According to an online bio, Christina McGrath caught the arts bug early with a sprinkling of "Mary Mashburn fairy dust." When she went on to take art classes, it was at Bemis School of Art, naturally. And after she graduated college, having studied architecture and arts management at Miami University, she returned to her hometown, where she'd wind up following in Mashburn's footsteps as an arts advocate herself.
For three years, McGrath served as the executive director of the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region, but on Oct. 1, the 28-year-old announced that she will leave around the end of 2013 to join her fiancé, an Air Force officer, at Oxford University while he finishes his Ph.D. in physics. Despite the excitement, McGrath is adamant that she wishes to someday return to the Springs.
And it would be lucky to have her. McGrath, who previously worked for El Pomar Foundation, is only the second ED of the art advocacy nonprofit. Since 2011, she has helped the budget grow from $180,000 to $220,000 (with cash for nearly six months of operations in reserve) and launch programs like the Peak Arts Fund, a benefit for local arts organizations that also helps link the corporate business world with that of the arts. It's not always an easy divide to bridge, but COPPeR met its $50,000 goal in the Fund's second year.
Meanwhile, McGrath says that when groups like Colorado Creative Industries and the Craft Emergency Relief Fund have questions, COPPeR is now who they call. She says the group is "more credible now than we've ever been before. It's obvious through the meetings we've been invited to."
COPPeR is accepting applications for McGrath's position, which she describes as everything from "public speaking and making presentations to a room with 300 people all the way down to taking out the trash." But before someone new comes in, the Indy asked McGrath to share her view from the desk.
On how the city has changed in three years: "When I first started at COPPeR, there were several people in our arts community that said to me — and I don't even remember who they were — at an opening, "Oh, good luck with that." People were really burned out. It could've been the timing ... in the middle of the recession, along with everything else, but I think people are a lot more positive now. I think our community itself, it feels like we're starting to take action on some things and not just planning to take action on things.
"[Take the Millibo Art Theatre's new location], yeah, they still have a lot more money to raise, but they didn't just sit and wait and they weren't afraid of the change that would come, and I think that's where our community is right now — not afraid of change. And that's something that's a little different from where we were three years ago."
On the young professional 'drought': "I've been getting frustrated recently because we talk a lot about how we can't attract young professionals and there aren't any young people in this community. You go down to Ivywild, there are plenty of young people. You just need to know where to find them. They're spread out, whether it's downtown or at Ivywild or at restaurants up north ... we just don't have that density downtown.
But there's a ton of people here, so don't keep saying, 'We've gotta find young professionals and bring them here.' They're here. You just need to start going where they are."
On the "City for Champions" tourism proposal: "I think sometimes as a community we just need to do things; don't wait to get every single person in the room on board. I think that's been interesting to see, for instance with the City for Champions proposal. This is something that could really be a good thing for the community, and I'm glad they went out on a limb and got the proposal in and did it, and I hope that the community will be behind that.
"So we can't shut down as a community, now that we're being asked. Let's provide feedback and get involved and participate and not let our bruised egos be so upset that we weren't in the first round of people to be asked for input."
On what's next for her: "I may go back to school. I may get my MBA. I know I want to stay in community development ... I don't see myself going and becoming a lawyer or anything. Stick with what you know and love.
"I'm excited to go off and be a cheerleader for the Springs. I think a lot of it is the really negative press we've had out there in the world, so I'm just going to be a little advocate for the region with everyone that I talk to. Look at it this way: I still work in Colorado Springs; my job just requires 95 percent travel."