How a Conservative City Supports Many Progressive Artists


COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado – When you have reason to think of the city of Colorado Springs, one of the most conservative cities in the United States, this reason generally does not relate to the promotion of radical inclusion and experimental art. And yet, just as the bombs are hidden somewhere in these mountains, a source of innovative, “outsider” artists come and go to this unprogressive mountain town to pursue pressing questions and develop work that bristles. against the the city’s rhetoric on the refusal of the elections, Susceptibility to Q-Anonand America First Think. Has Colorado Springs conservatism become the cover of a nascent avant-garde?

Two institutions, one public, the other private, are responsible for supporting and nurturing relationships with a growing list of experimental and pioneering artists. Colorado Collegea small 148-year-old liberal arts college of about 2,000 students located in the center of town, and the University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS), a regional university near the Air Force Academy with approximately 12,000 students, have powerful advocates for the arts in the form of administrators and educators who initiate and nurture these relationships, creating spaces for artists to develop their work and students to engage directly with them. as part of the study program.

Artist residencies and teaching opportunities are two of the network’s many components that enable working artists to succeed and live sustainable lives – not only in terms of compensation, but also space, resources, a testing audience and often the opportunity to consider their work from new points of view.

Eiko Otake in teaching artist residency at Colorado College (photo by Patrizia Herminjard)

“Being able to teach saves my mind”, choreographer Eiko Otake said Hyperallergic in an interview, “because how else do I get up every morning in this terrible world? A student said to me, “Eiko, your class is your political work. And it absolutely is. Through teaching, I learned to express myself as an immigrant artist, to be clearer about my position in the world. I teach students, but teaching teaches me!

Otake first came to town for a performance at Colorado College while still performing in the duo Eiko and Koma in 2011. Since then, she has started teaching every two years at Colorado College and has many frequent workshops and teaching engagements with UCCS. A retrospective of his work,I invited myself, part II,will be exhibited at Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center in spring 2023.

Given the city’s politics and hyperconservatism, wouldn’t artists hesitate to create and perform works there? Why an artist residency in the west of the mountains, as opposed to an urban center elsewhere?

“I find the juxtaposition of all types of forces at play in Colorado Springs truly fascinating,” said the multimedia artist. Janani Balasubramanian, who has had residencies at both institutions. “I found my time in the Springs really moving; there’s just literally more space. Much of my work is in collaboration with the sky. So being able to see the sky is a deeply meaningful and important thing.

Beginning as a workshop collaboration between the public theater and UCCS, Balasubramanian was soon connected to the astrophysicist Dr. Natalie Gosnell, who is a professor at Colorado College. Using experimental theater techniques, Balasubramanian and Gosnell created “Gifta multimedia project that explores Dr. Gosnell’s research on companion stars and how they physically transfer matter to their companion at the end of their life before becoming a white dwarf. There will be a live performance of “Gift” at the New York Public Library this month of December.

For Balasubramanian, another important attraction of working as an artist-in-residence at either of these institutions is the permission to play and explore.

Kathryn Hamilton, Cole Thumann, GrahamWhiting, Logan Henning, Madeline Wilson and Jason Barth follow instructions to push against the space around them (photo by Jennifer Coombes)

“I think the Springs has been a cool place to kind of do this and that research,” they said. “I want to work with music. I want to work with sound. I want to play with some visuals, just be able to experiment, and it almost seems so simple. But it’s hard to get by in a lot of places. Projects in major metropolitan centers are becoming very avant-garde. They focus on ‘what will be the outcome?’ It’s hard to fit an experimental process into that. I’m not just a vending machine, and that’s how I sometimes feel. It’s like they want to put money in you, and the art comes out.

Kathryn Hamilton (from Sister Sylvester), another artist-in-residence at both institutions, saw his early preconceptions about the city challenged and supported:

“When I told friends in New York I was going there, the first thing they mentioned was Focus on the Family. It felt more like a left-leaning college town. at the place i was staying just off campus i saw someone walk into a 7-eleven with a gun on each hip not something i had ever encountered outside films about America.

The success of process-driven play and exploration culminated in the world premiere at Colorado College last spring of faceless mother/bloom boya group multimedia performance Juni One Set (made up of Senga Nengudi, eddy kwon, Crow Nishimura and Joshua Kohl). mother boy explores transgender identity and the legacies of colonialism. Ryan Bañagale, music teacher and former director of the arts at Colorado College, has worked with the group for the past three years during several residencies.

“They didn’t know when they started what they would end up doing. mother boy became about their personal mythos, trying to figure out who they are through their mythological, imaginative selves,” Bañagale said. “They also wanted to push themselves to do something they wouldn’t normally do. Senga was on stage reading poetry, Eddy is a musician, but they wanted to do movement, Crow is a dancer and wanted to do vocal work. They felt supported by each other to explore these different forms.

Crow Nishimura, performing in faceless mother/bloom boy with the group Juni One Set, in residence at Colorado College, spring 2022 (photo by Emma Powell)

Probably the most radical performer to have developed a relationship with the Springs is the choreographer Nora Chipaumire, who had two residencies at Colorado College. In the first residence, she developed the work “Portrait of myself as my fatherwhich considers African masculinity through the mixed legacies of capitalism, Christianity and colonialism, with three dancers in a boxing ring. During her last residency with members of her company, she worked on “Nehandaa newly shot six-hour opera about Zimbabwe’s liberation struggles and the ancestral spirit of the mighty and fierce Nehanda, which inhabits the bodies of other women.

Kevin Landis, director of the theater and dance program at UCCS, sees value for artists in coming to Colorado Springs specifically to work on new plays, as well as for the city’s broader community. “I want to find common ground so that we’re not just academic navel-gazers, but also getting a community to trust us,” Landis said. “I think I see it around the edges. When we had 600 highwaymen workshop of a new play – which wasn’t ready for prime time, and they knew that – and we brought them here and said, ‘That’s exactly why you should come here. We’ll get you an audience and they’ll tell you what they think. A friend of mine texted me afterwards and said, “I don’t know what it was, but can we talk about it?” It was clear she hated it. But she wanted to explain why she hated it. And it’s great. It’s the buy-in.

While Colorado Springs has a reputation for keeping this purple mountain state to itself, it’s also clear that the people who live there are investing to bring in the energy, ideas, and creative work of those who may not wish live there but like to visit. May the odds always be in their favor for it to be so.

Choreographer Nora Chipaumire directs her Chipaumire dance and theater company, made up of performers from New York, Zimbabwe and Burkina Faso, 2002 (photo by Lonnie Timmons III/Colorado College)

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