Colorado Artists, as Assembly Line Workers, Part Three

Read Part One

My partner Cynda Green and I attended a Chaffee County Commissioners meeting one morning in Buena Vista, to witness a discussion about a county road named CR 105.  The road follows the Arkansas River, just southeast of downtown Salida, running between a strip of modest riverfront homes and a large, vacant parcel that once formed part of the historic Vandaveer Ranch. Actually, the large, vacant parcel was not really vacant — it was only “mostly vacant”.  Over the previous year, a City-run corporation known as the Natural Resource Center Development Corporation (NRCDC) had been building a new office building near the center of the parcel and that building would, one day soon, be occupied by the U.S. Forest Service.  The 16,000 square foot USFS building was nearly complete, as was the short road — Vandaveer Road — that would one day connect the facility to Highway 50.

The other end of Vandaveer Road connected to CR 105.  At the moment, however, a few orange plastic cones discouraged anyone from entering CR 105 from the USFS offices.

At the meeting we attended in Buena Vista, the City’s developer representative — Rick Wells of REGen, LLC — was hoping to garner commissioner permission to remove those orange cones, and allow vehicles to drive from the Forest Service offices onto CR 105. As we said, Vandaveer Road was already connected to CR 105… but apparently, the City of Salida never actually asked permission to make that connection.  The City was now threatening an “appeal” of some type if the Commissioners failed to give the demanded permission.  Presumably, that meant: “a lawsuit.”

Bear with me, dear reader, this little story really does have a round-about connection to the Colorado Creative Industries story we have been considering.

The decision by the City of Salida to mortgage City-owned property — the 192-acre former Vandaveer Ranch — and borrow $4.3 million at a relatively high interest rate, and go into the development business to construct an office building and related infrastructure at the southeast edge of town for exclusive use by the U.S. Forest Service, boggled the minds of some local residents.  Real estate development is an inherently risky business, and many Salida residents were displeased that their little municipal government has gotten itself into this speculative venture — when there were private companies willing to take on the job.

Along the way, the City had shown itself to be… well, not the most competent developer.  The hearing in Buena Vista before the Board of County Commissioners, to approve a road connection that the City had already built without getting approval for such a connection, was an obvious example of that incompetence. But the City staff and City Council continued to assure the voters of Salida that this risky project was absolutely a good decision.

Because it will create jobs.

Indeed, “jobs creation” seems to be the new rallying cry of nearly all government bureaucracies.  “Your government creates jobs! Just give us your additional tax contributions — property taxes, sales taxes, lodging taxes, whatever taxes — and we will assure you of a thriving local economy.  Jobs creation is what we do better than anyone!”

Seemingly, over the past couple of decades, the “job” of government — in this so-called “capitalist economy” — has been increasingly focused on “economic development.”  That goal has become even more obvious since the banking industry nearly melted down in 2008 and America and the rest of the world went into a lengthy recession.

Which brings us back to the decision, by the state of Colorado, to change the name of the agency once known as “The Colorado Council on the Arts.”  That agency is now called “Colorado Creative Industries.”

colorado creative industries artists as cogs in the economy

But first, a disclaimer, of sorts.  As I suggested yesterday in Part Two, artists have always been the storytellers within any given culture.  They illustrate our reality for us… reflect back to us our world and our culture and our beliefs… using paint, film, musical arrangements, poetry, costume, metal, glass, clay, theater, video, and increasingly nowadays, digital devices of all sorts.

And I’m here telling one of those stories, speaking as one of those artists.  The story is about “jobs.”

My first job, after dropping out of college and moving to Alaska, was with the City of Juneau, directing after-school recreation programs for low-income kids.  My next job was a two-year stint with the U.S. Postal Service.

Then, for the next 35 years, I worked as an artist. I wrote, painted, created theater sets, played music in bars, built musical instruments, hung large sculptures from the ceiling of public spaces, carved decorative wooden panels, wielded a camera, designed logos and brochures, landscaped corporate and residential properties, shot and edited video and film, made silkscreen prints, directed children’s theater, published newspapers, taught art classes, painted and carved signs.

Those were not “jobs” in the same way my work with the U.S. Postal Service was a “job.”  In fact, it disturbs me to use the word “job” to refer to an artist’s work.  The process of creating a “work of art” is somehow different from sorting or delivering mail and packages.  We all recognize that.

I spent some time on Google yesterday, searching to find the “Mission Statement” used by the Colorado Council for the Arts (CCA) during the 42 years of its existence, up until 2010.  Google is usually pretty adept at bringing up historical information, but my search yesterday was in vain.  In fact, I was able to find almost no historical information about the Colorado Council on the Arts.  The links that seemed to point to “CCA” instead took me to another website: Colorado Creative Industries.

In an eerie way, I was reminded of the classic political novel by George Orwell, 1984, where people, and indeed whole government agencies, could suddenly cease to exist — completely disappear as if they had never existed — because all information about them could be officially and thoroughly removed from government records.  In 1984, you might recall, all information was “government records.”  Big Brother controlled the storytelling process.  Completely.

Somehow, however, I was able to find what might be the final major publication released by the Colorado Council on the Arts before it ceased to exist.  That publication was a 2008 report called “The State of Colorado’s Creative Economy.”  You can click here to download that report.

“At the core, Colorado has a particularly rich resource base, the creative talent of its residents,” the report tells us. “In the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Bohemian Index — a measure of concentration of artists and performers by county, based on occupational data — ten of the top 25 counties in the U.S. are in Colorado.  That is 40 percent in a state with a population that represents only 4 percent of the U.S. population — and it is growing.  In 2006, the state was home to 13,000 independent artists, writers, and performers…”

Read Part Four…

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