Arts and cultural events don’t just make the Pikes Peak region more beautiful and pleasant. They contribute significantly to the region’s economic vitality.
“I feel like there’s been a bit of a renaissance in the arts community here over the last five to 10 years,” said Andy Vick, executive director of the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region. “Combined with all the other great things that are happening, I think you’re seeing this wonderful resurgence in our community.”
The arts are important not only to quality of life but to the success of local business, Vick said. According to a 2016 study, arts and cultural organizations generate more than $153 million annually in economic activity in the Pikes Peak region.
“I think about things like not only the economic impact, but also the impact that the arts have on workforce development,” Vick said. “Part of that is creating a community environment and a community climate. Millennials can move and be wherever they want, and find jobs wherever they want. If we want to attract and retain [them], we need to create a culture that is appealing to them.”
The arts play as big a role in creating that culture as outdoor recreation or sports, Vick said.
State of the arts
One measure of the arts community’s growth is Peak Radar Pages, COPPeR’s annual guide, which features 425 community arts and cultural organizations in its 2019 directory.
“When I first got here five years ago, there were a couple of hundred,” Vick said.
The traditional arts districts in downtown Colorado Springs, Old Colorado City and Manitou Springs aren’t the only places where arts and cultural activity is increasing.
New players, large and small, have entered the cultural world in the past five years, Vick said.
“It’s happening throughout the region in different levels and different ways — in some cases very organically,” he said.
“The Knob Hill Urban Arts District has done a great job as a grassroots community effort to start painting murals and making that part of the community visually more appealing, which creates a positive business climate,” Vick said.
“Up in Monument, they have a nice little cluster of arts activity going on,” including Third Thursday art hops through galleries and other businesses, he said, adding that the Tri-Lakes Center for the Arts has created a node of cultural activity.
“There are other little pockets, like the Black Forest Community Center; the Black Rose Acoustic Society puts on great music there,” he said. “It’s not a huge arts district, but it is a place where art is happening and bringing people together.”
New arts organizations are springing up to enrich and enliven the arts and cultural community.
Poetry 719, founded last year, supports self-expression at poetry events and open mic nights year-round. The group hosts the We Do Stuff Poetry Festival; the second annual festival will be held at a number of venues Oct. 16-20.
ARTx is a new partnership of theater and performing arts companies that is bringing high-quality drama, comedy, improv and unique performances to the Carter Payne center downtown.
“They were little groups that came together as a cooperative so that they can host a space they can market together,” said Angela Seals, COPPeR’s deputy director.
The Sunrise Players have been around since 2007 and have grown into a large company that produces family-friendly theater performances at Sunrise Church in the Briargate area.
“On the Break Dance Academy is growing by leaps and bounds,” Seals said. “J & J Hip Hop Dance Company has been around for a few years and is really growing.”
Both of those organizations are in Colorado Springs’ Academy corridor.Ivywild School, which hosts concerts and arts presentations, and the Millibo Art Theatre anchor what could become another cultural node.
The Side Door, a new music venue in the former Blue Star building, “will be able to bring in some touring groups and really get them the right support,” Seals said. “What’s exciting about that is the technical ability of that space and the high-level production quality.”
Stargazers Theatre has been doing that for a long time, “but they’ve really raised their game and rehabbed with new seats,” Vick said.
“Those groups like Stargazers, where it’s thriving apart from a business district, really takes a particular level of effort,” Seals said.
Galleries like G44 Gallery on South Eighth Street and Academy Art and Frame Co. on North Academy Boulevard “are standing alone as cultural spaces in the mix of retail and other businesses,” Seals said.
Locations like First and Main, Gold Hill Mesa and University Village draw customers and patrons with music series and events.
“Community support for those things is what allows distribution across the city to work,” Seals said.
Then there are the major players, like Cottonwood Center for the Arts and the Manitou Art Center, which not only support artists through galleries, studio rentals and classes, but also offer unique resources.
The Cottonwood Center offers a “test kitchen,” where artists can swap paint recipes and get feedback from peers, and monthly artist cafés featuring discussions that explore the business of art.
The MAC — originally called the Business of Art Center — was among the first community facilities in the region to provide artists and startup entrepreneurs with tools to create their visions through a makerspace.
For years, the Pikes Peak Center was the only local venue with the capacity for major presentations. The Ent Center for the Arts, which opened in February 2018, transformed the performing arts scene by adding four performance spaces, plus a new home for the Gallery of Contemporary Art.
“There’s a whole new artist series, UCCS Presents, that didn’t exist before the center came into being,” Vick said.
“Having these artists now come in through the Ent Center also allows some of the smaller local groups to have master classes and access, which helps artists who live here continue to learn and grow,” Seals said.
The Downtown Partnership in Colorado Springs was instrumental in achieving state certification in 2014 for the Downtown Creative District, which includes 2,300 businesses and spans downtown from the Pioneers Museum to the Cottonwood Center.
The Creative Vitality Index, an economic development tool conceived by tech developer WESTAF that measures a region’s creative activity, shows steady growth in the Downtown district’s creative landscape. The district’s score now is almost six times higher than the national average.
A community partnership led by Manitou Art Center Director Natalie Johnson drove the formation of Manitou Springs’ Creative District, which was certified in June 2017.
Colorado Creative Industries, a division of the state Office of Economic Development, administers the creative district program to help communities create hubs of economic activity and attract visitors. Certification offers districts access to grant funding, technical assistance, training programs and advocacy tools.
Among many other programs and projects, COPPeR showcases the arts and connects the arts and business each fall with its Arts Month campaign.
This year, COPPeR kicked off the sixth annual Arts Month on Sept. 27 with Artini, a celebration featuring live performances and hands-on art activities at the Pioneers Museum and The Gold Room.
Business and the arts intersect directly at the annual Business + Arts Lunch, co-sponsored by COPPeR and the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC on Oct. 10 at The Antlers hotel.
“The business and arts lunch is an opportunity to recognize businesses and business leaders who see the value of investing in arts and culture and to recognize them publicly and award them for their engagement,” Vick said.
Arts advocates are finding new ways to build awareness in the business community about the importance of the arts and to integrate the arts into their work, Vick said.
“Cottonwood Center for the Arts has a really neat, relatively new program where they are providing local businesses with artwork from the artists at Cottonwood,” he said. “It’s a fee-based kind of thing, so the artists in Cottonwood are making money, and the businesses that choose to engage with Cottonwood are getting amazing local artwork on their walls that’s rotated out quarterly or every six months, whatever it might be. We’re going to be honoring them at the business and arts lunch for that really innovative collaboration.”
The Arts Business Education Consortium, another venerable organization that supports the arts, brings education into the picture.
According to member Jim Ciletti, the ABE Consortium was born out of a conversation at a PTA meeting in 1979 acknowledging that the arts in education needed more support from the community, business and arts organizations.
The consortium recognizes innovative arts education programs, excellence in teaching and business support of arts education at an annual luncheon.
In April 2019, the consortium celebrated its 40th anniversary with more than 200 business, education and arts patrons and leaders. The luncheon theme, “Arts Education is Everyone’s Business,” has remained the same for 31 years, Ciletti said.
Along with its umbrella organization, the Pikes Peak Arts Council, the consortium also provides student scholarships and microgrants for teachers.
The Arts Council, an independent, all-volunteer nonprofit formed in 1968 to support the arts, helps artists learn business and professional skills through its Courses for Creatives program.
“We have a program in the works for residencies,” said Lisa Cross, a high school art teacher who serves as the council’s president.
“My vision is to get businesses that have empty space that they have not been able to rent to have guest artists in those spaces,” Cross said. “Space to work is a big need in our community.”
If that initiative comes to fruition, it will reflect the business community’s continuing willingness to support the arts.
“I think we’re at a little disadvantage in that we don’t have corporate headquarters here, and sometimes corporate headquarters make the largest contributions to the creative sector,” Vick said. “But for a community without a lot of corporate headquarters, I think the business community continues to step up because they understand that the arts are important to quality of life and that if they want to attract and retain workforce, they need to create a community environment where people want to be.”