Air Jazz will perform a couple of sets of original and cover tunes, and Lindy Hop dancers from Front Range Swing and Jazz will perform.
GOCA exists in two homes. The campus gallery, GOCA 1420, opened in 2,800 square feet of space in 1981.
"The gallery wasn't built with state funds," McConnell says. "It has always had a community component, which is appropriate since we're here to serve the community."
The downtown gallery, GOCA 121, is tucked into the south end of the Plaza of the Rockies building in 1,800 square feet of space. It was originally built as an extension of the Fine Arts Center, called the FAC Modern, in 2006. Three and a half years ago, the FAC offered it to GOCA.
Attendance has increased steadily in the past few years, McConnell says. The majority of the 20 percent increase in the 2011-2012 season was in the downtown gallery. In 2012-2013, a 27 percent increase was attributed to destination exhibits, such as Oregon artist Michael Salter's "Styrobot: Nothing Comes From Nothing," which opened in January, and "Rain Machine: Eric Tillinghast," which opened last fall.
"We want our space to be a participatory space," McConnell says, noting there are camps of art thought. The traditional approach is experiencing art passively.
"You go in, maybe you have the text on the wall, maybe the curator is telling you what they've researched about it. That has a valuable place, but more and more galleries, museums and academic spaces are moving toward a participatory model. We embrace that."
That intention lies behind gallery programming that doesn't scream art at first blush. That includes programs like Lunch Beat, an hourlong dance session held at GOCA 121 and other locations, and ChitChat, evenings of conversation and hands-on learning that involve two seemingly unrelated topics.
"Programs like Lunch Beat - you think, well how does that relate to your mission?" McConnell says. "But it has brought in a new audience that wants to be part of a quirky event, and they happen to be in the gallery. And we connect with other arts organizations in a meaningful way.
"It's not necessarily what you would think of as a classic experience of a museum, but people are looking to engage."
Jennifer Mulson can be reached at 636-0270.
When: 7 p.m.-midnight Saturday
Where: The plaza at University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, 1420 Austin Bluffs Parkway
Tickets: $45, $40 Gallery of Contemporary Art members, $85 VIP, $30 students with ID; 255-3504, http://www.uccs.edu/~goca/