The UCCS Gallery of Contemporary Art opened 36 years ago in a new building on the campus that still houses GOCA 1420. Despite its name, GOCA is very much a community-funded endeavor, one that now includes downtown’s GOCA 121 venue.

“In 1980, the Colorado Springs community raised $400,000 to create the space,” said GOCA Director Daisy McGowan. “That’s still amazing.”

Since then, GOCA has been an open, inventive, inquisitive place — unafraid of controversy and ready to deal with difficult subjects. Directors have been constantly challenged to create significant exhibitions on a shoestring budget. Thanks to continuing community support, GOCA’s two galleries have scheduled eight different shows for the 2016-17 season.

“Colorado is 49th in state funding for higher education,” said McGowan. “So there are a lot of budget issues. Like TheatreWorks, we’re entirely self-funded. The university pays for a staff of two (McGowan and Community Cultivation director Nicole Anthony), and we also have three to five student employees on federal work-study grants. But we have no direct financial support — we have to raise almost every penny ourselves.”

Although GOCA focuses on contemporary visual arts, gallery exhibitions often feature multidisciplinary performance art, which incorporates dance, music and anything else artists can imagine or create. The gallery space is always busy, with concerts, dance parties, pop-up shows, yoga and half-a-dozen annual interactive/educational programs.

Thanks to this lively, creative potpourri, gallery visitation has soared, increasing by 148 percent in the last five years.

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GOCA’s annual budget of around $65,000 is tiny when compared to the Fine Arts Center and the Pioneers Museum, but the organization punches far above its weight. Most of its annual budget goes to exhibitions and events.

“We want challenging, experimental work,” said McGowan. “This is our fourth year with Give!, and we’re so grateful for the continuing support.”

At 36, GOCA is one of the youngest of our major public arts organizations — and it shows.

“We’re on a mission,” says GOCA’s website, “to bring exhilarating art experiences that spark engaged thinking, questioning, wondering and socializing. GOCA isn’t stuffy, snobby or a snooze fest. We’re a place for the people — where exhibitions are free, refreshments are plentiful and humor is more than welcome.”

First up in 2017 lineup: Black Power Tarot, a collaboration among musician King Khan, surrealist filmmaker/guru Alejandro Jodorowsky and visual artist Michael Eaton (Game of Thrones). The three created a tarot that includes images of 26 prominent African-Americans whom Khan felt “followed the proper path of illumination.” The images conform to the geometry and symbolism of the 1760 French Tarot de Marseille. Each card will be printed and displayed in maximal scale. There will be live tarot readings.

Such ambitious programming requires community buy-in and audiences get the requisite bang for the buck.

[su_box title=”GOCA by the numbers” box_color=”#005ac3″]• Two galleries

• Eight to nine exhibits a year

• Seven-plus annual regular interactive and educational programs

• 18,000 visitors in 2013

• 25 percent more visitors each year since 2010[/su_box]