When I started covering music in southern Colorado, I had the modest goal of writing about at least one local musician or band every month. A city the size of Pueblo should be able to produce hundreds of diverse musical artists and dozens of great music venues, or so I thought until I started researching.
Despite being a relatively large city, Pueblo produces a startlingly small amount of musicians. Creatives working in other fields fare little better. Beloved local institutions like the Sangre de Cristo Arts & Conference Center and the Blo Back Gallery do their best to usher meaningful art into the city, but in proportion to Pueblo’s size, there’s simply not enough cultural opportunities to go around for how large of a city Pueblo is.
Other cities in Southern Colorado suffer from a similar lack of cultural opportunity and output, which further widens the gap between the state’s lower region and places in northern Colorado like Denver, Boulder, and Aspen that host loads of diverse and rewarding cultural experiences and homegrown creatives. Pueblo, along with the rest of southern Colorado, deserves access to the same great cultural opportunities the rest of the state enjoys. A model of inspiration could be found not in Colorado cities like Denver, but in northern New Mexico.
Santa Fe is significantly smaller than Pueblo, but is home to an internationally beloved culinary scene and thriving art and music communities. Tourism is one of the city’s largest industries, which is driven by both traditional and progressive art galleries, acclaimed restaurants, and a world famous opera scene.
Southern Colorado shouldn’t try to imitate northern New Mexico in order to bring in more cultural diversity, but should instead look to the area to see what’s behind its success. Northern New Mexico embraces its fascinating history by incorporating it into its modern creative identity. Southern Colorado has its own complex historical legacy, but the region doesn’t make a concerted effort to tell its story through food, architecture, and public art.
Santa Fe and even the smaller city of Taos make efforts to balance old cultural traditions with progressive new ideas, while Pueblo’s Historic Arkansas Riverwalk and events like the Colorado State Fair squander precious resources by bringing in pedestrian music and visual art that only caters to an older age group. There is an expectation in southern Colorado that local youth should do more for the communities they live in, but there’s seemingly no motivation to inspire younger generations through the sort of cultural offerings that could meaningfully reach and relate to them.
The cities of Alamosa, Trinidad, Pueblo, and La Junta suffer when young adults leave town to pursue opportunities and careers elsewhere, but other than family ties, what’s inspiring them to stick around? A willingness to prioritize youthful, boundary-pushing art in the way northern New Mexico does provides a foundation that can sustain a community by transforming it into a destination that younger people want to visit in live in.
Southern Colorado has boundless potential when it comes to creative possibilities. It’s affordable for artists, boasts a long, diverse history, and is home to communities of unpretentious and generally open-minded people. If cities in the area look south to New Mexico for inspiration, and start to view art, food, and music as crucial lifelines rather than frivolous distractions, that potential could one day be realized.