By Elisabeth Monaghan
In 2002, the Wheat Ridge City Council created the Cultural Commission as a way to promote cultural arts in Wheat Ridge and foster cultural enrichment and education opportunities for the community.
Wheat Ridge residents who have lived in the area for a long time know it is a charming city with a swath of talented artists, ranging from musicians, singers and dancers, to visual artists, writers and film makers, but until recently, there had been an awareness gap of these artists and their contribution to the Wheat Ridge community.
When the Cultural Commission first began, city council spent time researching and seeking out community members to sit on the commission. Fast forward to the present, where the city has grown in population and in the arts. Suddenly, people are expressing their interest to be part of the commission, which is comprised of nine members, all of whom are selected by city council. As Cultural Commission Chair Diane Robb explains, the Cultural Commission has become more popular, which means it is more visible. This means, for the time ever, the Commission has become relevant.
“In fact,” says Robb, “we have become so relevant that this past spring, city council approved a resolution for the Wheat Ridge Cultural Vision, and that is big news.”
Undertaking a cultural vision was no easy feat, but the commission believed a vision would allow them to better identify what it was doing, and what role it played in enhancing the profile of the arts and artists in Wheat Ridge. With this in mind, the commission spent three long days brainstorming, compiling ideas and identifying the different elements, entities and communities in Wheat Ridge that make this city culturally unique.
To ensure its cultural vision would be sustainable, the commission looked at what other communities have done to create and implement an effective cultural vision. The commission also conducted community surveys and worked closely with the city.
Over the course of these meetings the commission clarified that the concept of cultural arts is more than just public art; it encompasses visual art, performing arts and literary arts.
The end result of the Cultural Commission’s effort is a cultural vision that addresses how it will engage the community and its artists going forward. With the vision in place, Robb hopes it will unify all of Wheat Ridge around the community’s cultural activities.
Gay Porter DeNileon, who is the at-large representative on the commission, points out that its goal is not to put on or organize all of the community’s cultural events, but to provide support, be available as a resource to all those involved, and participate in the events. For example, the commission does not coordinate Ridgefest, but it is involved in the event and will sponsor the Chalkfest activity for the second year.
Porter DeNileon emphasizes the commission does not focus solely on public art installations.
"Public art is a very big portion of what we promote, but we are also interested in the whole culture surrounding Wheat Ridge – all of the activities and all of the artists that live here.”
Porter DeNileon also is adamant about wanting people to know the commission has taken an inclusive approach.
“We recognize the eclectic and diverse personality of this city and we want to make clear that we do not dictate to anybody about what art is.”
One of the Cultural Commission’s best-known programs is Wheat Ridge Reads. Now in its seventh year, Wheat Ridge Reads partners with the Wheat Ridge Library and Wheat Ridge High School to promote literacy. Each suggested book is written by a Colorado-based author, and more than 100 students from Wheat Ridge High participate in the program, where they meet with the local authors to discuss their books and learn more about their work.
As part of the its mission to be a resource to the artists and the Wheat Ridge community as a whole, the commission is developing a comprehensive list of cultural events taking place in the community. For artists, this list will be a vehicle to let the community know about upcoming shows or exhibits. For the community, the list will inform them on what activities or shows are coming up.
Robb is delighted with the support the commission receives from the community, including the local government, whose buy-in has paved the way for the Commission to successfully execute its cultural vision.
“From the commission’s inception, every mayor in Wheat Ridge has been an advocate for Cultural Commission,” says Robb. “Jerry DiTullio is the person who said in 2010, ‘We need a Kevin Robb sculpture in Wheat Ridge,’ and DiTullio then created a funding avenue for the sculpture.
“Joyce Jay really encouraged us to create a cultural vision, and now Bud Starker is also 100 percent behind us. I find it exciting that city council is also enthusiastic about what we’re doing. They always ask us, ‘How can we help you?’ They always tell us, ‘Let us know what you need.’”
Now that the Cultural Vision has been developed, Robb and Porter DeNileon say the commission is ready implement it, but the work will not happen overnight.
“It took us over a year to develop the vision, and it will take time to implement it,” as Robb explains.
Once the cultural vision is in place, the commission will have the resources to promote Wheat Ridge’s artists and connect them with their neighbors. This, in turn, will help maintain the city’s charm and reputation for its local artists, while generating community support for these artists and their work.
“We want everyone in the community to experience the vibrant culture of Wheat Ridge,” Robb explains. “We want arts and culture to be relevant here, and we’re helping to make that happen through this cultural vision.”
To contact the Cultural Commission about any local art shows or events, email Cultural@ci.wheatridge.co.us. To learn about cultural activities taking place in Wheat Ridge, check out the Cultural Commission’s page on Facebook – www.facebook.com/MeetTheArtistWheatRidge