New & Next: A New 'Acadia' in Aurora

Bob Hagedorn of 'Fax Aurora counts the contributions of local immigrants and celebrates the launch of The ACADIA Project.
In 1755, Acadians, a group of French colonists living in New France, what we now know as Canada, were given essentially three choices: be deported, swear their loyalty to the King of England or be executed. Rather than picking one of these, many became what could be described as the first political refugees of North America. Fleeing their British oppressors, they sailed down the Mississippi River to a place they would name New Orleans, after the French town of Orleans, the home of Joan of Arc.

The immigrants and refugees of Aurora have a remarkably similar experience to the Acadians of the 1750s, and have found home, culture and community here. However, they are a very diverse international group with residents having more than 130 first languages.

With this in mind, three Aurora nonprofit organizations -- the Aurora Cultural Arts District (ACAD), 'Fax Aurora and Community Enterprise Development Services (CEDS) -- collaborated to develop The ACADIA Project (TAP).

This program will identify refugee and immigrant artists in Aurora and help them build creative businesses to market and sell their crafts. The Denver Foundation has provided seed money to launch the program. This initial funding will cover the costs of planning, outreach, recruitment and training of a few initial participants.

"We are working on raising additional funds to help fully realize this new project," says Tracy Weil, managing director of ACAD. "This program will directly assist the artists and creative entrepreneurs in our community to pursue their craft for economic success and self-sufficiency."

The majority of program activities will be located in the Aurora Cultural Arts District, along the East Colfax Corridor. This area is among the most culturally diverse areas in Colorado, with nearly half of the adult population identifying as foreign-born. The area also has high levels of poverty, with over 43 percent of families living below the federal poverty line.

The idea for the program came about via community conversations with more than 18 community groups and organizations in early 2015. These groups pointed out the need to provide more economic opportunities for the immigrants and refugees living in northwest Aurora.

The collaborative partners all bring particular skill sets and relationships to the project: ACAD brings experience in building creative business and supporting local artists; 'Fax Aurora offers relationships with small business owners and expertise in marketing and doing business in this area of Aurora; and CEDS will help identify refugee and immigrant artists, and offer micro-loans for tools and supplies.

What makes this program ideal for northwest Aurora is that ACAD is home to the Aurora Fox Arts Center (with two theaters), Vintage Theatre (also with two theaters), Kim Robards Dance and the "People's Venue," a city-developed general venue to be available late spring or early summer. The building was a Gart Brothers sporting goods store for decades, and a Peoples Rent-to-Own store for a few years. The City of Aurora refers to it as "The Peoples building," referencing its last incarnation. However, it will soon become a venue serving "The People" as well.

"With these assets, The ACADIA Project will not just embrace visual artists, but also performing artists living in Northwest Aurora," says Weil.

Weil further notes that ACAD has identified more than 50 spaces where murals could be painted in the district. Weil, who grew up in this part of Aurora, is a prominent artist in his own right, and a resident and a founder of the River North (RiNo) Art District. If there's a place in the Denver area that knows about murals, it's RiNo.

Bob Hagedorn is CEO of the 'Fax Aurora Business League, an organization serving the small businesses in northwest Aurora.
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