To fund, or not to fund: A cultural center for Pagosa Springs

The Pagosa Springs Arts Alliance (PSAA) is asking for $10,000 from the Town of Pagosa Springs and $5,000 from Archuleta County for a total of $15,000 in taxpayer money to help fund a feasibility study on whether or not Pagosa Springs is ready to build a cultural arts center.

More specifically, they are hoping that the feasibility study will help determine the appropriate size for the venue. The PSAA is a new organization that brings together Friends of the Performing Arts and the Music Boosters Dream Team along with other interested community members to construct and manage a cultural arts center; to develop an assistance program for local arts students and aspiring artists; and to develop formal and informal educational arts resources for learned of all ages that would ultimately include an arts college.

Friends of the Performing Arts (FoPA) was founded in 2002 by Sandy Applegate and John Porter following a Music Boosters production of “You Can’t Take it With You.” The cast and crew were frustrated because they couldn’t rehearse in the high school auditorium. They had to rent space at the Ridgeview Mall (currently Terry’s Ace Hardware). When it came time to perform, the Music Boosters were bumped when the basketball team played an extra game in the gym. (The limited parking and acoustics don’t allow for the auditorium, commons and gymnasium to be used at the same time and a school event takes precedent over a community event.)

“We needed a space dedicated to all of the performing arts. One group alone can keep the space busy enough,” Applegate said.””There is so much talent in the community that is separate from our big musical productions. We needed the space to showcase the wide variety of talent here: individuals, small groups, as well as large community events.”

Applegate began talking to people about her idea. Her husband John, also active in several local nonprofit organizations, planned to attend Philanthropy Days, an event that brings nonprofits and foundations together every other in year to discuss ideas that need funding. Applegate approached Music Boosters and asked if she could attend under their umbrella and Music Booster agreed to have Applegate and another board member, Andy Donlon, act as their liaison to Philanthropy Days, but only Applegate attended.

Applegate said she received very positive reactions from the funders to the idea of building a theatre in Pagosa. Applegate then approached Music Boosters about the idea of building a community venue, but they were interested in a goal that would result in “Music Boosters multiplied.” Applegate then approached the Pagosa Springs Arts Council about the idea of building a community venue.

“They said no,” Applegate said.

Applegate and John Porter formed FoPA and filed for nonprofit status receiving a 501(c) 3 designation. Applegate says that those who know her realize the name has special affinity and humor. “I’m the queen of the faux pas,” she said.

Problems began when FoPA began showcasing local talent. “What better way to get this idea out than by showing what talent we have here,” Applegate said. “We wanted to do small, quality productions to help raise funds.” They formed a performing arts group called “Footlighters.”

“People were blown away by the quality. People were getting excited,” Applegate said.

But some people were confused. Why do we have so many performing arts groups in a town this size? Why don’t they all work together? Other performing groups felt threatened by Footlighters and FoPA encroaching on their audience.

FoPA’s idea was to be visible and to earn a little money. Applegate knew that the money would not just appear, that they had to visible in order to build up the level of creative capital, to bring more awareness to the local talent and the need for a center.

During this same time, Music Boosters said they dropped the ball. “Sandy took an idea and ran with it,” Michael DeWinter, president of Music Boosters said. “She looked at the old school house, that old barn that blew down. We were behind them. We said we would do whatever we could to help and we key-holed a little bit of money.”

FoPA raised well over $10,000 and planned to use that money to raise more by applying for matching fund grants. In late 2002, they decided to expand the FoPA board and brought on additional community members: first, Walter Green and later Susan Neder, Felicia Meyer and Lynda Van Patter.

When Walter Green returned from a trip to Florida that October, he learned he had been elected president of FoPA.

“I love the performing arts and I thought I could be of help,” he said.

Green’s first priority was to put a plan together, a preliminary document that outlined what the organization hoped to achieve. “You can’t just talk and get anywhere,” Green said.

The board approached Maggie Caruso, who did a great deal of work to design a conceptual plan, based on a needs assessment completed by J.R. Porter Associates, Inc., that took the input from eleven organizations, including: Pagosa Springs Arts Council, Footlighters, Pretenders, San Juan Festival Ballet, Whistle Pig, Community Choir and the Education Center. Caruso’s conceptual plan was a visual representation of what might be needed to accommodate current and future needs. The conceptual plan included a big reception area for visual art display, space for all different organizations and disciplines: theatre, dance and visual art. Designed to be built in phases, they planned to start with a 90- to 130-seat black box theatre and then add a 200-seat main theatre that could eventually be doubled with the addition of a balcony. It was visual brainstorming, but for many the conceptual drawings looked too concrete and they dismissed it.

By the end of 2004, FoPA had drawings, floor plans and a possible location at Aspen Village that involved a shared parking arrangement with the Baptist Church, and a donation of more than three-acres along with the purchase of three acres, financed by the developer.

“Maggie felt it could be done and I think it was a good location,” Green said. “My goals were achieved.”

Two weeks before the end of his two-year term, Green asked the board to support the purchase of the property and they made a down payment. But Music Boosters approached FoPA and asked them to not move forward with the Aspen Village location because they didn’t think it would be big enough for their concept.

In 2003, Music Boosters formed a “Dream Team” and began to envision a facility based on the Irving Art Center in Irving, Texas, which has a population 194,547 and sits in the middle of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex with an estimated population of 6 million. The Irving Arts Center is owned by the City of Irving who established an Arts Board in 1980 funded by the local hotel occupancy tax. In 1986, the first phase of the center opened and was completed in 1990. The Irving Arts Center is 91,500 square foot performing and visual arts space with a 707-seat concert hall, a 253-seat theatre and four gallery spaces with a 3,800 square foot main gallery. The Irving Arts Center is home to 18 arts organizations.

The Dream Team envisioned the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts to be a 198,260 square foot facility on 15 acres with a 1,000-seat theatre, a 350-seat thrust stage and a 250-seat salon theatre, a children’s theatre, a sculpture garden, an art gallery, rehearsal halls, construction shop, paint shop, dressing rooms, set storage, prop and costume storage and office space. They thought this could be a commercial venture tied to a convention center and flagship hotel. They approached local developers who suggested that if they provided a feasibility study that they might be interested.

In 2004, Jon Nash Putnam approached Music Boosters and suggested he was in contact with a venture capital group that was interested in funding projects with an educational compo
nent. (Music Boosters provides scholarships to local high school students and has donated musical instruments and other equipment to the high school. Dale Morris, a member of the Music Boosters board, also serves as volunteer director for the high school drama program.)

Putnam gave a long list of experiences and professed contact with people like Red McCombs and suggested that these moneyed Texans might fund a multi-million dollar facility. Nash Putnam, whose wife, Elaine, worked in the music business in Nashville, also suggested that a facility like this would be ideal for professional music groups and theatrical road shows that would find Pagosa Springs an ideal stopover between scheduled dates in Denver and Phoenix or Salt Lake City.

In the summer of 2004, Clay Pruitt, a high school student awarded a Music Boosters scholarship to attend the University of Colorado, approached Michael De Winter and told him about a dream he had and in his dream, he said Pagosa had a performing arts college.

“He gave us the expansive dream that none of us ever thought about,” Graves said.

The Dream Team expanded its vision to include a future performing arts college and took the money they had key-holed and paid Nash Putnam a $7,500 retainer to do the preliminary work necessary to hire a consultant to perform a feasibility study. He was to complete a budget and raise the funds by private donation to pay for the study. They also formed a separate nonprofit called Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts

During this same time, Walter Green was contacted by Music Boosters and told there was someone who wanted to meet with him. A lunch appointment was scheduled and no one showed up, Green said. Several months later, Jon Nash Putnam approached FoPA and asked them to not move forward with the Aspen Village location.

FoPA requested a meeting with the Music Boosters board to discuss their issues and reasoning and Nash Putnam said that FoPA needed to deal with him. At this time, FoPA was unaware that Nash Putnam was on retainer. A. John Graves sat on the Music Booster’s board and served as the Education Center and Music Boosters liaison to FoPA. According to DeWinter, it was Graves who advised Music Boosters against involving FoPA in the hiring of Nash Putnam and the pursuit of their concept for the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts. But when Porter, Nash Putnam and Green met, Nash Putnam asked FoPA to stop their project as the arrangement with Aspen Village would not accommodate the concept for the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts and the public would think a performing arts center was a done deal, which would hamper the efforts of the Dream Team.

“The whole goal of [FoPA] was to build a theatre,” Green said. “I had a good approach, I thought, for how to get that done.”
Unfortunately, the FoPA board did not agree. By a 3-2 vote they decided not to move forward and pursue fund-raising without the support of Music Boosters. Green was understandably upset.

“I had a lot to be upset about,” Green said. “When you work so hard and your fellow board members don’t have a conviction. If you don’t feel you have support you need to move on.”

Green resigned from FoPA two weeks from the end of this two-year term.

“There have always been differences of opinion on size and location,” Neder said. “Both groups thought they were working in tandem. When the Dream Team learned that FoPA was considering the Aspen Village land, they said, “Wait! Let’s combine forces.” Neder, De Winter and Dale Morris all say that Music Boosters has always been supportive of FoPA.

After Walter Green resigned, Neder became president of FoPA and met personally with each member of the Music Boosters board. She began working with John Nash Putnam to merge the Dream Team and FoPA together, to broaden the board to include more members of the community. Nash Putnam spent a lot time trying to determine if the Pagosa Center for the Arts would fit on the Aspen Village property. For several months the new board worked diligently to come up with a new name and create a broad and encompassing mission statement. Today, FoPA and the Dream Team are now united as the Pagosa Springs Arts Alliance. The PSAA board includes: Neder, Patsy Lindblad, Dale Morris, Michael DeWinter, Scott Farnham, Jim Morris, Ed Lowrance, Felicia Meyer, Ronnie Zaday and Judy James, with John Graves and Julie Jessen as liaisons to the Education Center and the Town of Pagosa Springs, respectively.

“There has still been some criticism that FoPA and Music Boosters are exclusivist,” Neder said. “All the arts are important and have different considerations. We invite anyone to be a part of the process.”

PSAA is currently trying to raise the money necessary to pay for a feasibility study and hope that a professional consultant will help define the appropriate sized venue that Pagosa Springs can support. The PSAA Board has raised $5,000 and they hope to get funds from a Region 9 Economic Development grant. PSAA estimates that the feasibility study will cost between $50,000-$60,000 over several phases and the first phase should cost around $20,000.

When asked why they didn’t just take the money, rent a warehouse and start a black box theatre, Lindblad said that they hoped the consultant would help them define a facilities plan and the appropriate steps to take.

“This is the sort of thing that is energizing and the board will be looking at this,” Neder said.

“We want to see a percentage of the proceeds go back to education and we will have an endowment to pay the light bills, etcetera,” De Winter said. Preliminary estimated costs to maintain a facility the size the Dream Team envisions are close to $500,000 a year.

Currently, local performing arts organizations pay only janitorial fees to use the high school auditorium.
“If we have to pay $1,200 bucks a night rental to do a performance, there’s no way,” De Winter said, referring to Music Boosters.

“We definitely have to be realistic,” Dale Morris added. “It will be really interesting to see what the feasibility study says.”
“I would find it hard to believe with the way things are growing, that we cannot support a cultural arts center. If we build it correctly, it can serve as a lot of different things,” De Winter added.

As for the Aspen Village property, Mike Church expressed to Neder that Aspen Village was open to talking them and they would assess the situation when they are ready.

And although Nash Putnam was paid $7,500 by Music Boosters and additional $4,000 by PSAA to assist PSAA in securing up to $100,000 in contributions and to evaluate and advise the organization on plans relating to the financing and development of an Arts Center, it is Lindblad who is volunteering her time to review the existing Needs Assessment and Economic Significant Study done by Porter and it is Lindblad who is spearheaded the funding drive and researching all performing arts events that have happened in Pagosa Springs over the past two years.

“I think we will all be flabbergasted at the amount of performances we’ve had,” Lindblad said.
Green, who is now running for county commissioner, was asked what he thought about the request PSAA has made to the county to pay for the feasibility study.

“I think the county better concentrate on providing necessary services. The citizenry is not well served by paying for any such study. If they can’t convince through voluntary efforts the funding of this study, then they shouldn’t be looking for a handout from the taxpayers.”

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