Friday, November 18, 2011

Arts Incubator of the Rockies may help young Wyoming creatives find ways to stay in the state

Dance Theatre at University Center for the Arts at CSU
Editor's Note: This is the second post in a two-part series about the Arts Incubator of the Rockies (AIR) project.

Three Fort Collins, Colo., entities have banded together to create the Arts Incubator of the Rockies. State arts agency staffers (including the WAC’s Michael Shay and Rita Basom) joined them last week because we’re all trying to look 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. 

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.

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 our previous post, we 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.

WAC staffers 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.

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? 

Architect's drawing of exterior of new
UW visual arts building
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. Many 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." Maybe even this: "Cheyenne: Where Cheyenne shops and buys art and attends arts events." 

Wyomingarts will keep you posted on AIR developments. 

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