Showcasing the local arts
Weeklong ‘Showcase of the Arts’ takes shape for 2010

The Open Shutter Gallery, one of many local venues that cold be included in next fall's planned arts showcase./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

by Stew Mosberg

In June of 2007, just before the economic tsunami hit, Durango’s art community hosted an exploratory symposium called “Strong Arts, Strong Community.” As part of that gathering, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper shared ideas designed to encourage the arts as an economic catalyst. By all accounts, the program was successful in generating enthusiasm to promote and advance the arts in Durango. Unfortunately, the idea fizzled before it got off the ground due to the diversity of the town’s various arts organizations combined with separate agendas and competition for grant money. Now it appears that current financial realities have some art group leaders rethinking the idea of collaboration.

Seeking ways to stimulate the local economy, Bob Kunkel, Durango’s Downtown Events and Business Development Manager, recently reflected on the “Strong Arts, Strong Community” concept, and thought it might be time to try the idea again. He arranged a public forum in September and invited anyone involved in the arts to attend and hear his ideas on why a weeklong art festival might be worth pursuing, particularly at this point in time. His presentation to about 20 people covered a spectrum of ideas on what the event might look like, its purpose, some possible venues, who the participants could be, and when the event might take place.

At a second, Oct. 5 meeting, next year’s inaugural “Showcase of the Arts” extravaganza took form, and the new event went on the 2010 calendar for Sept. 11-19. Kunkel explained that the City and the Business Improvement District (BID), for whom he consults on marketing and operations, are both solidly behind the idea. He did caution however, that the outcome of the Showcase will “depend solely on having enough program content and (the) promotional budget.”

Believing it would take $25,000 to market such an event, Kunkel said that $15,000 has already been set aside by the city of Durango and BID. The additional funding can hopefully be generated from available art driven foundations such as the Colorado Council on the Arts, and the Friends of the Arts, as well as corporate and private donations. The way Kunkel sees it, “anchor” art organizations, such as Music in the Mountains, the Durango Arts Center, the San Juan Symphony, the Durango Independent Film Festival, the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College, and even the D&SNG, would market and produce individual programs.

In theory, there would be eight days of art-related events staged by all the art sectors: visual art, theater, music, literature and dance. Simultaneous events at different venues would be open to the public in theaters, galleries, store fronts, and at outdoor locales. Visitors would have their pick of creative pursuits to visit and the variety of things to do and see would draw people from outside the Four Corners.

Street performers, outdoor art shows(the DAC plans to resuscitate its art festival), guerilla art shows in vacant store fronts, jam sessions, gallery walks, anything that qualifies as art, would be considered.

Susan Lander, executive director of Music in the Mountains, was convinced that success for the venture will come from the participation of as many organized and independent groups as possible. “It will require a singular focus,” she said, “by a group of diverse people who understand the big picture and can agree on schedules and format.” Lander agreed with Kunkel that by combining promotional efforts and merging the contact lists of each organization involved, the broadest market can be reached. To that end, the marketing budget will be used to publicize the event throughout the Four Corners and beyond. Ideally, a large turnout would generate sales revenues for all local business as well as tax revenue for the City of Durango. It would seem to be the classic “win-win” situation.

Kunkel suggested that a Showcase of the Arts is an empty vessel to be filled with art and cultural content. “If it is not overflowing with our community’s best artist efforts – the marketable kind that draws interest and attendance – then we have little to promote.”

Although the Showcase is still in its infancy, the DAC, Music in the Mountains, DIFF, and several individual art groups have already demonstrated a high level of interest. Sherry Tabor, of the Durango Public Library, has been planning a writer’s workshop and conference and is considering dovetailing it with the Showcase. In addition, the possibility of moving the Open Studio Tour and the Gallery Walk to the Sept. 11-19 timeframe has been discussed. Lander said that although the Music in the Mountains season will be over by that time, they would most likely invite an acclaimed musician or ensemble to participate in the Showcase.

According to statistics recently quoted by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the arts provide almost $200 billion in national financial activity annually. To maximize the benefits of the arts he suggested consolidation into one “robust, influential and vital American Institute for the Arts.”

An annual Durango Showcase of the Arts would be a small regional occurrence, but perhaps it could give Durango a presence in America’s art world. At the very least, it could help make Durango the leading art community in Southwestern Colorado. •

For additional information or to register an event for inclusion in the Showcase, contact Bob Kunkel at 375-5065 or by e-mail: