In June, The Bee Vradenburg Foundation hosted an all-day event titled The Pikes Peak Arts Summit. The idea behind the summit was to gather up all the arts leaders in southern Colorado so they could all powwow face to face about what's good, bad and ugly about the Colorado Springs arts community. Not a bad idea. I decided to go.
The event was held inside the big, white plastic pavilion behind the Penrose Estate near The Broadmoor. Buttoned-down blue-hairs mingled with aging hippies in well-starched, boutique-burlap outfits as they snacked on continental breakfast fare around big, round tables with white tablecloths.
There were about 200 people there, and many who introduced themselves at the beginning of the gathering seemed to be leaders of nonprofit organizations that support the arts, or artists doubling as leaders or representatives of nonprofit organizations that support the arts.
Speakers talked on general topics. Attendees listened intently, quietly, even as the rising sun turned the hapless pavilion into a cavernous plastic sweat lodge.
After lunch, "breakout sessions" were held for participants to focus more intently on ideas, issues, problems and solutions, and the groups reconvened to share these ideas about the state of local arts.
When it was all over, those ideas were compiled and sent out to all the participants.
Needless to say, it was about as exciting as an AARP convention.
Here is my assessment of the biggest problem facing the arts community in Colorado Springs as it was metaphorically embodied by the summit: Too many arts administrators are sitting under a big bubble up on a big hill sweating it out for some finger food and a whole lot of small talk.
Now, lest I be branded a naysayer, contrarian or (worse) curmudgeon (gasp!), allow me please to briefly showcase one of the most successful arts organizations in southern Colorado that I seriously doubt more than five people at that summit know about. It could very well serve as a model for achieving far greater unity and support for the arts than any number of Pikes Peak Arts Summits combined. It's called: Leechpit.com.
As Brian Arnot reported in the April 10, 2003, Indy, a young, local music lover named Adam Leech started a Web site called Leechpit.com about five years ago, mainly as a way of promoting merchandise for his own bands. But the site quickly evolved into a meeting place for music lovers all over southern Colorado and it now serves as a bulletin board for the entire local underground music scene. There are eight forums where people announce events; sell music equipment and related services; find others who are looking to join bands; review shows and music; post to a calendar of events; and, most importantly, gossip.
As a writer friend of mine once said, "Gossip is the glue of community." Deny it if you will, but people love to talk trash and debate the finer points of their particular interests with vim, vigor and, frequently, venom. With more than 1,000 current postings and 10,000 replies, the gossip forum is undoubtedly the most popular realm on the site. And, like it or not, it's where the underground music community here in Colorado Springs has found a place to congeal on its own terms in an almost entirely unmediated fashion. Best of all, there's next to no cost outside the administrative expense of the Web site.
While gossip may be the glue of the Web site, the calendar, announcements, reviews, goods and services are also essential parts of this online arts community that is continuously created by those who use it. Leech's Web site has been so successful, in fact, that he recently announced he'll be parlaying the name into a buy-sell-trade music and clothing storefront called The Leechpit that will open on Sept. 13 at 708 N. Weber.
Recently, another Web site called SceneintheSprings.com was launched by Dana Deason. While SceneintheSprings.com is far tamer than Leechpit.com, it's also a more comprehensive Web site for general cultural information in Colorado Springs with a daily and monthly calendar featuring music, events, dining, drinks, dancing and art.
If the arts community that was represented at the Pikes Peak Arts Summit (which does not comprise the entire arts community) truly wants put their minds together on a regular basis, they should take the lead from the local underground and get online, start a listserv, start gossiping and get connected in a "summit" that's always there.