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Whether it's laptop-driven orchestras or healing arts for the ill, CU's creative minds and spaces are boosting our culture

A laptop can do many things: send an email, check Facebook, pay the bills, buy a concert ticket.

At CU, musicians are using laptops to perform concerts.

"It has always been a running joke with laptop musicians that everyone is actually just checking their email," says Ryan Wurst, a 2011 graduate of CU Boulder's College of Music and an early member of BLOrk-the Boulder Laptop Orchestra.

What is a laptop orchestra? he thought when he was invited to BLORk's first meeting in 2008. There, a member of the Princeton Laptop Orchestra (called PLOrk, naturally) demonstrated how to turn this tool of technology into an ever-changing interactive sound box that is absurd yet familiar.

CU, he discovered, is a place to create and perform.

Wurst played many musical instruments as a child, but he had a penchant for percussion. By high school, he focused on writing music. His dad directed his high school band and his mom taught elementary school music.

"Yeah, I had no chance," Wurst says now, laughing about his predictable path to music. "I even told my parents when I was little: 'I like music and all, but I'm never going into it.' "

CU scholarships and grants made his experience at CU Boulder possible and full of future possibilities. It was at CU where he traded traditional modes of music-pen, paper, musical instrument-for a laptop.

CU expanded his view of what music could be.

Our arts and culture landscape, from dance to music to poetry to theater to museums, can express emotion, inspire social change and support economic vibrancy. CU nurtures creatives of all kinds by providing an environment where the visual, performing and literary arts can thrive in unexpected ways.

Like a young adult novel written about the plight of werewolves in present-day America.

Or the exploration of the mysteries of pop music-from Bruce Springsteen to Beyoncé.

And the arts don't just invigorate and please our ears and eyes. They also do the whole body (and mind and soul) good.

Research suggests that therapies using music and art provide patients comfort and relief from pain, anxiety, depression or sleeplessness. Through art and music, even seriously ill patients may better cope with physical, mental and emotional challenges of disease and aging.

Helping a patient feel like a person again

At CU Anschutz, the Natalie Kutner Palliative Care Creative Arts Therapy Program takes an interdisciplinary approach to decreasing suffering and providing meaning for patients, families and caregivers.

The arts therapy program was established in 2016 with philanthropic gifts. Ongoing contributions support an art therapist and a music therapist who weave art and music into patient counseling and care.

A patient in the Natalie Kutner Palliative Care Creative Arts Therapy Program plays the guitar.
A patient in the Natalie Kutner Palliative Care Creative Arts Therapy Program plays the guitar. (Photo courtesy CU Anschutz)

Art can be a vehicle for patients to share their personal stories, which can feel overlooked when they are sick or elderly. Art can also communicate a patient's concerns and priorities to doctors, nurses and other caregivers.

"We didn't know what we didn't know in starting this," says Jean Kutner, MD, whose mother is the namesake of the program. "We honestly didn't appreciate the extent to which the creative art therapy would be such a positive contribution in addressing needs of our patients that we don't otherwise address in the health care setting. It's been just tremendous."

Childhood dreams become a reality for young artists

Creativity also helps budding artists of the next generation discover who they are meant to be.

At CU Denver, the LYNX National Arts and Media Camps provide more than 200 middle and high school students an immersive learning experience in contemporary music, film or visual arts. The program has grown tremendously in four years-from just a dozen high school students to enticing young artists from 23 states and countries like Brazil and Ecuador.

CU Denver's College of Arts & Media hosts the summertime sessions on the downtown campus. Students get a taste of college life and are mentored by CAM students. In sessions about filmmaking, the music industry and animation, CU Denver faculty teach alongside professionals from Pixar, Disney, the Grammys, Nickelodeon, and rock and hip-hop stars.

 A male Lynx  Camp  attendee  performs  during  sessions  in  2018.  (Photo  by  Robert  King  Photography)
A female Lynx  Camp  attendee  performs  during  sessions  in  2018.  (Photo  by  Robert  King  Photography)
Lynx Camp attendees perform during sessions in 2018. (Photo by Robert King Photography)

"My daughter was ecstatic about her experience, and she will be applying to CU Denver in the fall. She learned so much and challenged herself," a parent of a camp attendee told organizers.

This year LYNX Camp awarded approximately $80,000 in scholarships so economic factors don't deter young creatives who have the drive and talent. And we know it works: this fall, CU Denver is anticipating that approximately 50 students enrolled at its College of Arts and Media are camp alumni-making their childhood dreams a reality on stage, at the soundboard or in a sketchbook.

"I always thought I would have to go to New York for school because I thought I couldn't have a career in music if I stayed in state," a student told organizers after her experience. "Once I came to LYNX Camp, I realized this is amazing."

The  Ent  Center  for  the  Arts  is  a  92,000-square-foot  facility  that  features  performances  and  university  instruction.  (Photo  courtesy  of  UCSS)
The Ent Center for the Arts is a 92,000-square-foot facility that features performances and university instruction. (Photo courtesy of UCSS)

The arts house that UCCS and Colorado Springs built

All the world's a stage. Those at CU are transforming arts and culture along the Front Range.

Just look to North Nevada Avenue in Colorado Springs and you can see the new star in town, a shining silver beacon who's ready for her close-up. This year, the Ent Center for the Arts on the UCCS campus opened to the public, thanks in part to philanthropic support from hundreds of donors. The entire 92,000-square-foot facility itself is a creative's playground: four performance spaces, a gallery and a public sculpture program. Art installations dot the venue inside and outside. It is also the new home for the professional arts programs of UCCS Presents and two of the academic programs of the Visual and Performing Arts Department.

A  production  at  the  Ent  Center  in  2018  (Photo  courtesy  of  UCCS)
A production at the Ent Center in 2018 (Photo courtesy of UCCS)

At the Ent Center, details matter: the theater seats are ergonomic, the floor-to-ceiling windows feature a majestic view of the mountains and the recital hall is acoustically perfect. The facility is also LEED Gold certified, becoming the 10th UCCS building to hold the coveted designation. And that's just the physical space.

This spring, more than 160 productions offered a range of talents and performances-from student shows to visiting artists. Regional arts organizations also perform at the center, including The MacLaren Society, the Chamber Orchestra of the Springs, Imagination Celebration and Starz Theater Company.

The arts facility is boosting UCCS and Colorado Springs' reputation as a destination for world-class music and culture. It's also building upon the campus' strong relationship with the city and the southern Colorado region.

It truly is the house that UCCS and Colorado Springs built together.

That's the idea: to make something from big ideas.

'An opportunity to go deeper'

"We're pushing the mediums of right now-video games, internet, television-and art is being made with these new tools, and BLOrk is a part of that," says Wurst, the CU Boulder student. "Making music with a laptop and calling it an 'orchestra' brings it back to what music is, and maybe you've never seen that before so people begin to have a conversation. It gives people an opportunity to go deeper, to be more fully realized as human beings."

Wurst has returned to CU Boulder to complete a PhD in a new unit called the Intermedia Art, Writing and Performance at the College of Communication, Media and Information. This fall he is teaching an undergraduate class at CU Denver about video art, and he's working on a thesis about "infinite storytelling" using improvisation, artificial intelligence, 3D characters and gaming software.

"Just like Picasso decided that you can look at an object from multiple views, or how acrylics changed how we paint, this is another view of what an orchestra can be," he says. "It's not so much of deciding, 'This is the future.' But it's more of questioning and opening what a future can be and how to integrate what is happening now into possibilities."

  Wurst  at  work  on  his  laptop  (Photo  by  Glenn  Asakawa)
Wurst at work on his laptop (Photo by Glenn Asakawa)