——- ORIGINAL POST, FRIDAY, 11:52 A.M. ——-
Last night, the Bee Vradenburg Foundation celebrated its 10 year anniversary at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center with a free public reception and talk by noted arts administrator and program director for the arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Ben Cameron.
Cameron's speech was spectacular, but first, it's worth noting how much I learned about Bee Vradenburg herself last night. By way of remarks from her son, George Vradenburg, and a documentary video made by Craig Richardson and Klayton Kendall from their Colorado Culture Cast days (watch it here), it's clear that Bee was "a bit of a life force," to quote George.
The woman who wished only to be called "Bee," even by her children, arrived in the Springs in 1946 and while she felt "like a pioneer woman" at first, she soon came to love the town and began right away to invest in its cultural development. This started with her 40-year tenure with the Colorado Springs Symphony (later the Colorado Springs Philharmonic) and grew from there. One picture showed the groundbreaking of the Pikes Peak Center, an effort Bee was behind, in which she, wearing a flowing dress, tossed a ceremonial shovel-load of dirt.
The documentary included a 1990 interview with Bee, segments of which you can find here, and shows how her comportment and personality so suited her cultural mission. She smiles, laughs and speaks in a clear, animated manner. Basically, Bee looked like a blast to hang out with.
Bee died in 2000, and the Foundation started two years later. Since then, it has awarded $2 million in grants to organizations throughout El Paso County. In honor of the anniversary, the Foundation announced last night that it will award the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region's Peak Arts Fund $10,000.
Following that, and a performance by Martile Rowland and Judeth Shay Burns, Cameron spoke.
(The Indy had an interview set up with Cameron, however, it was scheduled for the day Hurricane Sandy hit landfall, and Cameron, who lives in New Jersey, was forced to cancel.)
Cameron touched on the importance of the arts for its economic impacts, but mostly talked about the way the arts are on the verge of a great reformation.
Even though arts participation has skyrocketed, ticket sales and audiences nationwide have tanked. On top of that, technology has enabled us access to anything we want — be it in music, art, entertainment in general — very cheaply. This same on-demand capability has given us an audience-centric cultural landscape that doesn't necessarily jibe well with traditional arts avenues. (Those of us in the newspaper business are well-versed in this shift.)
But instead of fearing this changing world, and resisting adaptation, Cameron encourages arts organizations to look to new ways of performing and engaging audiences. As he put it, "It will require us to put the audience at the center of everything we do."
This kind of attitude has the galvanizing effects needed for cities to pull together, socially and financially.
Cameron cited one example of a particularly innovative organization, the Trey McIntyre Project, a dance company based in Boise, Idaho. McIntyre, a noted choreographer, started the organization there six years ago to the great surprise of his peers and patrons, who expected him to start a company in a more metropolitan setting.
Over time though, McIntyre united the city through the Project's cultural product. But they didn't go about it in the usual way. For example, in the company's first performance, they aired a pre-show video in which each dancer stated what he or she liked best about Boise. Today, the Project meets with civic leaders, business owners and healthcare workers to "[foster] a sense of community ownership," (read more about that here.)
"They aligned themselves not with an arts agenda, but with a civic agenda," Cameron said.
Just like Bee, he added. And it was Bee, who in the 1990 interview said her friends always joked that she loved the Symphony more than anything else. Bee disagreed. "It's the city I love best."
Similar to the multifaceted ways arts can help communities, it also has a plural reach in education. Far from an academic frivolity, Cameron quoted Mike Huckabee (yes, that Huckabee) who said that a reading- and math-only education program is like building a database without a server. It's well-documented that pursuits like music can rebuild pathways in the brain, but it can also teach behavior. Cameron quoted a Marine who told him, "I didn't learn discipline from the Marines. I learned discipline from the French horn."
Cameron also spoke on the importance and the power of the arts for social change and progress. He explained that "the arts offer us an antidote to the intractable." We live in a world, he says, in which "we are drowning in information, but starving for wisdom," and the arts are a way to answer deeper, more complicated questions, and gain empathy by seeing a corner of the world through another.
Much of this is covered in a 2010 TEDTalk Cameron gave, posted here: