CC Mobile Arts launched this spring to enable the campus community to take the arts on the road. Program Director Naomi Pueo Wood purchased a 2021 E-350 Cutaway Ford truck and equipped it with a PA system, projection, lighting, stage, and solar panels.
Wood anticipates the 16-foot vehicle facilitating pop-up shows, workshops, exhibitions, storytelling, and more. An abundance of ideas is emerging in Wood’s conversations with faculty, students, and members of the local arts community.
“Each conversation led to more ways that it would be an incredible resource for teaching and for improving the quality of life in the city. My goal is to highlight ways for weaving Block Plan teaching, community engagement, and creative expression through a hands-on teaching and learning experience,” Wood says.
Wood is the National Endowment for the Humanities distinguished teaching professor and associate professor and chair of the Spanish and Portuguese Department. The NEH professorship revolves every three years to a tenured humanities faculty member. Wood is making use of a long-standing NEH grant to fund CC Mobile Arts.
In 1991 CC was awarded a NEH challenge grant of $250,000 to establish an endowed professorship focused on teaching excellence. To meet the challenge, CC had to raise an additional $750,000. Combined with NEH funds, that created a $1 million endowed fund to support the college’s first distinguished teaching professorship.
“The heart of the NEH professorship is an interdisciplinary team-teaching arrangement that links a senior or associate professor with a less experienced faculty member, providing an opportunity for the junior faculty to learn how to teach most effectively under the Block Plan,” says Wood.
CC Mobile Arts is expected to facilitate collaboration, and it may even spur creative efforts to retain new faculty.
“How do we make the city a place where people want to live and stay? For me as a queer person, I’ve been looking for queer art spaces and queer dance spaces. So, let’s make the things happen that we want. And there’s energy among CC faculty to do that,” Wood says.
Some of that energy was on display at a May 7 unveiling event in downtown Colorado Springs. People of all ages came to see the new vehicle, create art and poetry, and enjoy performances by artivist Lisa Villanueva, spoken word poet Ashley Cornelius, and dancers from the Latisha Hardy performance group and school.
Artwork featuring two Colorado Springs-based artists, Rosario Weston and Kevin Johnson, was printed on vinyl and wrapped onto the vehicle’s sides. Stella Biehl ’22, a neuroscience major and studio art minor, is the visor artist and helps market the project. Weston’s “Enraptured by the Arts” composition evolved around the concept that love for arts can become a vehicle for achieving greater understanding, compassion, and connectivity.
“I think this project is going to reinforce awareness that there are underserved pockets in our community that don’t have exposure to dance, theatre, poetry, and painting. Then there’s the other realization that art really does connect human beings,” Weston says.
Dimitri Klebe, an astrophysicist and co-founder of Solmirus (the company contracted to do the build out), has interactive exhibits that include the Mobile Earth + Space Observatory, a “science center on wheels.” A CC visiting professor of astronomy and physics, Klebe is the engineer responsible for the CC Mobile Arts stage and other components. Not only did he have the technical expertise to design and custom build the wooden stage, but he also has a background in performance.
“My dad was an opera singer, and he started Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma, California. And it’s still going today. I grew up in that theatre watching plays and shows,” Klebe recalls.
One of the challenges he faced was making the stage as big as possible.
“To get the bigger stage — it measures 14 feet, 4 inches by 6 feet, 5 inches — we had to have wings that then ultimately fold it out from that,” he says.
“I was very pleased with how the stage came out.”
Klebe and his colleague Bryan Costanza also built a structure to house the speakers and solar panels, and they configured lighting.
The arts mobile will be used for film screenings at Acacia Park and other outdoor spaces and participated in the Colorado Springs Juneteenth Festival, Pride events, the COS150 Downtown celebration marking the city’s sesquicentennial, and First Friday events. Wood will be incorporating it into her First-Year Program at CC this fall. FYP provides new students with a critical introduction to liberal arts learning on the Block Plan. She’s also looking forward to faculty proposals to incorporate the mobile arts truck into their block classes.
As the program gets on the road, support from across campus has been vital. A Changemaker: Faculty and Student Collaboration Grant from Creativity & Innovation at CC is providing funds for three paid student positions this summer in programming, digital media, and marketing.
Jane Hatfield ’22 is one of two research and programming assistants. An integrated design and architecture major on the pre-med track, they find the role is a perfect marriage of their love of art and science.
“Art has been a huge focus of my time at CC and in my personal life. I’m in charge of setting up community relationships and finding artists and partners that we want to collaborate with. There’s so much flexibility with it,” Hatfield says.
Hatfield started the Girls Skate Club, and a collaborative skate and art event is one of many potential opportunities.
“Our whole goal is to bridge the gap between the disparate parts of Colorado Springs. I see the truck as a perfect opportunity to create living events that will establish a stronger connection between CC and the Springs,” Hatfield says. “Getting the arts out to people is something I’m really passionate about, and from a directorial stance, literally just planning how to put all the pieces in the same place, so then magic can happen.”
Wood would like to travel to Cañon City, Greeley, and other communities where students and local artists can take part in collaborative events and work with folks who inspire them. As the driver getting CC Mobile Arts started on its journey, Wood envisions that in two years this campus and community resource will transition from her leadership to a more collaborative model to continue rolling along.