As you head west down Pikes Peak Avenue through the heart of downtown, Pikes Peak is perfectly framed on the horizon. But there’s another arresting image that draws your eye just before the Tejon Street intersection. A 60-foot mural rises on the side of a red brick office building depicting a Native American portrait with a red handprint covering their mouth and chin. This is Take Back the Power by local artist Gregg Deal, a public art display with a message as powerful as its imagery.
The red handprint on the face of the mural subject—Deal’s oldest child, Sage—is a reference to the national #MMIWG2S campaign bringing awareness to the high rate at which Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit (LGBTQ) individuals go missing or are murdered. The mural was created in partnership with the Haseya Advocate Program, a local nonprofit working to address violence against Indigenous survivors of domestic and sexual violence in El Paso County.
Deal’s work is known for its incisive expressions of Indigenous culture. “Much of my work deals with Indigenous issues, protest and representation, occupying space in ways that are simultaneously beautiful, unexpected and difficult,” says Deal, who is a member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute tribe. “My desire with this project was to create something that is undeniably Indigenous, but something that can belong to the city of Colorado Springs as well. The mural is about representation.”
Take Back the Power has overlooked downtown Colorado Springs since 2020 but not without its challenges and responses of all varieties. “The piece has generated excitement and divide,” Deal says. “I don’t create work for a reaction but rather to authentically align with my voice and experience.”
Take Back the Power may be the Springs’ largest visible Indigenous artwork, but it is far from the only one. Local artists are seeing more dedicated spaces for expression by and for underrepresented communities. And an increasingly diverse representation is happening in the Colorado Springs community through initiatives, galleries, boards and committees. The multicultural art scene has been and is here in real-time.
“I am encouraged to see the galleries and directors working tirelessly to engage with BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, People of Color] creatives, and to hold space and respectively pay BIPOC creatives,” says Jasmine Dillavou, a Boricua —person of Puerto Rican descent—mixed media and performance artist. Dillavou’s passions lie in documenting the Latinx experience, and she serves on the board of directors for the UCCS Galleries of Contemporary Art.
Local arts organizations are also seeking to be more inclusive and representative in their programming and creative initiatives. “In recent years, the Cultural Office has highlighted the artistic responses of BIPOC creatives to the Black Lives Matter movement, commissioned a Land Acknowledgment statement for use by local cultural organizations, added Spanish language translation functionality to our websites, established a contractual relationships for American Sign Language interpretation at key events, and hosted community conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion during Arts Month,” says Andy Vick, executive director of the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region. “Our staff have also participated in a number of workshops and seminars about further integrating equity and inclusion principles into our ongoing work.”
Many other foundations and galleries are creating strategic plans to elevate the community’s diversity through the arts. “A city’s arts and culture sector is judged on its diversity and sustainability, its economic impact and viable opportunities for artists, arts workers and arts patrons—where does Colorado Springs rank?” says Idris Goodwin, executive director of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College. “Colorado in general is very siloed. We in the arts need to prioritize audience development, finding ways to build bridges, build relationships and awareness broadly.”
Goodwin says the FAC has prioritized efforts to accomplish those goals. “Over the last five years, the Fine Arts Center has increased its representation of artists and arts workers of color across the institution, from our exhibitions to our theater productions and our education programs. We are committed to ensuring that the Fine Arts Center is a welcoming and inclusive space for all walks of Colorado life.”
Claire Swinford, executive director of the Bee Vradenburg Foundation (BVF), sees diversity as vital to the arts. “It’s wonderful to see local Black artists like Floyd Tunson presenting career-defining works at the Fine Arts Center, and to see organizations like Ballet Folklorico de Barajas presenting and preserving traditional art forms for new generations at the Pikes Peak Children’s Museum,” Swinford says.
She also points to important foundations of multicultural expression throughout the region’s history: Black newspapers, such as The Western Enterprise in the 1980s, were published out of the Antlers Hotel. Renowned Fiestas Bonitas, Beautiful Parties, in Acacia Park brought together Colorado Springs residents of all backgrounds to celebrate the region’s Mexican heritage from the ’50s to the ‘80s. And Fannie Mae Duncan brought national touring acts, such as Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Muddy Waters and more, to the Cotton Club, the city’s first racially integrated nightclub in the ’50s and ’60s.
“The BVF mission [to advance the arts in the Pikes Peak region] will not succeed unless our arts scene reflects the full diversity of this community in a way that is equitable and inclusive of all,” Swinford says.
But with its ongoing support, the local arts scene will continue to grow richer for its multicultural expression and stronger because of its diverse creativity. Artists like Deal, Dillavou, Tunson and countless others will continue to create important work that both expresses and shapes culture.
“There is something to be said about seeing a Native face represented in a public space,” Deal says. “When I think about what it means for the youth, other ethnicities and disenfranchised groups that are seeing themselves reflected, that is the most important aspect. Also raising awareness that we are Indigenous people having American experiences. We have duality. We exist in real time.”