The Art and Soul of This City: Denver Arts & Venues (part 1)
3/19/19 / Kate Darwent
As we complete our 20th year of business, we will visit with the two key elements of our work: our clients and our staff. In February, we sat down with Ginger White-Brunetti, Executive Director, and Tariana Navas-Nieves, Director of Cultural Affairs, for Denver Arts & Venues.
IMAGINE 2020 has guided our agency’s work and provided the why. We have been able to advocate for the resources we needed. We have been able to react or act in a meaningful way. And encourage others to do the same. It is powerful as both an internal and external document. Because it’s aspirational – with the seven vision elements – it is never done. But topics underneath it give some tangible central outcomes. Sometimes they’re still relevant, sometimes not. That’s also made it successful—that balance.Ginger White-Brunetti
Planning to Plan: The Beginnings of Denver’s Cultural Plan
It is a joy to travel down memory lane with clients that you feel are family. Recently Karla Raines and Kate Darwent of Corona sat down with Ginger White-Brunetti, Executive Director, and Tariana Navas-Nieves, Director of Cultural Affairs, for Denver Arts & Venues (A&V). Arts & Venues enriches and advances Denver’s quality of life and economic vitality through premier public venues, arts, cultural and entertainment opportunities. They are responsible for operating some of the region’s most renowned facilities, including Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre.
Ginger and Tariana exude devotion to their City. Their passion and commitment to advance arts, culture, and creativity for all is infectious. They love what they do, who they work with, and the city they call home. We first got to know them in April 2012 following a call with former Executive Director Kent Rice (Link to his 2018 blog interview). Arts & Venues was in the early stages of considering a new cultural plan for Denver.
In that meeting we were just kind of brainstorming. I laid out the challenge to Corona. In typical Karla fashion, you solved it.Ginger White-Brunetti
With the goal of providing a highly-engaging process for the City’s residents and the Denver Commission on Cutural Affairs (DCCA), Ginger recommended we begin with a “plan to plan” phase. Looking back on that initial endeavor, Ginger noted, “The plan to plan process really helped us. It gave us time to scan other cultural plans and see what we liked and didn’t like. From there we came up with common language and a framework that galvanized the commission and got the mayor to articulate his vision for it. In retrospect, that was the secret sauce to really hit the ground running.”
We reminisced about an early morning breakfast meeting near Denver’s City Park, where we sat drinking coffee and flipping through other cities’ cultural plans. We liked some and didn’t like others as much. That meeting was a galvanizer for the process. So too was a meeting between the Commission, the planning team and Denver’s Mayor Michael B. Hancock when the Mayor shared his vision and guiding philosophy. “Get into the nooks and crannies of the city,” he said. “Don’t hear from just the usual suspects.” That call to action was instrumental to the success of IMAGINE 2020.
Once the hard work of cultural planning was complete, Arts & Venues turned its attention to implementation. Team Corona supported Team A&V by facilitating commission retreats, conducting feasibility studies for IMAGINE 2020 priorities, and surveying Denver residents in 2017 at the mid-point of IMAGINE 2020. That mid-point survey is an example of the commitment made by agency leaders and volunteer commissioners to being accountable to the community.
Instilling Shared Leadership and Community Commitment
We engaged with Corona a few times for retreat facilitation, especially when the Commission was beginning to implement the plan. This was a big change for them, and we wanted to support their expanded leadership role. After all, they were becoming stewards of the plan and feeling real ownership of the implementation of the plan. In retrospect, that was a really important point that Corona helped them navigate. Because of the relationship built between the Commission and Corona, they were very comfortable and trusting of the process. Could envision their role, especially in contrast to staff.Ginger White-Brunetti
Creating shared leadership and buy-in for IMAGINE 2020 has extended from the Commission to City Council. Ginger reminded us that, “Activating Denver City Council through the Commission was really important. That groundwork continues today. We have our annual council luncheon in April. This year we are talking to council members about 2020 being just around the corner. How do we celebrate I2020 and plan for version 2.0 of the cultural plan? IMAGINE 2020 helped us as an agency in building those relationships and establishing a partnership with City Council.”
Monthly arts performances are a part of the official City Council process. We haven’t let them forget about IMAGINE 2020. It’s part of the process every single month. This has been a creative way to feature our local talent and have Council members stay invested, not just the commission, and really owning the plan.Tariana Navas-Nieves
Karla noted that IMAGINE 2020 is emblematic of the co-created nature of Corona’s work. As Tariana noted, “It is easy to co-create when things are going very smoothly. I still remember the meeting with the Commission when they said, you’ve heard from artists and women in their 40s. In other words, the usual suspects. Corona shared the responsibility and said we will take a step back, shift the timeline, and do it right.”
Denver is proud that the City’s cultural planning process includes a one-of-a-kind feature, the statistically valid survey of Denver residents over sampling for Latinos and African Americans. As Ginger noted, “Certainly one of the things we’ve been thinking about is how much the quantitative part of what we did with Corona is something that is unique to our cultural plan, relative to other cities. It instilled the idea of data-driven and being knowledgeable about community in a quantitative way. And secondly, this idea of let’s use this data, not just for ourselves, but an open platform to make everyone smarter and more effective. It becomes a tool and resource for everyone to have access to. That’s not always the case for organizations like ours. And certainly not the case for a nonprofit to share their target research.”
As a city agency, the public survey showed the transparency of our efforts from the beginning, our commitment to holding ourselves accountable, and the generosity of sharing this with the community. We didn’t just check a box. It brought awareness to our efforts and successes and to the areas where we have work to do.Tariana Navas-Nieves
As we reflected on what it was like to work together, Karla said, “It’s remarkable. Everyone involved was emotionally touched by this process. That emotional connection, commitment, and positivity has been sustained.”
The plan is very much an ongoing partnership, which has always felt strong and focused.Tariana Navas-Nieves
The strength of any plan is its ability to be both directional and flexible. To guide and to adjust to changing realities. IMAGINE 2020 positioned the City to be both agile and act along the way as strategic opportunities arose.
Denver now has a stronger sense of the role that arts, culture, and creativity and the agency can and should play in all areas of city government. It is becoming more critical now than ever. Arts, culture, and creativity are not add-ons. They are at the heart of what must be preserved, the history of people and places that tell our stories and must be protected.. The scope of our work is different because of that.”Tariana Navas-Nieves
Throughout 2019, to help celebrate our 20th Anniversary, we are profiling our staff and select clients. Click here to view all of our interviews.
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