“History Live Durango” has been a long time coming.
A monthlong series of 15 events celebrating the humanities in Southwest Colorado will begin Sept. 3 and will run through Sept. 26. Stories, Chautauqua-style presentations, lectures, family heritage activities, music and even a gala ball will round out the schedule. Most offerings are free and open to the public. Locations include the Animas Museum, Pine River Library, the Powerhouse Science Center and Fort Lewis College.
It didn’t happen overnight.
History Live Durango is co-sponsored by two entities: Colorado Humanities, the state arm of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress Center of the Book, and the Southwest Colorado Humanities Roundtable. The Roundtable is a newly formed coalition of 12 area cultural institutions that has coordinated individual events into a monthlong celebration.
Much of the credit for the creation of the Roundtable goes to Florence (Foxie) Mason and Richard Ballantine, our two regional representatives on the Board of Colorado Humanities. Day-to-day operations have been run by Shelley Walchak, director of Pine River Library and Pine River Arts, and Darcy Poletti Harp, programming librarian.
“Richard Ballantine and Foxie Mason wanted to create regional model of cooperation to advance the humanities,” Walchak said. Two years ago, Ballantine and Mason set up monthly meetings for various local cultural organizations “with the idea of attracting a broader audience and pooling resources to promote events. That idea morphed into our decision to unite over a History Month, possibly September 2019,” she said.
History Live Durango is comparable to the model of Pine River Arts, Walchak said. The Bayfield plan is a 1½-year-old collaboration of cultural organizations.
“The public, whose taxes had paid for the Performance Center in Bayfield, wanted the facility used more regularly,” she said.
The difference between the Bayfield and Durango models is that various venues will serve as hosts for the 15 events in what is hoped to become an annual fall tradition.
Over last winter, Walchak spearheaded a coalition of 12 members. The group now has an official name: Southwest Colorado Humanities Roundtable. It consists of: Animas City Museum, Durango Arts Center, Durango Public Library, FLC/Center of Southwest Studies/Life Long Learning Program/Reed Library, Maria’s Bookshop, Rocky Mountain PBS, Pine River Arts, Pine River Library, The Powerhouse Science Center and San Juan Basin Archaeological Society.
A decade earlier, Ballantine and former Colorado Humanities representative Nancy Conrad had already established a link between Colorado Humanities and FLC. In November 2012, under the Colorado Humanities banner of “Drinks, Ideas ’N Exchange,” an evening presentation took place in the FLC ballroom featuring Jack Turner speaking about his grandfather, naturalist Ansel F. Hall. The Colorado Humanities goal was to provide a place where the community could gather, hear a lecture and linger for extended conversation.
When Bridget Irish, FLC professor and head of the Common Reading Experience Program, replaced Conrad, the idea of creating an annual humanities forum similar to Greeley’s advanced. The High Plains project just celebrated its 20th year.
Then Mason took over Irish’s place on the Colorado Humanities board. She advocated for a Colorado Humanities-sponsored program of Chautauqua speakers in particular. A Chautauquan is an actor-scholar who portrays a historical figure in costume. The form originated in the 19th century and was popular throughout America well into the 1930s. It has been revived countrywide as a vivid combination of education and entertainment.
Over the past few years in Durango, a few stand-alone Chautauqua presentations have attracted significant audiences. As a result, Mason forged a collaboration between FLC’s Life Long Learning and DAC. Former DAC Director Christie Scott and development director Kate Loague supported the idea, and the series launched double fall lectures with living-history portrayals provided by Colorado Humanities.
“I thought it made sense to try to extend the reach of the Chautauqua performances to more members of the community,” Mason said. “At the same time, C.H. was collecting data across the state as to what Colorado communities desired in the way of future programs. I felt that Durango, with so many active, excellent nonprofits who ‘fit’ the humanities model could benefit by working together to achieve some cost savings through coordinated programming.”
On Sept. 11 and 12, Eleanor Roosevelt (Susan Frontczak) and Nikola Tesla (Doug Mishler) will appear at DAC as part of the roster in the fall Life Long Learning series and also History Live Durango.
“The humanities is a big tent, and Durango has all the pieces, each done well,” Ballantine said. “Complementary schedules and marketing, with some collaborative additions, ought to mold the events into an appealing series of programs and events. There is a lot of talent in the humanities in Durango, and a common calendar for September should magnify everyone’s efforts.”