When Linda Weise moved the Colorado Springs Conservatory into its location in southwest downtown, she told then-Mayor Steve Bach: “Don’t leave me alone out here; make sure there are other businesses.”
Five years later, Weise’s Conservatory — a nonprofit dedicated to providing performing arts training to area schoolchildren — is still alone on the edge of downtown.
But not for too much longer.
Weise hopes the incipient U.S. Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame will bring economic development, restaurants and businesses to aid her efforts in creating a culturally vibrant, economically sound area on the southwest side of downtown.
“I’m really looking forward to that,” she says. “And I’m hoping that the museum brings even more arts groups to downtown.”
She points to the Conservatory not only as a place where young students learn something about the benefits of the arts, discipline, time management and a host of other skills, but also as an economic driver.
“We bring kids in from a 100-mile radius,” she said. “And 25 percent of our faculty are alumni — they came back from places like Boston and Baltimore and New York City to be here. The city gets such a bad reputation about how it can’t retain Millennials — but we’re doing it here; they’re doing it at Cottonwood and at the Fine Arts Center.”
The arts are an important driver for the business community, Weise says, and she’s grateful to the business owners who “get it.”
“Mike Jorgensen of Red Noland Cadillac, he gets it,” she said. “And there are many, many other people who get it — people like Kevin O’Neil of Catalyst Campus. We couldn’t do what we do without their support. We’re not just creating more musicians or more actors. We’re giving kids a sense of accomplishment, and that is important throughout their lives.”
Andy Vick, executive director of the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region, says arts investments equal economic development opportunities.
A 2012 survey sponsored by COPPeR shows that the arts have a $72 million impact on Colorado Springs and help generate 2,168 jobs. That’s old information, Vick said.
“We conducted a new survey at the end of 2016, and we’ll announce those results in July,” he said. “I am anticipating it to be a much bigger number than the 2012 numbers.”
Vick says they’ll use the 2017 figures to market arts and the Pikes Peak region for the next five years — and get the attention of local businesses whose support is needed to continue to create a blossoming arts community.
That community is vital to attracting and retaining young professionals, to crafting a regional reputation as a place where people want to live, work and play.
Colorado Springs doesn’t quite have that reputation — yet. It will take coaxing residents from enclaves in Briargate and near Powers Boulevard into downtown Colorado Springs, Old Colorado City and Manitou Springs to visit the galleries, attend the plays and listen to live music. The Olympic Museum could help there — as could more activities for families.
It can be a hard sell — competing with social media, movie theaters and shopping. But for those parents who send their kids to the Conservatory and the school districts that bus students from 100 miles away, they get a rich, engaging experience that other families miss by refusing to venture outside their neighborhoods.
“I’ve always wanted a school downtown, ever since I opened the school,” Weise said. “We love it here.”
changing the discussion
How does the city rise above negative conversation to elevate dialogue?
The arts can do that. People come together to see an art show, watch a play, for a Jazz Night at the Conservatory. It’s a way to create community, and from there, to develop a productive, positive dialogue about the kind of city we all want.
The arts community can help solve the perception issues.
As the U.S. Olympic Museum breaks ground and eventually brings additional visitors to Colorado Springs, they’ll talk about the vibrant downtown, the exciting arts and culture, the restaurants and the natural beauty.
There’s work to be done to elevate and support arts and culture, and to recognize the business leaders who understand the importance of engaging young people in the arts at an early age.
“There are those business leaders who know what we’re doing here is important for kids,” Weise said. “They get what we’re doing: We’re providing a positive impact for the rest of their lives.”
And from a lonely corner in southwest downtown, Weise is making a business impact as well. She’s providing jobs, growth and economic activity.
It’s why COPPeR and Vick advocate and educate on behalf of the city’s arts community. And it’s time the rest of us supported those efforts.