Durango Arts Center reaches out to artists
First in a series of community forums set for Tuesday

by Stew Mosberg

The Durango Arts Center wasn’t always at odds with visual artists in the community. When Jourdan Houston wrote the first grant proposal for the DAC more than 12 years ago, the focus was on the visual arts. But over the past year or two, a fissure between local artists and the DAC has grown continually wider, particularly with the departure of McCarson Jones as executive director and Heather Leavitt as exhibits coordinator. Add to that exodus the resignations of several longtime board members Rich Fletcher and Bob Baillie, both of whom are champions of the arts, and there was almost no one left at the Arts Center to speak for the visual arts. Saddled with the Diamond Circle Melodrama Theater, and ensuing financial woes, the DAC seems to be at odds with its roots.

The street corner location of the Barbara Conrad Gallery literally and figuratively provides superb visibility and valuable exposure of the DAC to all who pass by. Therefore, if for no other reason, exhibitions on display should be the best possible representations of what the art community has to offer. As a showcase, the Conrad Gallery also makes a statement about the Arts Center, and its importance should not be underrated.

However, the gallery needs an experienced and knowledgeable curator to ensure there is high-quality work on view and that all the variables that go into directing, managing and sustaining the visual arts is met, according to local painter John Grow. “A paid visual art coordinator is needed to provide consistent attention to the task,” he said.

But the gallery is only one part of the formula; there are other requirements that need to be met in order to return the Durango Arts Center into a viable support system for artists. Well known local artist Sharon Abshagen concurred when she said, “(One) role of an art center should be to encourage, support and help artists on their way up.”

A few weeks ago, DAC Board member Dennis Pierce announced that the Center was willing to have a discussion with artists in the community to learn what was needed to improve relations. That forum has been set for Tues., June 23, at 5:30 pm, in the Durango Public Library. DAC Board members and a contingent of visual artists hope it will be the first of what will be several dialogues. In the past few weeks, the DAC Board has further exhibited its effort to include Durango’s visual constituency by adding two board members who are artists.

Providing cultural stimulus to every individual in the community is an ambitious, if not impossible task, particularly for an underfunded nonprofit that may not know what those needs truly are. Donations to and participation in, the Arts Center might well grow exponentially if it was serving more people by providing unique, creative works and programs that the public doesn’t normally get to see, instead of the same thing season after season. The sold-out performances of the delightful “Bare Bones Burlesque” show were a superb example of what can happen if the market is being served.

As with many not-for-profits of late, the monetary pie that helps fund the DAC is dwindling and it is more important than ever for the community to step up its support. The smaller pie, to continue with the simplistic metaphor, still needs to feed all the constituents; the children’s programs, the dramatic arts, music and dance, and without a doubt, the visual arts.

According to Scott Hagler, one of the Durango Arts Center’s new board members, the artists’ dialogue is to be followed on July 21 with another exchange of ideas, that one for the performing arts. While the Durango Arts Center’s willingness to listen is admirable, the real test will be in following through on the promise. •



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