Wyoming Arts Council

Potential partners for the Arts Incubator of the Rockies (AIR) project meet in Fort Collins

The historic Carnegie Building, once home to the Fort Collins Public Library, will house the new Arts Incubator of the Rockies. 

Wyoming Arts Council staffers Michael Shay and Rita Basom attended a two-day meeting last week in Fort Collins, Colo., about the Arts Incubator of the Rockies. Arts types from nine states came to town to brainstorm ideas for the AIR. This multi state effort aims to turbo-charge the region’s artists and arts organizations and is being spearheaded by a triumvirate of Ft Collins entities: Beet Street, the City of Fort Collins and Colorado State University School of the Arts.

It’s a great thing when an arts organization, a city government and a major land-grant university get together to forge a plan for the future. A rare thing, too. Together they applied to the National Endowment for the Arts and received a $100,000 Our Town grant. They then invited their neighbors from WY, CO, NM, UT, ID, MT, NE, NV, SD and ND to town to talk about next steps. The only state not interested (for now anyway) was Nebraska.

Fort Collins can brag about its arts and culture scene. This city of 140,000 sprawls along the PoudreRiverValley and butts up against the Front Range of the Rockies. There’s a big “A” up on the mountain that gets a fresh coat of whitewash every year from CSU students. The “A” stands for the “Agricultural” in Colorado A&M, the school’s previous name.

These days the “A” up on the hill could stand for “Arts.”

This mid-size city features an amazing array of arts facilities and arts orgs. During the course of our meetings, we discovered that it boasts some two-dozen performing arts groups, some you may have heard of (Open Stage Theatre, Bas Bleu Theatre, Fort Collins Symphony) and some that you haven’t (Fort Collins Youth Jazz Project, Tower Quartet, Andrew Vogt Gypsy Street Trio).

During our first day in Fort Collins, we toured a few of the arts facilities. One belongs to the U, the renovated Fort CollinsHigh School that now houses the UniversityCenter for the Arts, or UCA. Our tour guide on Thursday was Jennifer Clary, a graduate of both the old FCHS and the new CSU arts school. She now works at the UCA.

We watched a faculty chamber group as they warmed up in the Organ Recital Theatre for an upcoming concert. We saw the student Symphonia rehearse for its performance of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. Great acoustics in the 550-seat Edna Rizley Griffin Concert Hall. Great facilities overall for music and dance and theatre. Also a fine visual arts museum.

During our meeting, CSUSchool of the Arts Co-Director Dr. Todd Queen quoted from a Julliard study that found that only 10 percent of music school students stay in the industry after graduation. It’s tough out there for a musician — we all know that. It’s tough out there for a poet and a dancer and a painter.

But what if there were other ways to an artist to make a living as an artist? What if we could shift away from the paradigm of “starving artist?”

That is a major goal of AIR.

Arts students need help with the big “B” of “business.” They need to find new ways to promote themselves as artists which then will free up time for them to do their art. This is nothing new. Vincent Van Gogh painted up a storm but couldn’t make a living — his brother Theo had to keep him in bread and cheese.

In the arts, it is all about you pursuing your passion. It also can be about forging a career in the arts world. Not just as a fall-back strategy but as something that a student does on purpose. It may include teaching but it very well may not.

This is what is appealing about AIR: It addresses both of these tracks through workshops, classes, networking, coaching, mentoring, outreach and internships. It seeks to enlist professionals to mentor those in their field. It will look at ways to provide shared professional services, investment capital and revolving loan funds. It may enlist celebrity actors and musicians and writers to promote AIR goals. It may sponsor local and regional conferences.

The discussion is only beginning. In our next post, wyomingarts will address some of the ways that AIR plans to incubate regional artists and arts orgs in the West. We’ll also look at the role that Fort Collins itself is playing in the Rocky Mountain West’s arts and cultural renaissance. It’s not all about “beers, bikes and (snow)boards” — but all of those “B” words feed “A” energy (as in “Arts”).

For another perspective on the AIR project, read Leanne Goebel’s Nov. 10 post on Adobe Airstream.

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