This article was contributed to Floodlight by Bliss Coleman, Executive Director of the Aurora Cultural Arts District (ACAD).
Art encompasses the subjective and the objective through various human expressions. The Aurora Cultural Arts District (ACAD) works to be the vessel of creativity. ACAD was founded in 2009 and formalized as a 501(c)(3) in 2010. Our own Aurora Fox theater sparked the development of East Colfax in Aurora, Colorado, after WWII. ACAD is the original Aurora and now home to over 100 spoken languages. We are the most culturally diverse community in the state of Colorado. ACAD is most interested in revitalization in our district in partnership with historical and cultural preservation. In western society, multicultural pockets are often stereotyped and overtly stigmatized.
Furthermore, when communities pursue revitalization through art, frequently, original residents are overlooked, and gentrification takes hold. At ACAD, we want to create a change and lead by example, cultivating creativity and art through community and cultural experiences. While the world turns towards a more digitized future, ACAD is working harder than ever to keep those personal human connections at heart. ACAD serves a community that does not share the same digital or world experiences that many westerners do. Due to language and cultural differences, many district residents and business owners do not use social media or the internet.
The media often speaks of social justice, and systemic change, but how many organizations demonstrate the needed change of which they speak? ACAD faces many challenges and has historically been overlooked due to our demographics and the long-time stigmatization of the East Colfax community. Unfortunately, the depiction in the minds of many surrounding metro area residents does not accurately capture the melting pot of beautiful cultures that come together in the neighborhood.
Equitable economic development would unlock the full potential of the local economy by dismantling barriers and expanding opportunities for low-income people, immigrants, and communities of color. Through accountable public action and investment, we are determined to grow quality jobs and increase entrepreneurship, ownership, and wealth within the district.
ACAD works with local businesses and artists to create free art classes, public art opportunities, free or reduced activities for residents, and opportunities for local artists to create while making a living wage. We are focused on supporting local entrepreneurs and businesses owned and operated by people of color. Art shows, performances, and jobs have been created to lift our community members of color. We continue to create and grow opportunities as we are able, and in the future, we envision our upcoming ‘Fax community activities to employ as many diverse individuals as possible. ACAD must prioritize equitable outcomes and become a change agent for our community.
The Aurora Cultural Arts District is home to several venues that work with and support children fostering them in various creative outlets. Downtown Aurora Visual Arts (DAVA) is a non-profit community art center that has been an anchor for youth in northwest Aurora for 28 years. DAVA’s art education programs are open to youth and families 48 weeks per year, and in 2019 (pre-COVID), on-site attendance reported 978 unduplicated students with 9,467 visits to on-site programs. An additional 892 students were served in DAVA’s Traveling Art School outreach program during 9,253 visits to classes. DAVA is one of the most prominent supporters of youth arts education in the district.
Programs like The Fox Theaters “Little Foxes” annually serve kids ages 3 to 18 who join in their after-school and summer programs that are designed to develop acting, social, and life skills. The Fox Theater serves 1,703 children through participation as well as patrons.
Dance and performance programs are also fostered by non-profit art galleries like 5280 Artist Coop, Rashnee, and establishments like Vintage Theater and The Peoples building. ACAD has also fostered a connection with two Aurora public schools: Aurora West Prep and Aurora Central High School. They serve a combined number of 2,371 students who have complete access to arts programming and events in the district.
ACAD is requesting assistance with capacity-building efforts as we want to create artistic spaces where our community can share their art and experiences through various creative expressions. ACAD desires to preserve the community, create more live-in art spaces and hold onto the parts of the city that make us unique while adding spaces to include the immigrant and BIPOC community. ACAD desires to create the needed changes and spaces that reflect those who live in our district.