When Denver artist Judy Anderson teamed up with Mark Smith of East West Partners to found the PlatteForum artist-in-residence program in 2002, their goal was to provide participatory arts experiences to underserved youth. The concept — which was intended to foster an experiential, rather than strictly educational, platform through artist residencies outside of academia — was brand-new at the time. “We were like trailblazers in the country,” Anderson recalls. “At first, people didn’t understand what we were doing.”
But that’s no longer the case — and today, PlatteForum, a National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award winner in 2011 and participant in the MacArthur Foundation’s national Connected Learning Research project, continues its mission in a new, more community-friendly space in Curtis Park. “We’re not an outreach program, and we’re not arts education: We’re about learning who you are, becoming a part of community and seeing yourself in Denver as viable citizen,” Anderson says.
That’s how things look as she prepares to say goodbye: Anderson will retire from her role as PlatteForum director on June 1. And this, she asserts with humor, is not the kiss of death. Anderson allegorizes her life shift in her farewell blog at platteforum.org:
I am reminded of a line from one of my husband Ron’s [Henderson, infamous Denver film guru and founder of the Starz Denver Film Festival] favorite guilty pleasure movies, Remember the Titans. In the movie, the star high school football player, Gerry, has just been paralyzed in a car accident a week before the state football finals. In the hospital, he is talking with his coach, who is attempting to offer wisdom, contemplation and support. Gerry looks at the coach and says: “I’m paralyzed, not dead.”
“The word ‘retirement’ sounds like you’re dead or something,” she explains. “I’m using that as my starting point for saying I am retired, not dead.” And for Anderson, that means a transition back to her other vocation: being an artist. “I had to put my own studio work on hold,” she notes of her time as director of PlatteForum, but now she’s more than ready to get back into it. “There’s always an incubation period in the creative process when you’re not doing anything, but you’re thinking about it.”
Looking forward, she has high hopes for PlatteForum’s future. With a search for a new director in full swing (announcements to be made sometime this summer), Anderson leaves behind a team ready to take the nonprofit to the next level. “We are ripe for building and expanding our missions and strengthening our collaborations with so many partners. And now, the artists applying are really engaged in a big social practice element in their work," she says.
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“It’s been such an amazing ride, and I’m honored to have worked with all these people,” she adds, speaking of both the staff and artists she calls PlatteForum’s “unsung heroes.” “We’ve really influenced the community,” she continues. “Now, there are many residency programs that are all doing variations of what we’ve done from the get-go.”
And Anderson intends to continue standing in the wings, delighting in the nonprofit’s progress. “I’ll still be PlatteForum’s number-one cheerleader,” she says, with full confidence that her work during the last thirteen years set the groundwork for many more years of success stories.
Learn more about PlatteForum's programs online.