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Arts scene: alive and kicking

Between the Lines

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Given that about 200 people made their way to the Stargazers Theatre and Event Center on Sunday night, that means the odds are about, hmmm, 600-to-1 against any single reader of this column having been part of the group.

That's fine, because those who did attend the Pikes Peak Arts Council's annual awards event won't mind thousands more learning about it. After all, this occasion showcased an invaluable community asset that must survive even the worst of downturns and government service cuts.

We've had far more than our share of bad news this past year in and around Colorado Springs. Amid the sick economy, sour emotions and slow recovery, the feel-good stories often have gone unnoticed or underplayed. But the local arts scene has persevered, even as galleries have shuttered or squeezed into less space, events have been killed or downsized, and crowds have thinned simply because people have less disposable income.

On this night, for a few hours, it felt like all was well again in Colorado Springs. And that's what a healthy arts environment should do: bring our community together with much-needed servings of culture along the way.

This event wasn't just pleasant. It was both hilarious and exhilarating, without the polish or gaudy trappings of some awards ceremonies. We laughed. We chuckled. We applauded. And we saw what the honors meant to those who received them.

Many had feared the worst for the Pikes Peak Arts Council, evolving through these tough times with new leadership after the retirement of longtime guiding force Eve Tilley. But the purpose of this occasion — recognizing the Springs area's most notable arts people, performances and events — was the same as in past years. And the list of categories and nominees looked as legitimate as ever.

Along the way, somebody made another brilliant decision. No stuffy awards program. Just hors d'oeuvres and drinks, followed by the main entrée: entertainment.

Here's where my words can't do justice to re-create the moment. You really had to be there, because the best part of Sunday night was the result of PPAC asking one of the area's most gifted couples, Birgitta DePree and Jim Jackson, to co-emcee the awards show.

There was no way to know how much they prepared, because DePree and Jackson made it come across as effortless, gut-splitting improv. Their dry, quick humor played off the awards, the winners, the no-shows and even the crowd. DePree played the role of "Babette" that seemed influenced by various characters, including the late Gilda Radner's Roseanne Rosannadanna in the early years of Saturday Night Live. Jackson was both the straight man and velvet knife, making fun of substitute recipients and even some actual winners. Together, Jackson and DePree flashed the energy, versatility and instincts that Manitou Art Theatre audiences know so well.

But they also knew this show wasn't about them. It was about paying tribute to those who had earned it, such as TheatreWorks and Geoffrey Kent, who directed its Grapes of Wrath production from last fall; Blake Milteer, who curated the Fine Arts Center's Colorado Springs Abstract and Mikel Glass: The Discarded; Lawrence Leighton-Smith, for conducting the Philharmonic's "Mahler's Symphony No. 9" and Mark Arnest's composition of "Towards the Garden," performed by the Chamber Orchestra of the Springs; Posy Knight, choreographer for Playlist, by Ormao Dance Company; Michael Cellan, best visual artist, and more.

Though not all the winners were present, that didn't spoil the night. The important part was maintaining this annual event, not letting it become another casualty of the anemic economy. In brighter times, there might be better ways to do it. But we have to make sure the best moments and artists of each year are celebrated in an appropriate atmosphere.

To call the local scene thriving right now might be a stretch. But it's definitely surviving, and nobody's giving up. Also, this awards night now has its mainstays, DePree and Jackson, who should be locked in permanently. With their magnetic humor and charisma, they make sure everyone understands and appreciates just how special our arts community is.

And we have to make sure it stays that way.

routon@csindy.com

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