Depending on whom you ask, downtown is too full of homeless people (source: Mayor Bach), drunk and horny Fort Carson soldiers (three out of four people on a Friday night), and shops full of expensive crap (your dad). Granted, it does contain elements of all those things, but truly, the core of our city is a pretty fun place to hang out.
Let's start by getting cultural. Some of our city's biggest and brightest museum destinations live in this district, beginning with the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (30 W. Dale St., csfineartscenter.org), home to the exquisite Taylor Museum Collection of Native American and Southwestern art. The FAC tends to get multidisciplinary with its rotating efforts, and its Families project (up through May) is a good example, with Other Desert Cities in its theater; contemporary, multimedia art from emerging artists dealing with the topic of families in its galleries; and a bevy of film screenings, lectures and family activity days.
Meanwhile, local history gets the star treatment at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum (215 S. Tejon St., cspm.org), an always-free time machine into our area's past. In addition to Native American art and artifacts, you can "enjoy" a reconstructed tuberculosis hut and old medical equipment. (We were a convalescence destination, after all.) The building itself is a lovely marvel, with a working cage elevator and fully restored upstairs courtroom. Plus, the museum has a vast online archive of its holdings that history buffs can surf from home.
Are you more of a bottom-line type? Hit the American Numismatic Association's Money Museum (818 N. Cascade Ave., money.org) for monthly demonstrations of its Mini-Mint, a small coin press. While you're there, marvel at some of the faces that have made it onto coinage, and view money from the Civil War. If you hurry this spring, you can glimpse a rare 1913 Liberty Head Nickel on temporary display. It may have been spent as five cents in its day, but it's worth more than $2.5 million now.
In keeping with the cultural bent, downtown is home to many art galleries, a few of which we'll mention here. Cottonwood Center for the Arts (427 E. Colorado Ave., cottonwoodcenterforthearts.com) is a great destination for fairly traditional work, as well as jewelry, pottery and ceramics. The converted office building is a veritable hive of personal studios, with proper galleries on the main floor hosting a variety of themed exhibits.
While the main building is more about the community and creation of art, Cottonwood on Tejon (214½ N. Tejon St., cottonwoodcenterforthearts.com/tejon) is all about the selling of it. Cottonwood artists are juried into the store, which hosts its own art shows and receptions, and thus includes paintings, photography, ceramics, jewelry, glasswork and more.
Across the street you'll find a new gallery, Mardosz Fine Art (109 S. Corona St., mardoszfineart.com), home to owner Chuck Mardosz and other artists who work in traditional and Western genres.
Under the Colorado Avenue Bridge, a cluster of galleries enliven the Depot Arts District building (218 W. Colorado Ave.), including the Bridge Gallery (thebridgeartgallery.com), home to a collective of multimedia artists, and Kreuser Gallery (abigailkreusergallery.com), a coffee hotspot and show space run by barista and photographer Abigail Kreuser. Those enterprises take turns curating the Commons and Aha galleries, other spaces wedged inside the Depot building.
Across the way in the Trestle Building lies the revamped Marmalade at Smokebrush (219 W. Colorado Ave., #210, smokebrush.org), a lovely and roomy brick-walled space that's home to the usual artistic pursuits as well as the healing arts. Note Marmalade's busy yoga schedule and numerous special events, such as guest-teacher appearances, Kirtan chants and open mic poetry nights. Fridays at Marmalade can involve art receptions, Brazilian dance parties and the monthly Story Project, wherein locals take to the stage and share life experiences.
Back uptown, but still in a low-profile spot, are the Modbo and S.P.Q.R. (17C and 17B E. Bijou St., themodbo.com), a pair of tiny galleries situated in the Bijou Street alley. Co-owned by Brett and Lauren Andrus, these spaces are home to some of the most nontraditional, contemporary art in the city. On top of shows featuring local and regional artists, the galleries offer activities nearly every weekend, and plenty of concerts.
All three of the Springs' major colleges have galleries downtown. Colorado College's I.D.E.A. Space and Coburn Gallery (825 and 902 N. Cascade Ave., theideaspace.com), run by curatorial genius Jessica Hunter Larsen, are always good bets for brainy, cutting-edge works. The I.D.E.A. Space features rigorous programming as well, with panel discussions, artist talks and other activities such as dance performances and film screenings to accompany each of its exhibits.
The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs has two attractions. The Galleries of Contemporary Art, GOCA 121 and GOCA 1420, run tandem exhibits organized by another inspired curator, Daisy McConnell. In addition to beautiful, thought-provoking art, GOCA also hosts lectures, wine tastings and the first of what it hopes to be a continuing venture, Lunch Beat, in which you hit the gallery or other spots about town for a lunch hour spent dancing to a live DJ. A provided sandwich gets you back to work with sustenance.
GOCA 121 (121 S. Tejon St., #100, galleryuccs.org) lives in the Plaza of the Rockies, next to hip restaurant Nosh and the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region (121 S. Tejon St., #111, coppercolo.org), or COPPeR, where you can pick up brochures for local attractions, learn about A&E events, and view some artwork. Be sure to also get information on COPPeR's Art in Storefronts project, which has scattered a handful of installations in empty shops throughout downtown.
Lastly, don't count out the Downtown Studio at Pikes Peak Community College (100 W. Pikes Peak Ave., ppcc.edu/departments/art/pppcc-art-gallery). PPCC's gallery features the work of local artists as well as its own students, with shows curated by highly talented artist and instructor Laura Ben-Amots. Last year's docket included Aftershocks: A Survivor's Story, artwork from those who experienced sexual abuse, and Devotional Realms: The Happening, a group show on spiritual spaces from top local artists like Carol Dass, Margaret Kasahara and Lance Green.
And by the way, strewn about downtown streets you'll find both temporary and permanent outdoor sculpture. Art on the Streets is an annual enterprise that places new works from artists around the world in our fair city. Each June, the pieces are replaced — unless private funds and grants allow for permanent purchase. Find a map at downtown80903.com.
Popcorn and carabiners
Plenty of active pursuits take place here as well. Climbers of all ages and skill levels can find a home at CityRock (21 N. Nevada Ave., climbcityrock.com), a huge indoor climbing facility housed in a remodeled theater. Challenge yourself on the 43-foot verticals or any of its 17,000 square feet of climbable surfaces. CityRock also arranges outdoor excursions such as guided climbs and camps, and even international trips.
Near the train tracks, AllStar Paintball (400 S. Sierra Madre St., paintballallstars.com) counts itself as one of the few indoor paintball facilities in the U.S. It specializes in speedball play, a fast alternative to the more tactical outdoor play like that at Dragonman's (see here). Newbies and pros alike shoot both early and often.
Ratcheting down to less adrenalized activities, we reach our only indie movie house. Catch a matinee and espresso at Kimball's Peak Three (115 E. Pikes Peak Ave., kimballspeakthree.com).
You can also double-fist it at Splash (115 N. Tejon St., splashsprings.com), this time with wine and a paintbrush. Instructors here lead not-so-serious students through the steps of that night's set composition, minus the sweating of learning tricky techniques. Those who seek more traditional teaching can take art classes at the Bemis School of Art at the FAC, Cottonwood and the Modbo/S.P.Q.R.
Lastly, you'll find a bunch of activities at Soirée (1003 S. Tejon St., coloradospringsvenue.com), a newer establishment with an art gallery, wine, beer and spirit tastings for the educated palates among us. And should you need a reception hall, it's a venue for that, too.