Sunday, February 02, 2014

Good company: Cheyenne, Billings and Loveland

Cheyenne is 15 years behind Billings.

It's playing catch-up with Loveland.

At least we're in good company.

On Wednesday evening, I attended a public meeting featuring staffers from Artspace in Minneapolis. Artspace describes itself as "America’s leader in artist-led community transformation."

At the meeting, Billings, Mont., was represented by Jack Nickels, the tall-drink-of-water cowboy who's point man on its city's nascent Artspace project. Loveland, Colo., was represented by Felicia Harmon. She's been working for more than three years on the Artspace project at the Loveland Feed and Grain building. It breaks ground Feb. 14, which is always a red-letter day in LOVE-land. This makes it the 36th Artspace project in the country, the first in Colorado, the first in the Rocky Mountain West.

Artspace's Wendy Holmes and Stacey Mickelson answered a call from Cheyenne to come on down. Issuing the call was a committee made up[ of reps from the Cheyenne DDA, Arts Cheyenne, LCCC, and a few others. Artspace held meetings with the mayor and city council, artists and arts groups and the general public. They toured three buildings with the potential for artistic live-work spaces: the Hynds, site of the "Lights On!" project, the former Z Furniture Building and the old power plant. They all hold promise as the site for live-work spaces for practicing artists, office space for arts orgs and retail space for arts businesses.

Everyone who spoke at the public meeting was very excited about the possibilities.

But hold your horses, said North Dakota native Mickelson who now works out of the Artspace D.C. office.

The Artspace staff visit is just the first step on a long trail. Artists and arts groups need to be surveyed. Local officials need to be brought on board.

"If elected officials and bureaucrats aren't interested, we can't do it," he said.

It was good sign that the mayor and six council members attended a meeting on Wednesday morning, Mickelson said. But luncheon meetings and agreeing to work together on a long-term project aren't the same thing.

The typical project takes around four years. The quickest turnaround was three years in Buffalo, N.Y. The longest was in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. -- 12 years. While the excitement level remains high in Billings, that project is on hold. The Artspace Billings Facebook page continues to grow and generate interest, according to Nickels. Some city administrators are holding up progress. The Billings downtown is home to a thriving arts scene, including the Alberta Bair Theatre, the Yellowstone Art Museum, the Writers Voice of the YMCA, an annual book festival and a new people-friendly, energy-efficient public library. Many of our northern Wyoming neighbors travel to arts events in Billings. Billings also featured in the new Alexander Payne film Nebraska (Wyoming, too, in one short scene). Get on over and like Artspace Billings on Facebook. Loveland Feed & Grain, too.

We're all in this together.

Sort of. Loveland's on its way. Billings is on hold and Cheyenne is just beginning. It's going to take a lot of people on the ground in Chey-town to make this project a reality. It will take some aye-sayers to get things down and to blunt the bleating of the nay-sayers. You know, the "Beware of Agenda 21" crowd. They'll be having their own meeting this week. Tea Party fave and Laramie County Commissioner M. Lee Hasenauer is hosting a town hall meeting at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 8, in the Cottonwood Room of the Laramie County Library. According to a flier promoting the event, the meeting will be held "to discuss the impacts of PlanCheyenne," the city and county's master plan. Hasenauer is leader of the local Tea Party, and last heard from celebrating in front of the Capitol when the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled in favor of Cindy Hill resuming her duties at the Department of Education. The Tea Party believes that every step in the name of progress is a commie plot. And you know about those commies. Russkis putting on Olympic games. Chinese buying up the Great Lakes. Viet Cong bringing their coffee to Wyoming.

What's next? Prairie hipster artists taking over Cheyenne''s old power plant and waking up downtown with a robust blend of art happenings and poetry slams and coffee shops and brewfests and all kinds of creative capitalist ventures?

You heard it here first.

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