By Alissa Smith @AlissaS1701
Arts and culture are always the first on the budget chopping block, if governments consider funding such organizations at all. As we’ve previously lamented in these pages, Colorado Springs has never established a tax-supported special district dedicated to funding arts and culture, unlike our metropolitan neighbor to the north, and so few entities exist to help struggling galleries, theaters, studios, nonprofits and individual artists.
But whether politicians and average citizens deem the arts important enough for funding, the matter stands that arts and culture not only enrich the lives of residents and encourage regional growth, but also make a measurable economic impact on the region. Knowing this, and knowing the value of the arts to their donors, the Pikes Peak Community Foundation created a Fund for the Arts in 2005. Since then, 102 grants totaling more than half a million dollars have been awarded to local organizations.
But as PPCF has turned an eye toward restructuring in recent years (which upset some local nonprofits when PPCF suddenly rescinded their funding in 2016), they came to realize that the regular grant process just wasn’t accomplishing enough.
PPCF CEO Gary Butterworth says: “We’re here to serve donors, and part of that is understanding what donors are seeking.” In this case, Butterworth says donors want a fund that they can contribute to, that will call on experts in the field to decide how best to administer it.
In 2017, PPCF began looking for community partners who had a focus on the arts. “We were making small grants,” says Program Officer Eula Tatman, “but wanted to make a bigger impact.” They found their partner in the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region, an entity that serves the artistic and cultural community through promotion, resources and, recently, funding.
With a new collaborative program, the Peak Arts Prize, both organizations hope to draw more attention to the Fund for the Arts, and to make its dollars more accessible to a wider variety of groups and individuals.
The Peak Arts Prize offers a new way to administer grants — for both organizations. In February, they accepted video applications from large organizations, small organizations and individual artists, 34 applications total. After board review, which selected three finalists in each category, the Peak Art Prize has shared those application videos with the community, and is now asking for a vote. Winners in each category will receive a sizable grant ($7,500, $5,000, and $2,500 respectively), to fund whatever project they pitched.
It used to be that a board would review traditional grant applications, and choose worthy beneficiaries each year, but the partnership with COPPeR allows PPCF to widen the scope, and make the fund more accessible to those unfamiliar with grant writing, or formerly ineligible for grants.
Angela Seals, deputy director of COPPeR, says inclusion of for-profit entities was important to their organization. “The galleries struggle no less,” she says, “and they are a critical part of the ecosystem here, because that’s where local artists show their work. Similarly, the arts education that happens in the dance studios and the art schools is critical to the artists that grew up here and chose to stay.”
Right now, the Fund for the Arts will fuel the Peak Arts Prize for two years, with an option to continue the program in the future. Though it’s a test run, it’s an exciting change of pace for both organizations.
“Peak Arts Prize has been really inspiring for us,” Seals says, “because, as our first step into the water of re-granting, we’re really trying to demonstrate that we will be transparent; we will be creative; we will have a really strategic focus on what’s good for the arts community, and we might change up the game sometimes when that’s a good fit.”
PPCF’s Tatman expresses excitement not just about the nature of the contest, but also the recipients: “We’re particularly excited about the category of individuals being able receive grants,” she says, “and larger awards.”
In the following pages, the Indy speaks with each of the finalists in the individual artists category. We glean more about their plans for the potential grant money, so that you may cast an educated vote at peakartsprize.org/vote, any time through March 15.
100 Potions for Puerto Rico
In the artistic representation of tragedy and cultural trauma, creators must keep their own privilege in mind. When Jasmine Dillavou, UCCS graduate and artist, decided to comment on the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, the history of the island, and the more than 400,000 Puerto Rican people still living without electricity and struggling for potable water, she did not want to fall into the pitfalls many artists do. The narrative she wanted to present required sensitivity and intention.
By reaching back into her own cultural heritage, drawing from a legacy of Caribbean Santeria, contemporary Brujaism (witchcraft, specifically Spanish or Latina) and contemporary art, she felt she could respectfully represent this story and these people. “As opposed to making paintings or putting people’s traumas on display,” she says, “which is sometimes how we make art about terrible things. … I just didn’t want to do that, because these are my family and my friends, and I wanted to do it in a really honorable way.”
From that intention, she conceptualized 100 Potions for Puerto Rico, a project that will include 90 bottles filled with potions — mystical substances; some sculptural, some symbolic, some to be used in rituals later on — and artifacts that tell the story of Puerto Rico and remind people of the legacy of colonialism that affects the island to this day. The other 10 bottles in the series will be sent to a selection of people most affected by the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, living in rural communities. They will fill the bottles with whatever they feel represents their lives, their own histories, and their current situation, then send the bottles back to Dillavou to be displayed alongside the other 90.
The ratio, Dillavou says, represents the distance we have from such tragedies in privileged communities, and how we hear so few stories directly from the people actually affected.
Eventually, Dillavou will display the completed potions and bottles, all 100, alongside archival video footage of the aftermath of the hurricane. Dillavou says that, whether she receives the Peak Arts Prize grant or not, she will attempt to move forward with this project. She believes she must.
“[Puerto Rico] is our community,” she says. “They’re part of the United States. … We were so quick to donate that first week, but a couple weeks go by and people just stopped talking about it. And if you stop talking about it, people stop caring. I feel like I have a responsibility to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Peak Poets in Film
Jamey Hastings has embedded herself in the local poetry community since filming poetry readings for the Pikes Peak Library District in the wake of the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire. The talent she discovered at those readings inspired her to share the stories, and the work, of local poets, who often go unrecognized in the wider community.
A graduate of the University of Denver where she studied film, Hastings has made many short films and has worked as a video producer/director at PPLD for eight years. In this position, she has interviewed poets laureate and filmed poetry readings, cultivating relationships with local poets and investing herself in their work.
Hastings’ current goal: Collaborate with 10 local poets to create 10 short films based on their poetry. A poetry film, kind of like a music video, creates a visual representation of a piece of poetry. While not a widely recognized art form, there’s a precedent for poetry films. Hastings’ films based on former Pikes Peak Poet Laureate Price Strobridge’s work were even screened at the now-defunct Visible Verse Poetry Film Festival in Vancouver.
According to Hastings, there’s a lot of value in presenting poetry in film. “They’re very artistic sort of experimental film pieces,” she says, “so I think they lend themselves to having a lot of different artistic elements.” She wants to collaborate not just with poets, but with musicians, animators, photographers and whatever other form of creator may fit the project.
The value in video, Hastings says, is that these finished films may be widely circulated, drawing attention to all collaborating parties and to the wealth of talent in the Pikes Peak region. “It really brings different artistic communities together,” she says, “to maybe find out about each other. … It unifies those interests.”
She also envisions a someday-screening of all the films together, with live poetry readings and music, celebrating the variety of expression on display and providing new experiences for those who may not be aware of the poetry community.
“There’s something I discovered about seeing poetry performed live that was very different from reading it in private,” Hastings says, “and that really appealed to me. So I think making film versions of poems expands on that [experience] even more.”
Kailani Dobson, Robert Stokes, Bailey Wilde
When local dancer Kailani Dobson suffered a back injury in December and craved a new creative outlet, she took up Polaroid photography. By focusing on specific features of someone’s face, she would patch together a kind of collage of pieces and parts of people, creating a whole image.
In a way, this is how Dobson, filmmaker Robert Stokes and photographer Bailey Wilde came together. Stokes, who studies at UCCS, has been working with oil transfer photography, a process that lifts toner from an image so it can be transferred to another surface. Wilde, who Stokes describes as a “prodigious” photographer, has lately focused on macro shots and alternative ways of processing photos. Between their various photographic techniques, they, too, create a whole image.
Their proposed project, Reverie Array, melds their styles of photography, and what these styles represent. “All of the three [techniques] hit on this different aspect of memory,” Dobson says, “and started this big discussion between the three of us about what memory is and how it is such an influential part of everybody’s life, and how photography has become this way of freezing time.”
The three want to create a documentary film and gallery exhibit, capturing the memories of folks on the Front Range, and examining the theme of memory from all angles. Ideally, their project would include their own work and contributions from the community.
“We have a really strong emotional attachment with the Pikes Peak region and the Front Range,” Wilde says, “and we see a lot of potential with the people here, the landscape that we have, and the potential that we have as a city.”
Stokes says that smartphones have enabled everyone to become an amateur photographer in their own right, especially here in the Springs where folks often pause to capture the natural beauty. “It means that if we’re going to be looking out for other people to bring photographs into the project … we can include that in a cohesive way, and show off how photography has become almost a Colorado medium,” Stokes says.
The trio aims to move forward with Reverie Array, whether they win the Peak Arts Prize or not. Dobson says: “We plan on making this a short documentary that the community can enjoy; a gallery piece that the community can really get involved in, and see pieces of themselves in the world around them.”