The cost of not being Aspen

As many of you know, last month Pueblo won the Governor’s Arts Award for using art to “enhance their economy through strategic use of the arts.”

The two winning cities, Aspen and Pueblo, were required to make a short video of all their accomplishments. After watching Aspen’s the only thing I could think of was, “we aren’t even close to what Aspen is doing.”

After walking back to PULP, my internal debate went something like, “Well Aspen has the money, resources, and tourists from which to create a world-class arts community. But Pueblo and Southern Colorado are doing what they can with little money, no art tourism to speak of, and resources focused for more important investments like jobs and development.”

Is thinking like that settling or is it the reality of living in a region like Southern Colorado? I honestly don’t know.

How do you write a story on the arts in Southern Colorado? We at the PULP struggle telling this story because the story is mixed. There are people truly working to make a difference. There are others that fall into the familiar setting of forming cliques to create an atmosphere of exclusion. Others seem to keep their heads down and make beautiful creations. This story isn’t hard to write but it’s hard to get right.

There’s a better story as other outlets will focus on the award. I want to focus on the future or what should be the future.

Everyday, you can look towards the CF&I and see the smoke stacks of an industrial age that is slowly being forgotten. I’m not referring to economic development, or jobs, or taxes but to actual living memories made by men, women and families whose lives revolved around the mill. When they are gone, will we have to visit museums to remember?

Southern Colorado’s great story—from Trinidad to Aguilar, from the mines in the foothills to rails in the plains—has never been told. Ludlow’s story has. Rockefeller’s story is known. But what about the story of the millworker, who worked in the mill for forty-five years, at the turn of the century? Where was Pueblo’s young intrepid reporter, turned novelist, to write his magnum opus on the struggle between the industrialists and the proletariates?

Where were the poets to pen man’s eternal battle to tame the wild beasts known as land, water and sun?

And the art? Merely photographs in binders in historical societies.

And the musicians to sing the protest songs of unjust wages or to sing hymns inspired by the solitude of the Arkansas?

Our story, the story of industry, of agriculture, of the mountains, of the plains — has never been written or drawn and then exported to the world. Yet everything Southern Colorado is centers around just three or four giants; water, land, steel, and sun. These giants overshadow the present and impact everything we do and yet they are not giants in our culture.

I don’t want Southern Colorado to be another Aspen. I want the Southern Rockies and Great Plains to strive to be better than Aspen, to work together, to take our rightful place in the annals of America—to preach our story.

Where do we start? If we want a culture worthy of attracting people from all over the state, country or world, then we have to offer them something. What we can offer the world, we already have. It’s not fake, it doesn’t need to be imported, and you already know it.

What people want is our true culture.

Do you go to Ireland for its greenness and to Paris for Parisians? No, you go because of the allure crafted from centuries of stories that create a spark of intrigue. You go because there is something found there, something that gives you the secret of the human condition you cannot find at home.

The pragmatist in me says, this is all wishful thinking, all talk of someone who wants to create a literary society in coffee shops and painters at the corner of our main streets.

No, what I want is for us to tell our story and to invest in people telling our story. That story isn’t just expensive art in museums; it’s the Sunday noon dinner in Springfield of country fried steak, mashed potatoes, green beens with a side of the open plains.

It’s a town of 150,000 people who identify themselves not by class, or race, or gender but from one simple question. What school did you go to?

It’s seeing stagecoach tracks on the side of a mountain as you drive to Leadville and wondering who they were? Did they get there safely? What’s a journey on a stagecoach like?

It’s seeing rocks smaller than rice accumulate for thousands if not millions of years and wondering if the sunset I saw yesterday over these dunes was the sunset conquistadors saw hundreds of years ago?

And you are thinking well, all that’s great, but that doesn’t bring in jobs or educate children or fund a city.

Why again do people visit Aspen?

-John Rodriguez

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