City Center Series to explore placemaking, culture

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How does a community create an identity of its own? A little public art doesn’t hurt. The Downtown Partnership will present the third chapter in its four-part City Center Series, titled Placemaking and Public Art. The March 7 presentation will include a slide show, panel discussion and a documentary (discussion begins at 6 p.m.) at the Edith Kinney Gaylord Cornerstone Arts Center, 825 N. Cascade Ave. Tickets are $10.

According to the Downtown Partnership, the focus will be “on the crucial role played by public art in urban placemaking.”

Local artist Sean O’Meallie is scheduled to be a panelist.

In 2016, O’Meallie’s downtown piece, Poly Poly, was recognized by Americans for the Arts Public Art Network as one of 30 outstanding public art projects that represent the most compelling works created in the U.S. in 2015.

“It came to light that there is no public funding for arts and culture, at least visual arts, in Colorado Springs,” O’Meallie said. “That piece was a little bit of an anomaly. My part of the discussion is to talk about the processes that were behind the sculpture.”

O’Meallie said public art should be part of any conversation involving economic development.

“If we want to attract business and develop a thriving downtown, the arts should be a consideration,” he said.

The City Center event will also include a viewing of selections from the PAN Year in Review slide show and discussion on how public art “not only beautifies a city, but transforms it,” according to event information provided by the Downtown Partnership.

Discussion will be led by Art on the Streets 2017 juror Tim Vacca, with comments from O’Meallie and Matt Mayberry of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. “We’re fostering a sense that it’s up to all of us to educate ourselves, show up, advocate and work together to figure out how to build the kind of vibrant city Colorado Springs deserves to be,” said Claire Swinford, the Downtown Partnership’s urban engagement manager, adding her organization is “thrilled to see the community’s embracing response to the speakers and ideas we’ve introduced through the City Center Series. On one level, it’s a bit surreal these days to show up to a public meeting on parks or roadway improvements and hear someone who looks like your grandpa name-checking Jeff Speck and Gil Penalosa. On another level, it feels like a slam-dunk: We’re doing what we set out to do, and we’re starting to hear a more informed level of conversation about the future of our community.”

The partnership will conduct its final event of the series’ second iteration April 4 in the telling of the River North (RiNo) story, which will include a speaker panel sharing data-driven development lessons from Denver’s popular arts district. RiNo will serve as the centerpiece of a discussion on how to attract new businesses, serve neighborhood needs and build a supportive live/work ecosystem for the arts, according to the partnership.

“Our last event in this year’s City Center Series is going to be unmissable,” Swinford said. “We’re very lucky to be bringing in a panel from the RiNo Creative District in Denver to talk about how they were able to transform an underutilized warehouse district into a thriving campus for creative industries.”

Swinford said the discussion will touch on a number of relevant topics for Colorado Springs.

“Obviously our Downtown Creative District is hopping, and our creative industries contribute to our local economy on a level that’s quantifiably comparable to RiNo itself, but our neighbors to the north have been able to build an impressive set of public-private partnerships to harness that economic engine in a sustainable and unified fashion,” she said. “Their message of design driven by intent, of building a vibrant ecosystem of amenities around a specific industry or set of needs, is crucial for our community. … Their method of data-driven development also harnesses differences of ethnicity and socio-economic status for good, which makes it extra-compelling and timely.”