The History of Arts and Culture in Colorado Springs
by Teryn O'Brien |

Many envision the founding of Colorado Springs as the Wild West—full of burly cowboys and saloons. Yet while there is definitely that side to the story, what many don’t realize is that Colorado Springs was actually founded by General William Palmer to be the cultural center for the Pikes Peak region.

General Palmer—a Civil War hero and founder of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad (D&RG)—bought over 10,000 acres of land to help establish Colorado Springs in 1871. His dream was to build a beautiful city full of schools, colleges, and art, and that dream resonated with many settlers who came to reside in the Springs. Colorado Springs was actually nicknamed “Little London” for many years because so many British residents came to live here. In fact, Palmer’s wife was English, and he built the great Glen Eyrie Castle to help his wife feel at home in the so-called Wild West.

Hearing about Colorado Spring’s cultural vibe, artists flocked to Colorado Springs in the early-to-mid 1900s, and it was during this timeframe that the roots of the current Fine Arts Center (FAC) — which was officially built in 1936 — began. The Fine Arts Center opened with a performance by modern dancer Martha Graham and curated art displays from the likes of Vincent Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso in its early years. The Fine Arts Center still flourishes, providing the Taylor Museum, which curates prestigious art displays from around the world; a theatre company that produces entertaining performances, and the Bemis School of Art — which offers art classes to people of all ages.

Many other hubs of arts & culture reside in the Springs today. Founded in 1997, Cottonwood Center for the Arts offers numerous galleries and classes, as well as workspaces for artists. Cottonwood’s goal is to engage the community through art in the Pike’s Peak region, and they also have several theater companies that reside and perform inside their walls. The University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS) operates the Gallery of Contemporary Art (GOCA) in two locations in the Springs, providing the region with access to contemporary art experiences. UCCS will also be opening up a new building called the Ent Center for the Arts in January 2018, which will be a new visual and performing art venue.

The Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region (COPPeR) is a nonprofit organization that is devoted to raising awareness of the creative scene here in the Springs. They offer resources to help people stay on top of everything happening here in the Springs—such at Peak Radar Pages, an annual guide to the region’s arts and culture which is distributed around town. The Tim Gill Center for Public Media is another hub of art in the form of media storytelling; it’s a partnership of over 20 organizations across that the state that want to encourage and build unity within the community. The center houses The Independent Film Society of Colorado and the Pikes Peak Arts Council, just two of many groups in the region that are dedicated to creating community around meaningful art.

Classical music has been part of the culture here since 1927. The Colorado Springs Philharmonic Orchestra began its modern inception in 2003, and it offers high quality musical experiences every season—from Mahler to Beethoven to Broadway hits. It’s Southern Colorado’s only professional orchestra, and their music is on par with anything heard in larger cities across the nation.

While this is just a taste of all that the Springs has to offer, it’s a starting point to many, many organizations that are creating a strong artistic and cultural scene here.

General Palmer may not have realized the legacy he’d leave when he dreamed of creating a cultural center in the Pikes’s Peak region by founding Colorado Springs—but over a hundred years later, Colorado Springs is still a thriving scene for artistic expression and cultural experiences.