Getting the beat of the arts community

Southwest Life

Ann Butler

Current Columnist


Phone Number: (970) 375-4584

Getting the beat of the arts community

Jonathan Latta, on the far side of the drumming circle, engages this year’s Leadership La Plata class in a performance for its Arts & Culture Class at Durango Arts Center. The class also learned about the economic impact the arts have on our community and showed off members’ improvisational comedy skills.

You can read about it, you can ponder it, you can imagine it, but nothing teaches you what it’s like to be an artist in La Plata County like actually creating something.

That was the premise of Scott Hagler and Bill Bishop’s plan for this year’s Leadership La Plata Art & Culture Class, which took place Nov. 9, at Durango Arts Center.

Angela Atkinson and Rebecca Wildbear led a leadership skills training session before class members got down to business, or should I say, fun. DAC Artistic Manager and Theater Director Theresa Carson got them on the Diane Panelli stage for improvisational and acting activities.

Barbara Conrad Gallery Director Mary Puller talked about past and future exhibits and planned collaborations between the art center’s gallery, education and theater departments.

Then it was back to hands-on art as Education Director Sandra Butler (no relation, as far as we can tell) led the class in making a Buddhist mandala.

Because it was important for the class to understand the impact of the arts on our community, Sherri Dugdale, with the city of Durango, and DAC Executive Director Peggy Zemach, talked about the economic impact of the arts. Tim Birchard, Paul Boyer and Indiana Reed all shared accounts of their lives in the arts before Morgan Gurney of Sweet Treats by Morgan and pastry chef extraordinaire, demonstrated the culinary art of cake decorating. She left behind the end result, a delicious pumpkin cake for the class to sample.

Jonathan Latta, assistant professor of music at Fort Lewis College, kept the cake’s sugar high going when he engaged the class in a drumming circle with some African dance included.

Loath to let the day end, the class adjourned to Cocktails and Creations on Main Avenue to continue the fun.

The members of this year’s class are Sam Beardsley of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney; Neil Dolder from Jaynes Corporation of Colorado; Gregg Dubit, executive director for Four Corners Office for Resource Efficiency; Jackie Fischer, program coordinator for the TRIO Upward Bound Program at Fort Lewis College; Susie Fisher from Needles Country Store; Bayfield Middle School Spanish teacher Janae Hunderman; Elsa Jacgniecki of Bright Green LLC; Denise Leslie of Shared Vision Publishing; Caitlyn McCullough from Resources for Medical Education & Collaboration; Athletic Program Training Director Carrie Meyer of Fort Lewis College; Bethany Powell; Meggin Roberts from Animas Surgical Hospital; Carla Schuck from the Records Department of the Durango Police Department; and entrepreneur Jack Turner.

During the year, the diverse class will learn about different segments of La Plata County, including health and human services, our criminal justice system, government, the business sector and other aspects of what makes our community work.

Here’s a disclaimer. As a graduate of the Class of 1991-1992, I am a big fan of the program. I use what I learned every day in this job and knowing who to call to get a piece of information is incredibly helpful. I also made enduring friends in the program, particularly Barbara Conrad, the namesake of the gallery at the DAC, so you see, life really is a circle.


Enjoying the light of birthday candles in these dark nights are Lauren Biery, Lance Kirk, Kathy Phelps, Bradley Briscoe, Brock Ontiveros, Jackie Gillespie, Nancy McCaddon, CeCe Sallee, Scott Sohle, Vayle Townsend, Bob Conrad, Sandy Goodell, Jacob Hillburn, Henry Larson, Linda Mack Berven, Alice Robinson, Katie Cunnion, Adrienne Aronson and Carter House.


Mercy Regional Medical Center never stops hopping, but in addition to its contributions to keeping us healthy, staff members, medical personnel and supporters have an active social life.

On Nov. 2, the Mercy Health Foundation held its annual Circle of Caring, a thank-you party for substantial donors. They took over Mahogany Grille, Office Spiritorium and Oak Room at the Strater Hotel for the festivities, which included a signature drink, the Captain Kirk, in honor of retiring, make that stepping down, Mercy CEO Kirk Dignum.

The recipe for the drink? Citrus vodka, a splash of brandy, cranberry juice, grapefruit juice, a cherry and orange twist served in a martini glass rimmed with Pop Rocks.

The Strater served quite a spread, with food stations spread out across the various rooms. It was a culinary tour around the world.

At the salad station, guests could select a caprese pasta salad, a Caesar salad and raw vegetable crudités. Over at the Asian station, a stir-fry station offered chicken, veggies, lo mein noodles and steamed and fried rice, carved Asian pork loin and vegetable spring rolls.

The fish station served a whole house-smoked salmon with French bread, capers and lemon aioli, grilled shrimp skewers and California sushi rolls. On the Mediterranean table, hummus and pita chips, tabbouleh, chicken souvlaki and grilled vegetables were on offer.

The Strater always does great desserts, and guests could choose a sampling of minis, including cheesecakes and a wonderful crème brûlée. Yum.

Because it was Dignum’s retirement, there had to be a few farewells and thank yous. For a man who has seen Mercy through the politics, fundraising and design of our magnificent new medical center, as well as a organizational merger with Centura Health, there were too many thank yous for the introvert and not enough for the more than 200 attendees.

Chaplain Diana McKenna, Mercy’s director of mission and spiritual care, offered a prayer from Saint Ignatius, finishing with an Irish blessing. That’s perfect because the religious order of the Sisters of Mercy, who founded the hospital in 1882, was established in Dublin.

“May you always have walls for the winds, a roof for the rain, tea beside the fire, laughter to cheer you, those you love near you, and all your heart might desire,” McKenna said. I’ve got to remember that one.

Mercy Health Foundation’s board President Beth Drum said in the last three years, the foundation has raised more than $6.2 million, turning around and plowing $5 million of that back to the medical center and Hospice of Mercy.

The results are visible both inside and out of 1010 Three Springs Blvd. Hopefully, you’ll never need Flight for Life, but the foundation helped Mercy get started with the service. The Brain Matters program, working to get people in helmets when pursuing activities prone to brain injuries; Journey of Hope, helping uninsured and underinsured women get mammograms for early detection of breast cancer; and if you’re having surgery, you might appreciate the rapid-infuser blood warmer. Then there’s Mercy’s Global Health Mission’s project in Tanzania.

Kudos go to Chief Development Officer Karen Midkiff, Development Officer Joy Hess, Kay Hoppe and administrative assistant Lauri Wilson-Lacy for working so hard behind the scenes every day.

Missy Rodey, president of the Mercy board, had the honor of thanking Dignum for his contributions, which, during 14 years as CEO and 17 with the hospital are too numerous to count. (Not to mention that no one has officially been keeping score.) But she didn’t need a laundry list to say the most important thing.

“Kirk never loses sight of Mercy’s mission to care for those in need,” she said. “I wish you time, good health and the knowledge that you always made a difference.”

Dignum, never one to miss a moment to be self-deprecating, gave credit for his accomplishments to his team and the community.

“With Tom Gessel (the new CEO), you’ve traded up,” he said. “It’s kind of like getting Peyton.”

The speechifying ended with a special presentation to Dignum – Mercy’s first Leadership Philanthropic Award.

Dignum’s lovely wife, Ginny, and beautiful daughters, Kelsey and Megan, were on hand for his big moment, which he is glad is over.

Let me add my thanks and congratulations, Kirk. The folks at Mercy have saved my life twice in the last seven years, and they did it because they had the right equipment, facilities and organizational support behind them.

Not bad for a medical anthropologist.


It’s been a bit hard getting in the holiday spirit when it’s dry, brown and 50 degrees plus. But the way to get revved up is to attend the Festival of Trees from 1 to 6 p.m. today, Sunday and Dec. 7, 8 and 9 at the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum, 479 Main Ave.

More than 20 businesses and individuals decorate gorgeous trees, all kinds of local groups provide dance and musical entertainment, and local food vendors provide free goodies to the first 100 to walk through the door each day. (Today is Bread, and Sunday is Fuzziwig’s Candy Factory day.)

Admission is free, there are drawings to win trees (valued from $400 to $1,000 and complete with the gifts underneath), and it’s a great way to spend time with the family.

Topping it all off, the event, which is a collaboration between Community Connections and DeColores Civitan Club, is a fundraiser for the only local organization that works with our developmentally disabled neighbors on a 24/7 basis. So important, and I don’t write about it nearly enough.

To learn more, visit

Getting the beat of the arts community

Jonathan Latta, on the far side of the drumming circle, engages this year’s Leadership La Plata class in a performance for its Arts & Culture Class at Durango Arts Center. The class also learned about the economic impact the arts have on our community and showed off members’ improvisational comedy skills.
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