A fascination is on the horizon, and not just in the change of seasons.
As many have heard over the past few months, a dedicated group of volunteers, nonprofit leaders and the all-around movers and shakers of Durango has launched the concept of STEAM – Science, Technology, Education, Arts and Music – a visionary riverfront complex that would be anchored on either ends with the Durango Arts Center and the Durango Discovery Museum. Sprinkled in between the two would be a mix of artist spaces and galleries, cafes and, ideally, other local cultural nonprofits such as the San Juan Symphony and Durango Independent Film Festival.
For me, the excitement around STEAM isn’t just about the prospect of a long overdue new building for the arts center. The more than 40-year-old nonprofit bellows at the seams a little more each day in its current site of a converted car dealership. Hosting more than 35,000 people last year in the theater, education studio and gallery warrant more than the meager square footage, leaky roof and generally awkward building layout can offer.
And, yet, STEAM is about more than acquiring a shiny new architectural marvel; it’s an indicator Durango is invested in creative capital for the future.
The city as a whole is no stranger to supporting the arts; we boast an impressive 27-piece public art collection valued at an estimated $1.1 million. What’s more, the arts are still a prominent feature of the public school curriculum, supplemented by DAC’s After School Art program and celebrated annually in events such as Creativity Festivity (opening Thursday evening at DAC), which showcases the work of local students in poetry slams and art shows. Outside of DAC, Durango is home to several successful galleries, talented musicians, actors and writers, so it would make sense we pursue a collaborative Art Mecca. As the old adage commands, there is strength in numbers.
So why is the concept of STEAM so important?
Extensive research over the past several decades has revealed consistent relationships between arts activity in communities, neighborhood revitalization and economic stability. As an economic engine, the arts not only attract visitors, businesses, new residents and a competitive workforce, they also bring a major payoff in tax revenues and spending making it a viable, active industry. Thanks to the recent major study, Arts & Economic Prosperity IV on behalf of Americans for the Arts, we now know that Durango supports more than 300 jobs in the cultural sector and reaps $645,000 in local and state revenue annually. Overall, our local nonprofit arts and cultural expenditures topple into $9.1 million, a commanding dollar figure is certainly worthy of a stage, or a studio or a climate-controlled gallery.
The arts are important contributors to vibrant, healthy communities, civic engagement and are essential to human progress. More and more, artists are considering themselves itinerant idea generators, sparking discussion by engaging with the public, leaving in their wake new dialogue, intellectual fervor, and in some cases, social and political change. As the role of artists in society change, our community stands to capture more benefits to our mental and physical health, innovation and neighborhood vitality. So, by advocating and mobilizing efforts in the (pardon the pun) engine of STEAM, Durango’s cultural development and economic creative capital will thrive.
Cristie Scott is board president of the Durango Arts Center and chairwoman of the City of Durango Public Art Commission.