From a “pretty Midwestern, middle-class, suburban kind of existence” in Detroit, Idris Goodwin’s creative life took him to Chicago, Colorado Springs and Louisville, Kentucky. He landed back in Colorado Springs as the director of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College in February 2020 — just in time for the COVID-19 pandemic to change everything. But he’s unfazed — even excited.
“I am extremely proud to have this position — I really am. And I am in it for the long, long haul,” Goodwin said. “The Fine Arts Center has been around for over 100 years and I went down the rabbit hole and learned about all the previous 17 directors before me and its humble beginnings. I think about being a part of that history, and it’s a big deal.
“I see Colorado Springs is changing and growing. Young people are coming here, and the whole state is really evolving, and I think that the arts are going to play a huge part in that growth. There’s just a ton of potential. … This is a unique opportunity because it marries my passion for education, as part of a college and it has a public-facing art school, and it allows for me to collaborate.”
Taking on a new role in the midst of a global pandemic “is not the way anyone wants to start,” he acknowledges, “but I’m still driven by this great potential that lies ahead. I think the future is really bright, and that excites me. It gets me up every day, and motivates me even in this challenging time.”
In Chicago, Goodwin studied film at Columbia College and cut his teeth as a writer and performer, frequenting hip-hop clubs and open mics in the city. He got into playwriting and contemporary arts at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and worked in galleries. He ventured into spoken word, started a theater company, promoted shows and became “known as the person who’d bring hip-hop into these segregated clubs that typically only booked a lot of bands.”
With his wife, he moved to the Springs in 2012 as a live-in professor at Colorado College in theater and dance. After a stint in Louisville as the artistic director of StageOne Family Theatre, “this opportunity to become the director here presented itself,” he says, “and I put my hat in the ring.”
What was that transition like, going from creating things to managing artists?
To me there’s no dichotomy — at the end of the day, all professional artists are administrators as well. I come from theater and grassroots promotion — so that is about relationships, that’s about deadlines, that’s about understanding people, that’s about networking. For me, this is just an extension of that; it’s not a separate thing. … I’ve always been very cognizant of the whole circle of life. You start with the great art you want to do. And then you work backwards. In order for me to make this great art happen, what kind of artists do I need? But also what kind of environment do I need to foster? And how do I make sure to cultivate an audience for it? All those things play into it. ... You connect it all. My experience as a creative has never been this van Gogh — this myth of the artist in his or her cabin taking two years to complete the masterpiece. My understanding of arts is fundraising, hustling, marketing.
You’re a Black man from Detroit leading this massive organization in a predominantly white industry — how do you navigate that?
Here’s the thing about it: I’ve been one of the few Black folks in the room many, many times, in all of my journey. It was weird, like I’m in the city of Chicago, which is this diverse city but very culturally segregated, and the theater space was mostly white. But the hip-hop space and spoken word space was very diverse. That was why my goal was to blend theater people and hip-hop people, just all be in the space together and learn from each other. That’s what helps me navigate any kind of space, because I’ve never lose who I am. I try to walk in my values, but also my goal is always to try to find ways to diversify spaces. For me, now it’s kind of become my mission. … My industry, my field is a certain way but that’s changing, and I see myself as being an active part of that change, for the betterment of the field, ultimately.
What are your goals for your time here?
I would love if, as we set course for the next hundred years, that my tenure would be looked upon as a pivotal turning point. The college and Fine Arts Center just have this alliance which is huge and historic, so I’m at the foot of that mountain. For me, these next several years are critical to the course that we’re going to take for the next hundred years — because we can’t take the same course that the center was already on as its own entity, and the college is not going to be the same either. There’s a new president of the college coming in, COVID has sort of shaken things up a bit ... so it’s just about us answering that question: Who are we? Who are we going to be for the next hundred years? ... My hope is to set us on this course that is really dynamic and exciting, and I want us to be a key player in the growth of the city. ... All of these young professionals are staying and raising their families here, and they look to us as being one of the key reasons why they stay. But also students — some of the brilliant people who come out of Colorado College — stick around and keep their brilliance here. How can we be a resource for retention of some talented people of tomorrow? How do we enrich the city?
What else do you want people to know?
One of the reasons that I took the position here was that the college had made a commitment, in that interim when I left, to antiracism. And they were one of the first colleges or educational institutions that I’ve seen that had made that full-throated commitment. During my time as a professor there, there were a number of unfortunate, racially motivated incidents that really hurt my heart because I saw the effect it had on the Black students. … [To see] the school saying, ‘We’re committing ourselves to antiracism’ means so much to me — this is an organization that really understands that these are the kinds of things that actually can be a deterrent. ... I think there’s a role that the arts can play in that work as well, because it’s through the arts that we learn about different cultures, about different perspectives. That’s something I’m very intentional about — this antiracism through the arts, working in alignment with the college’s commitment to antiracism. I think it’s possible to promote and explore the arts of the region ... and also normalize and celebrate difference, to make people feel safe and included. When your city appears to be welcoming to all walks of life, you’re going to get the best people from all over the spectrum, because everybody’s going to think, ‘Well, I can move there. I can do that there. I can raise my kids there. There’s some of me there.’ The arts can do that.
— Join Phil Long Dealerships and the Colorado Springs Business Journal for the 2021 COS CEO Leadership Lessons with Idris Goodwin, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College, 4:30-6 p.m., July 8, at the Ent Center for the Arts.