FRUITA, Colo. — When Dan Flenniken saw a PBS sign inside an empty storefront in Fruita, he wanted to know more.
For most of his life, Flenniken worked for PBS stations and networks.
“Back in the mid-nineties, I was lucky enough to be part of the team that brought KRMJ and Rocky Mountain PBS to western Colorado,” Flenniken said.
Now retired, he often takes his dog Oreo for walks around Fruita. It was on one of these walks that he saw the PBS sign.
Flenniken had been out of the loop just long enough to miss the news that Rocky Mountain Public Media (the parent organization of Rocky Mountain PBS, KUVO Jazz, and THE DROP 104.7) was moving their western Colorado headquarters to an unsuspecting location in downtown Fruita.
He pieced the story together pretty quickly: RMPM had moved its offices to a location that would be heavily community-focused and accessible; that the current moment doesn’t need all the technological infrastructure that was once required.
And his response to this? "That's a cool idea!" Flenniken said.
A window into the Western Colorado Public Media Center
How the RMPBS has located itself in Western Colorado
The "cool idea," to physically position Rocky Mountain Public Media in a visible place, accessible to the communities it serves, was in the works as early as 2018.
This idea finally manifested as The Western Colorado Public Media Center in a shared-use collaborative arts space in downtown Fruita, known as F.A.R.M.
During the grand opening of the media center, RMPM CEO Amanda Mountain explained, “Alex Forsett, our leader on the Western Slope was really looking for a home for Rocky Mountain PBS where we can engage in the community, we can connect with people, invite folks in, tell us their stories, and really understand what people need from their public media organizations. And so Alex found this spot at the F.A.R.M … it's just the perfect place.”
In the Summer of 2022 Forsett was given the green light to actively search for a new home for RMPM. This didn’t need to be a literal TV station like the hardware-intense days of old. It just needed to be a place that was accesible and open, serving many needs and people.
Forsett had a set of criteria for what the new space would need to be:
It needed to house at least three staff members
It needed to be reasonable rent
There needed to be an alignment with the mission of the space and the mission of RMPM
It needed to be co-located with key partners
It needed to demonstrate RMPM’s mission, vision, and values
It needed to be innovative
It needed to be highly visible and accessible
It needed to support community engagement
It needed to impact beyond Mesa County.
Not on the list but in the back of his mind, Forsett needed the space to be full of natural light. It needed windows to be a literal example of the transparency and access to the community.
It was during this time, on a casual tour of Fruita, that Forsett saw an old hardware store that was being fully remodeled to become F.A.R.M., which stands for Fruita Arts Recreation Marketplace. The plans showed 32 small affordable units with five larger street-facing retail spaces.
Placing RMPM in this kind of collaborative environment seemed really appealing to Forsett. It’s place in the community of Fruita, and the greater community of all nineteen counties of Western Colorado seemed to make sense and fit all criteria. But at that stage of construction, it appeared like the available unit would have no windows–a deal-breaker.
“When I saw the building, it was nothing but a big giant steel building which felt cold and didn't demonstrate the values of transparency,” recalled Forsett.
Forsett was encouraged to speak with Sarah Wood, aka “Woody”, who managed all construction and relationship-building for F.A.R.M.
“It wasn't until I stepped inside with Woody that I realized that there was going to be not only a window but an amazing glass garage door,” said Forsett, “I was like, ‘Yeah! This can work!’ This hits the criteria.”
Forsett’s first interaction with Wood and F.A.R.M. was a clear example of the kind of creative and collaborative environment RMPM would be working with. At F.A.R.M. there were a whole lot more yeses than nos.
But there was one more consideration to be made before committing to the move to F.A.R.M.
Forsett knew it was perfect for RMPM. He wanted to be absolutely certain RMPM would be suitable for F.A.R.M.
“My fear was that being a legacy institution that we would be restricting access to the artists that need it,” said Frosett, “And what we heard from F.A.R.M. was that wasn't the case, that our presence here would actually help elevate the entire community and the artist community as a result of our presence.”
F.A.R.M. is the creation of Gavin Brooke and Alleghany Meadows who started a similar venture in Carbondale called S.A.W. which stands for Studio Arts and Works. They wanted to create something similar in Fruita, but only if Fruita wanted it. Before any plans were drawn, they met with key players in the Fruita community and asked what Fruita needed. They kept hearing about the need for very small rentable workspaces for people to try out their creative business ideas. And, that’s just what Brooke and Meadows did.
To make the small spaces affordable, they included several larger retail units in the plans. These larger units help support keeping the rent low for the smaller spaces. They wanted to attract collaboratively-minded, creative folks. They wanted to create a space with shared hallways, where tenants would run into each other naturally and start to build relationships where ideas could cross-pollinate.
“One of the things we didn't imagine and were so surprised and just honored and thrilled about,” exclaimed Wood, “Is when Rocky Mountain Public Media, Rocky Mountain PBS came and were interested in being a part of the community that we were building here!”
Wood made note that it wasn’t just that RMPM needed a space, but that RMPM was genuinely interested in being a collaborative presence in the community of F.A.R.M.
Wood said, “It was just a perfect fit and we couldn't be happier that they're here helping support the bigger vision."
Dan Flenniken has seen many iterations of Rocky Mountain PBS as it has evolved to meet the needs of its communities and the times they were in. He’s had his finger on the pulse for a lot of years. Rocky Mountain PBS is most known for its programming and television presence. But, Flenniken’s work has always been background work: Connecting one dot to another, building networks of all the people who can help to lift heavy ideas and make them real.
Flenniken is the first to point out he is one small part of a great effort to make public media accessible to the communities of Western Colorado. So many passionate people deserve recognition for why Rocky Mountain PBS is a known and trusted partner in Western Colorado.
There would never have been an actual broadcast connection without Joe McGee literally building the infrastructure to make it possible. If Kerry Youngblood didn’t step up to the plate, RMPBS would not have had access to the original location. Without the faithful support of people like Lenna and Steve Watson, there would have been no network of relationships for Flenniken to enter into. Without, Greg Micolai, Angelina Salazar, Penny Mitchell , Ryan Stringfellow, and now Alex Forsett, there would have been no direct leadership to represent the unique interests of Western Colorado. And, according to Flenniken, without the political muscle and heartfelt belief of Senator Tillie Bishop, there would never have been a western home base for RMPBS at all.
There are too many other names to mention. And that’s the whole point. No one person has made all of this possible. It has been an organic and united effort to build trusted connections in the western side of the state.
Forsett shared a similar sentiment when he said, “There's many people that have come before us and there's many people that will come after us. So it is my honor and privilege to serve in this moment in time to be in service to the mission of public media and the power that public media holds for humans to see each other.”
With a historic view towards building relationships and connecting with community, Flenniken sees the move to locate at F.A.R.M as an excellent strategy. He sees it as a very repeatable idea.
Referring to how he used to build relationships and make connections Flenniken said, “What really struck me in my first iteration was how much that's like what's going on now. It's like if you have those connections with the communities that you serve, it makes your life a lot easier. If you're seen as somebody that is accessible and open and really interested in not just communicating to people, but listening, a lot of doors start to open.”
With outside light flooding in on Forsett’s face, he said, “We look out this glass door right now at the community and I think the window demonstrates that value of transparency and that we are here to expand public trust. Our vision is a Colorado where everyone feels seen and heard. We are right here embedded in western Colorado, and that positions us in a way that is accessible and transparent. And this is the hub of public media for Western Colorado. This is the Western Colorado Public Media Center.”
On the evening of the grand opening of the Media Center, a toast was proposed. Gavin Brooke was there to celebrate and show the support and gratitude of F.A.R.M. He said, “We are absolutely honored to have you guys here … you're the cherry on top for us. So thank you very much.”
For Rocky Mountain Public Media, the feeling is mutual.