It’s a strange time to switch jobs. It’s a strange time to move across the country. And it’s the perfect time for artist and educator Idris Goodwin be taking the helm as the new Director of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College.
A playwright, poet, producer, educator, father, and hip hop artist, Idris’ canon of creation has allowed him to leap into the contemporary arena of social and cultural upheaval, equipped to offer his art as both a buffer and a landing point for troubled — and inspired — souls.
Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center welcomes new Director
“Come heal," invites new FAC Director Idris Goodwin
“The challenge I’m finding is just trying to encourage people to be comfortable in the present,” says Idris. “And in what’s happening right now — as opposed to putting all the resources or thoughts purely in a tomorrow that may or may not return exactly in the same way that resembles yesterday. And that’s a big leap for people. And I get it.”
Until just a few days ago, he was ‘getting it’ — and going for it — from Louisville, Kentucky, where he’d been serving as the producing artistic director of Stage One, a professional theater company for young audiences, for the past two years.
Taking his post at the Fine Arts Center while not physically in Colorado Springs, he says, has been one of the biggest challenges of his career.
“There are some days where I forget I’m not there yet, and there are some days when it feels just too difficult,” he says. “We’ve had to navigate some very time sensitive issues from a distance.”
The global pandemic delayed his family’s relocation to Colorado Springs, where Idris previously served as assistant professor of theatre at Colorado College from 2012 to 2018. During this time, he was deeply immersed in, inspired by, and at the forefront of the Colorado Springs arts scene — a community he says inspired his move back to Colorado.
“It’s a great scene,” Idris says. And he’s excited to add to it again.
“I see the Fine Arts Center at Colorado College being one of those spaces where folks can converge. We can be the site for future generations - and now generations - to kind of grow into themselves. We can really feed and stimulate the culture. We’re not just a waystation for beautiful objects. We’re a space for a lot of different things to go down — a true civic institution.”
The Fine Arts Center celebrated its 100th birthday in 2019, just three years after announcing a transitional acquisition by Colorado College, a private institution founded in 1874.
Increased financial security was an immediate benefit of this alliance, a collaboration that bodes well in the current pandemic era, as many arts institutions are severely limiting staff, or shuttering altogether.
“Part of the reason of the alliance was for sustainability for the Fine Arts Center,” Idris says. “Arts and nonprofit work is really hard. It’s been a huge help. The College does have more resources, financial and otherwise, to allow for greater impact.”
Even in these uncertain times, as the future remains unpredictable, Idris says institutional leaders can find it difficult to shy away from the five-year-plan mentality.
“I think there’s an undervaluing of the present,” he says. “People say, ‘Live in the present,’ but people don’t really plan in the present. People always plan for some distant future. And I’m like, ‘Yo, if I had planned five years ago for right now…’” he laughs, throwing up his arms.
As an artist raised in hip hop culture, Idris brings learned adaptability and innovation to his position.
“I came up freestyling. I came up in the cypher,” he says. “If someone passes you the mic, you don’t say, ‘Naw, I’ll get it on the next one,’ or like, ‘I’m not ready yet, I got to think of what I’m going to say.’ You got to just go! Go.Right now. Make something happen. Right now.”
This ethos is in demand as the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College advances its repertoire, for example, adding online classes and digital content.
“There are a lot of organizations that were making intentional strides into the virtual space before, and it’s to their benefit right now,” he says.
“For those of us in the sort of more ‘traditional’ art spaces, it became so much about product, and about object, and about, ‘This is going to be the big show,' and, 'This is going to be the big exhibit,’” he says. “We haven’t made process a part of it, intentional. We need to be more conscientious of the areas in between, and the other possibilities. Now is the time, and I feel a great sense of urgency to not be afraid to make those shifts and those changes. The background I come from, hip hop, is all about — you use whatever tools are available to express yourself.”
Inspired by emergent new forms of creation and dissemination, Idris has been revamping his own work for Zoom and audio distribution. He started a podcast with fellow American poet Kevin Coval, Same Old New School, giving weekly updates in the world of hip hop. In 2019, he released Can I Kick It? via Haymarket Books, a collection of breakbeat poetry that hand-delivers a lifestyle of hip hop upbringing to the reader’s senses.
“Idris Goodwin is a creative voice for change impassioned by the power of art for social good,” reads the book’s biography.
Fittingly, Idris recently released five free play scripts for kids and parents through the Theatre for Young Audiences website. These works are multi-faceted, generation-hopping conversation starters to engage families in anti-racism dialogue.
Theatre allows us, says Idris, to reflect on our own experience through the experiences of others. “Theatre is where we see ourselves and wrestle with our beliefs,” he says. “Since racism lives at the intersection of misinformation, ego, and unchecked power, the arts must counteract by cultivating personal reflection, learning, conversation and compassion.”
Most importantly for the Fine Arts Center, Idris says, is being intentionally community oriented. Investing in and showcasing regional artists has emerged as a priority.
“We can encourage further exploration,” he says, referencing the Fine Arts Center’s newly created 3x3 Project. The program was a collaborative call for artists across disciplines to interpret and represent both iconic and subversive narratives of the Rocky Mountain West and American Southwest.
Idris is excited to let the community know that the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College is here for them, and to provide a reflection of the community back to its residents.
“Come get some art. Come get some substance. Come reflect. Come heal,” says Idris. “We are in need of some major healing as a country. The arts can do that. That’s not hyperbole, either. That’s the spirit. That’s what it’s about.”
Sesame Street: Rhyme Time by Idris Goodwin
Multi-talented, award-winning playwright and poet Idris Goodwin has another PBS connection - he once performed for Sesame Street.