Fifty-eight percent of respondents to a recent community survey want to see a conference and performing arts center in Pagosa Springs; and 38% of those want to see it located downtown. Fifty-five percent want to see public displays of art and 46% of those want to see the art downtown.
Yet, at the public CVC meeting on January 17, I sat in a session entitled Schools/Arts/Culture and we never had a chance to discuss the arts and culture. I’m not saying that art and culture are more important than the schools, don’t get me wrong. But I believe the arts and culture are very important to this community.
The glaring question for me is this—where is the vision for art and culture in the long-term future of our community? CVC members say they want to see public displays of art throughout downtown, but what about a cultural center? If it isn’t written into the plan with some idea toward how to fund the vision, doesn’t it mean that it’s much less likely that the idea will not be implemented?
The visionaries leading our town and our CVC are missing a key element to the economic stability of Pagosa Springs. Yes, this is a sales tax town dependent upon tourist dollars. But what do tourists want when they are on vacation? To sit in the hot springs? To get a massage? To go skiing? To take a hike? To fish or hunt? What else?
According to American for the Arts, 65% of American adult travelers include a cultural, arts, heritage, or historic activity in their vacation. Meaning they will visit Mesa Verde or ride the train from Durango to Silverton (43%). Or they might visit a museum (30%). We have two museums—a history museum and a cultural museum. Our tourist-based economy should embrace Fred Harman and his vision for a Western Heritage museum. Why not promote Fred Harman on one of those glitzy Madison Avenue posters: Real Town, Unreal Lifestyle. Just ask Red Ryder and Little Beaver.
Mayor Aragon told me he is frustrated because people drive through Pagosa on the way to ride the train in Durango or visit Mesa Verde. We don’t have a train. What does our town do to get them to stop? If tourists will drive more than 40 miles off a main highway to visit Creede, Colorado, population 377, why can’t we get them to stop in Pagosa?
Creede Repertory Theatre entertains thousands of audience members every year with professional play productions.
Photo courtesy Leanne Goebel
What draws visitors from all over the world to Creede? A world-class repertory theatre seeded with less than $200 by the local Jaycees in 1966, and started by Steve Grossman and a dozen theatre students from the University of Kansas: The Creede Repertory Theatre. In 2003 a record-breaking 17,500 tickets were sold to CRT events. That’s 45 times the population of Creede. To put it in perspective, for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts to reach 45 times the population of the Denver metro area, they would need to sell close to 108 million tickets. CRT is a phenomenon. Additionally, CRT reaches 15,000-17,000 underprivileged children in school districts across the Four Corners region through their outreach theatre program.
In August 2004 the San Luis Valley Development Resources Group studied the economic impact of CRT on Mineral County and the surrounding trade area, which they defined as within a 100-mile radius of Creede. The bottom line? CRT pumps $2 million dollars into Mineral County, or 20 cents of every dollar spent. The amount increases to $2.8 million within the 100-mile radius.
I mentioned this to CVC co-chairmen Mayor Aragon and David Brown during a recent interview. “We’d be poor representatives if we said we have to address priorities. And the priority is a cultural center,” Mayor Aragon said. “We have to start with the economics. The economy. We have to build that. We have to make sure that the shop owners can stay open hopefully six, seven days a week in the future and if our marketing strategies are productive we’ll be able to do that in order for the town to prosper that’s what its going to take. And subsequently the cultural and performing arts will follow. It will follow.”
According to Dr. Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, “This kind of thinking does not square with reality.” Florida’s research and other recent studies have shown that many people choose location first and then look for jobs in those locations. It is also obvious to Dr. Florida that the arts, culture, and demographic diversity can help spur job creation and economic revitalization. Artists typically look for affordable and inspiring locations.
Consider the history of Taos, New Mexico. In 1915 the Taos Society of Artist was formed by Bert Philips, Ernest Blumenschein, Oscar Berninghaus, Josepf Sharp, Irving Couse and Herbert Dunton. Blumenschein and Philips arrived in Taos in 1898 when their wagon wheel broke. They liked the town and so they stayed. Thus began a long history of art and culture that have shaped the community. In 1916, Mabel Dodge came to Taos and married a pueblo man Tony Luhan, they built a grand house, and she invited Willa Cather, D.H. Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe, and John Marin to visit. Many remained in New Mexico. Ansel Adams, Paul Strand, O’Keeffe, Lawrence and others lived and created at the Mabel Dodge Luhan home.
Many people come to Pagosa Springs to be creative. They want to escape the city, and this place is beautiful and inspiring. Artists who are relocating to Pagosa Springs to pursue their artwork full time contact me all the time. As a community, we need to leverage this opportunity, and capitalize on the amazing talent and creativity of our residents.
According to Dr. Florida, 30% of the American workforce is part of what he calls the creative class—those engaged in science and engineering, research and development, technology-based industries, the arts, music, culture, aesthetic and design or in knowledge-based professions like health care, finance, and law. This sector accounts for nearly half of all wage and salary income in the U.S., as much as the manufacturing and service sectors combined.
The average visitor to Pagosa Springs is 50 years old, affluent and an empty nester—probably part of this creative class. Second homeowners account for nearly a quarter of all home sales in Archuleta County. These second homeowners are typically supportive of our art and culture, because as much as they love Pagosa, they miss the art, the music, the theatre back home in Denver, Dallas, or Phoenix. When I worked at the Pagosa Springs Arts Council, more than 1/3 of the membership was second homeowners. The largest patron donors were second homeowners. These people support our community. They can afford it. The rest of us are working two jobs to make ends meet.
David Brown told me: “These are preliminary ideas, these are concepts, these aren’t absolutes. One idea is that in the future, the Junior High and the Intermediate schools could become the location for a town plaza. It was thought that the [Intermediate School] could become a cultural arts center because it’s a great old building. To restore that and to make that whole section there across from the new town park as a gathering place for these types of event to occur. I think it’s vital to have the community input for people to say what you just said, we really want a performing arts center. I personally would love to have one here, the question is where should it go, how do we fund it? It’s not a matter of not wanting it.”
Well, now the whole schools/arts/culture session makes more sense in this light. I am all for relocating the Junior High. My son goes to school there. I substituted art class there. The building is run-down, leaking, unsafe. Chunks of ceiling panels frequently fall on the heads of children. Books and other materials are damaged from water. Let’s not forget asbestos and fire-safety. I’m not emotionally atta
ched to a building—especially an ugly building like the Junior High. I can envision the Intermediate school, completely gutted, and turned into a museum or gallery space. I like this idea. I think it makes sense.
We need to have a public dialogue about the arts and culture in Pagosa Springs. I’ve made enough noise to get to talk with representatives from the firm doing the economic impact study. I want arts and culture to be included. But the only way that can happen is if we work together — and this community has a history of not working together, of having this independent spirit and bravado where everyone does their own thing. How else do you explain two separate organizations working on two separate ideas for a cultural center? One group knew what the other was doing and chose not to participate, because they didn’t think they would actually accomplish anything.
The Four Corners Folk Festival, according to the Americans for Arts economic impact calculator provides an economic impact of $518,608 on this community. Our local governments receive $19,239 from this three-day event and the state gets $28,469. My hunch is that the Park-to-Park Arts and Crafts Fair and the two Fairfield Arts & Crafts Festivals provide similar economic impact. A smaller event like FoPA fund-raiser “Boom, Bust and Battle,” with a cast of local volunteer performers, provided $10,477 of economic impact with $457 to our local governments and $638 to the state.
Continued development of art and culture will only benefit our town. Art and culture appeal to visitors and second homeowners alike. Visitors stop in Pagosa for the Folk Festival. They spend money in our shops and restaurants and hotels. Why not build an amphitheatre in Town Park along the river? Why not encourage more fairs and festivals? Why not upgrade the gymnasium in the Community Center to include the room features of the original building design so it can be used as a theatre?
Consider this an open call to anyone who wants to see the arts and culture as a focal point of our economy and our community. I invite you to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at (970) 731-1841. It’s time to join forces. Let’s see what we can accomplish when we put our creative minds together.