When Denver was settled from the wild west, as the gold rush made it's way through uncharted territory, it was likely inhabited by some rough and crusty characters. Some folks probably still think our city is rough around the edges and uncultured. But they would be wrong. Sure, we love our time in the mountains and our many professional sports teams - but Denver is also home to one of the largest performing arts centers in the country, highly esteemed museums and a bustling art culture. Beyond that, everyone in Denver is from someplace else - which speaks to our diversity. So in this week's Connect & Collaborate with ICOSA Radio program, we take a look at two incredible cultural programs.
Jan Mazotti and Community Matters Co-host Cristin Tarr speak first with Denise Gliwa of I Sing Beijing, a vocal arts organization bringing new experiences, new languages and new talent to the world from Denver.
It's a relatively new program, now in it's third year, which originated from Asian Performing Arts of Colorado. Before long it was recognized that opera and music was booming in China but not in the West. Soon, I Sing Beijing became the first program ever, bringing western singers to China for training in lyrical Mandarin. The organization brings Chinese and Western singers together singing songs from both cultures. It's a true cultural exchange program.
Each year, they audition singers, who then enter a full scholarship program to train in Shanghai, along with an intensive Mandarin language study. The program is now in it's third year and the performers are invited all over the world to sing. You'll have to listen to the radio program to find out how some ended up singing and studying with Placido Damingo.
In the second half hour we talk to Andrea Barela of Newsed - a community development corporation that started as New Westside Economic Development in 1973. Newsed's mission is to promote and develop economic arts, cultural and community programs that revive incomes, education levels and political engagement for Denver area residents. This is accomplished in part, by reviving neighborhoods. Specifically the Santa Fe Drive business corridor, which eventually became a state designated art district, thanks to efforts to improve the blighted area with beautification projects, renovation and architectural guidelines.
Those improvements, taken on 40 years ago, lead to a vibrant community and thriving business district. In 1985 the Santa Fe Drive business corridor began hosting an annual Cinco de Mayo event - which in turn became so popular and well attended, that it moved to Denver's Civic Center Park in 1995. Now it's the second largest two-day Cinco de Mayo festival in the nation. Most attendees are return visitors from years before, and the event draws nearly 400,000 visitors regionally and from around the country.
These developments are a great example of investment in cultural diversity, where people unite in celebration.
Don't forget - Denver's Cinco de Mayo event is this weekend at Civic Center Park. Visit www.cincodemayodenver.com for more information on events and music.
Listen to the entire Connect & Collaborate program this Saturday at 10:00 AM on KNUS 710 – or download our podcast – you’ll find it at the top of this article.