When I moved to San Diego in the early '70s, it was a sleepy border town of 600,000, known for surf and sand, fabulous weather, a great zoo, and little else. Living in the shadow of its more cosmopolitan neighbor to the north, the city craved an identity. Most indicative of its plight was the state of its arts community. There was a symphony perpetually on the verge of collapse, a struggling opera company, a mediocre dance ensemble and virtually no theater, save the legendary Globe in Balboa Park. A lackluster art museum and a handful of chamber ensembles completed what was, to be generous, a dismal arts scene. Nightlife in "center city" belonged to the sailors and their senoritas.
Ten years later, I moved north to Seattle, at that time also host to about 600,000 residents. The contrast boggled the mind! The orchestra was vibrant, with a long season and recording contracts. The opera was first-rate, hosting an annual Wagner festival known and revered the world over. There were, I was told, more theaters in Seattle than in any other city in the country except New York, and the world of dance seemed everywhere. At one time, I counted nine semi-professional or amateur orchestras in the vicinity. Museums abounded, and evening downtown was always teeming with cultural vibrancy.
Within a short ten years, our town will push the 600,000 mark, and one wonders how it will compare. At present, and with notable exceptions, the state of the arts in the Springs makes San Diego in the '70s look rich by comparison. Our symphony has one foot in the grave. Our Colorado Opera Festival sang its swan song last year. Our latest professional theater venture went dark before ending its first season, and we have no resident professional ballet, such that even our annual "Nutcracker" requires an imported company (this year, I'm told, from the booming metropolis of Eugene, Oregon)! Relative to our population, there is a woeful paucity of quality performing arts in Colorado Springs.
Over half of our population lives north of Fillmore Avenue, but with the exception of TheatreWorks at UCCS, the landscape to the north is bereft of cultural facilities or performances. Residents there rarely venture downtown for "culture," and cultural organizations just as rarely venture north to perform. It's not a pretty picture.
Which is why it gives me such great pleasure to announce the birth of a bouncing baby arts program: the Thursday Night Recital Series. Debuting in October at the Louisa Performing Arts Center at the Colorado Springs School, the series will consist of four Thursday evening chamber music performances throughout the year, highlighting local classical musicians as a benefit for the school's vocal music program.
The series opens on October 25 with a performance by Manitou Springs pianist Greg Adams, winner of the prestigious "Concours des Grand Amateur de Piano," held in Paris this past January. Selections on this recital include works by Debussy (Children's Corner Suite), Chopin ("Funeral March" Sonata, Op. 35), Mendelssohn (Variations Serieuses), and Beethoven (Sonata #30, Op. 109).
"We're excited to put the Colorado Springs School in the thick of the local cultural calendar," said Mickey Landry, head of the school. "The public is going to be thrilled with the sound and presence of the Louisa Performing Arts Center, and some of our region's best talent will be given a great chance to share their music."
Future installments of the series include cellist Nancy Snusted with pianist Sara McDaniel on February 21, Mark Arnest and David Sckolnik in a program titled "Criticize the Critics" (you can bet I won't miss this one!) on March 14, and the debut of the "Pro Musica of the Rockies" chamber ensemble on April 11.
So what is a city to do? The moral of our "tale of two cities" is clear, at least in one respect: Microsoft did not locate in Seattle for the weather! Among other reasons, it settled there because it knew it could attract the kind of young, creative and intelligent people it needed, despite the rain -- people who related to the arts more than to the surfing. Seattle remains one of the more cosmopolitan urban centers of the country and San Diego continues, despite considerable growth and "super" weather, to be a border town where sailors roam the streets in search of their own particular brand of cultural pleasure.
What can be done to save the cultural soul of Colorado Springs? A first-class performance hall in Briargate wouldn't hurt, an arts "tax" could do wonders, and city support of something more culturally significant than the Fourth of July orgy in Memorial Park could only help. But in a city where even the most necessary needs are seen as frills, it's hard to imagine such "frills" as the arts becoming necessities. I fear the dye is cast. Our past is to be our future, and for those seeking a wide and deep sampling of the finer things a culture can offer, 75 mph transit to Denver and Boulder is probably the most we can expect.