Sunday, November 13, 2011

You can "harumph" all you want, but a generational shift is underway in the arts world

Argentango is one of the many artists and
arts groups seen on Old Town Fort Collins
street corners during "Streetmospheres."
Way back in the previous century -- 1998 I think it was -- Fort Collins, Colo., sent out the call for a new motto. The old one was getting frayed around the edges.

The city received lots of ideas. But this is the one I remember best: "Fort Collins: Where Cheyenne Shops."

It was meant tongue and cheek and wasn't adopted. Without looking it up, I cannot tell you the current motto of F.C. This points out that they are probably unnecessary and a waste of the citizenry's time. It also illustrates the fact that there are any number of truisms attached to a city that probably don't belong -- or won't fit -- on its web site banner. I can think of several for Fort Collins:
  • Where Cheyenne and Laramie shop
  • Where Cheyenne and Laramie teens go to party and see indie bands on weekends
  • Where Mike Shay and his beloved wife go to dine
  • Where Wyoming craft beer fans go to refill their growlers
  • Where Cheyenne people go to marvel at a vibrant downtown that doesn't have a huge hole as its centerpiece
  • Where Cheyenne people go to get their hail-damaged cars repaired because we can't wait until February 2013 for an appointment
I could go on, but won't. The whole shopping thing is not as true in 2011 as it was in 1998. Cheyenne has many of the same big box stores that line College Avenue in Fort Collins. We have chain restaurants by the score. Our arts and entertainment offerings are growing.

But we live in the era of thriving downtowns. Fort Collins has one of the best in the West. It has that odd diagonal parking scheme in the middle of the street. It has galleries and funky shops and concert venues and sidewalk cafes.

You just can't get this in Cheyenne. Cheyennites say that it's just so much easier to travel 45 minutes to Fort Collins (or 90 minutes to Denver) than create something similar in our own downtown.

Harumph, harumph.

Part of that is a generational thing. Cheyenne gets high marks from Old Codger Magazine as a great place for retirement. Low crime rate! Low taxes! Low energy level! Cheyenne gets high marks from Old Military Codger Magazine as one of the top ten places for military retirees. Military base amenities and two-for-one hip replacements at the VA! Retirees of all stripes have a future (albeit a limited one) in Cheyenne!


Meanwhile, down in the city named after a fort that never existed, young people gather. recommends F.C. highly for its many hipster hangouts. Bust Your Head Wide Open mag calls the place one of "America's dream towns" for its active outdoor sports culture. The signature label at New Belgium Brewery is Fat Tire and it's brewed by wind power and tended by goatee-sporting brewmeisters. Almost 30,000 young people attend CSU and many grads stick around to start businesses in a town known for its entrepreneurship.

So it's only natural that Fort Collins entities have banded together to create the Arts Incubator of the Rockies. Those of us at the AIR meeting this past week in F.C. were anything but hipsters. Our median age may have been 45. But we're all looking ahead rather than behind. Our futures depend on it.

Traditional art forms are on the decline, and have been for at least a decade. Symphonies, opera, ballet, art museums, and all the rest see declining attendance. The audiences that remain are older. Expenses continue to climb. Even a math-challenged person such as myself (age 60.9163) can see that this is a losing proposition.

On the other hand, art schools continue to crank out record numbers of artists and writers and musicians. The supply side is thriving. The traditional demand side is shrinking. But a survey by Julliard shows that only 10 percent of music grads stay in the industry. Wonder how other university departments would look at such dismal statistics. "UW School of Geology: 90 percent of our grads work at McDonald's!" "CSU Veterinary School: Only 10 percent of our grads have anything to do with animals!"

Beet Street in Fort Collins is trying to breathe some new life into both the creation and the presentation of the arts. They are joined in this regional endeavor by the CSU School of the Arts and the City of Fort Collins. They were partners in a successful National Endowment for the Arts' Our Town grant that brings $100,000 to the AIR effort. The Western States Arts Federation in Denver and nine state arts agencies gathered in F.C. last week to discuss our involvement.

In Saturday's post, I outlined some of the core and potential programs that will be addressed by AIR. The major physical effort will be the renovation of the old Carnegie Library into a regional arts center.

We toured the building on Thursday. It's one of a cluster of historic buildings in City Park. Next door is the sprawling county library, which once was housed in the Carnegie Building, as was the case in hundreds of American towns and cities.

Exhibits, archives and storage for the Fort Collins Museum are now crammed into the Carnegie. All of it, along with the staff, will move to the new 47,000-square-foot Fort Collins Museum and Discovery Science Center by the summer. This new public-private partnership will feature interactive exhibits that blend history and science. It also has a new Digital Dome Theatre that is part planetarium and part IMAX

Meanwhile, back at the Carnegie, Beet Street's Beth Flowers tells us about the plans for the space. It will feature physical classrooms, a virtual learning center, an AIR resource center, Beet Street offices, black box theatre, gallery and other public spaces. The city owns the building so will maintain and manage it. CSU will conduct community-based continuing ed courses as well as classes that will feed into its new minor in Arts Business and Leadership and Master of Music in Arts Leadership and Administration.

"Bronwyn's Factory" by UW Prof Ricki Klages was 
selected from 1,200 entries for the prestigious
Manifest Press's inaugural
 International Painting Annual.

Yet to be decided is how neighboring states fit into the equation. We spent two days last week discussing options in the newly renovated Lincoln Center. Wyoming trains scads of artists at its lone four-year public university and its many community colleges. How will AIR serve them? The University of Wyoming could have its own CSU-like "A" for "Agricultural" on a mountain if one were close enough to campus. And that "A" could stand for "Arts." UW is in the midst of a complete revamping of its arts infrastructure. The massive new visual arts building, located strategically next to the award-winning UW Art Museum, will open in January. The old fine arts building will get a complete renovation over the course of the new two years. The English Department's creative writing program (ranked No. 30 in the nation by Poets & Writers mag) continues to be housed in the oldest building on campus (go figure).

Beefed-up endowments bring amazing performers, artists and writers to campus. Internationally-renowned dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones wraps up his UW residency this month. Rebecca Solnit, Camille Dungy, Colson Whitehead and Salman Rushdie have taught young writers the past few years. Visual artists such as Jesus Moroles, Deborah Butterfield and Ursula von Rydingsvard have taught at UW and their sculptures have been featured on campus.

But the problem remains. UW does not have an arts administration degree program. And students still get a limited exposure to the business side of the arts. Some will get teacher certification and teach. Some will go on to master's and Ph.D. programs and teach. May others will want to make a living as artists and will have to figure it out for themselves.

We in Wyoming have an option that other regional players don't have -- we're right down the road from the AIR project in Fort Collins. Those arts business courses will be nearby. Some will be offered online, too. But since you're already traveling down snow-clogged roads to go to the hookah bar, why not take a workshop while you're there?

At last week's meeting, we talked extensively about ways that state arts agencies such as the Wyoming Arts Council could help sponsor AIR courses. Wyoming students could attend physical classes in F.C. Or maybe some of those courses could be offered at UW in some sort of cooperative agreement with border rival CSU. We talked about a partnership among regional land-grant universities -- all of our states have one.

We have hundreds of talented artists in Wyoming. We also have a problem with our college grads moving out of state to start careers in Denver, Salt Lake City, L.A., and Portland. Wouldn't it be amazing if we could find ways for our homegrown creatives to stay in Casper and Pinedale and Evanston? They will need business acumen to do so. Luck helps, too. But what's that famous saying about luck? "The harder I work the luckier I get." Maybe that should be: "The smarter I work the luckier I get."

We all need to work smarter in tough times. AIR could be one of the ways to work smarter. Wouldn't it be great if Cheyenne could claim a new motto that said: "Cheyenne: Where Fort Collins buys art and attends arts events."
Music on Cheyenne's Depot Plaza
I'll keep you posted on AIR developments. Also get updates on the Wyoming Arts Council blog.

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