*Note: This essay was published in the Pikes Peak Bulletin print edition on October 10, 2019. It can also be found online here, an image of the column is included below, as well as the text of the essay.

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Steven Miller describes himself as a “very amateur musician,” but after talking to him for five minutes, it’s hard not to come away thinking this guy may quietly be doing some very big things for music in Manitou Springs.

He’s one of the founders of the Manitou Music Foundation (MMF), a recently established local non-profit with great momentum heading into 2020. Miller had lived in Colorado Springs since the early 1980s, moved to Manitou Springs about three years ago, and in 2018 some conversations with friends raised an unnerving thought. It seemed like the “rich music culture” in Manitou was starting to dry up, with noticeably fewer live music events than in previous years.

They wondered, “Is there a way we can coordinate, communicate, and be a catalyst for the live [music] scene” in Manitou? Miller—being retired from the University of Colorado system and with an entrepreneurial background—had enough time to get the MMF started as an official non-profit.

The organization is “community-based,” and so depends greatly on volunteers from across Manitou for input. On this point, Miller isn’t kidding. He says they’re looking to expand their board, and almost seemed aggressive in his description of how willing he is to bring new voices onboard (interested folks can contact the organization at ManitouMusicFoundation@gmail.com).

They’ve seen some early successes. This past winter their Holiday Spirits Festival brought in an extra 500 visitors to the city, and Miller expects to see that number grow at this year’s edition. Beyond events, they serve to connect live music acts with venues, and aim to provide a community music resource center to be a hub for music lessons, practices, and small intimate concerts.

When I asked him how the MACH (also known as “2D,” more information at ManitouACH.org) ballot measure initiative could help the MMF—specifically the MACH’s annual competitive grant program in the arts, culture, and heritage—he was quick to respond. “We’re looking at grants now,” he said, and then proceeded to tick off several ideas. He pointed out that working musicians often don’t have a lot of money, and typically support their performing lives through music education. The MMF wants to make their new home free to local artists so they don’t have to pay rent for studios, and in turn, can keep the cost of music education down for everyone.

Moreover, if any local kids ever couldn’t afford instruments—the MMF is interested in a program to ensure any little musician that wants one can have an instrument.

They’ve also found that one of the quirky programs in other cities like Manitou Springs is a “pianos on the street” program, where the MMF would place pianos on Manitou’s streets to bring music to the masses in public, unexpected places. The challenge is that you’ve got to have a storage facility, and keep the pianos tuned up—which isn’t free—and the MMF would like to get a grant to make that sort of program a reality (in partnership with the city, of course).

Full disclosure, better late than never—I’m not a huge music guy, which started when my third grade relationship with my clarinet lasted all of three weeks—but by the end our conversation I was genuinely excited to hear about all these things I wanted to see (and hear!) in Manitou.

More live music. Kids playing music. Pianos on Manitou Avenue.

And it’ll be possible with some funding from the MACH. After it’s served the community in Manitou for three years, a non-profit like the MMF will be eligible to complete for grants.

It looks like the MMF is well on its way to earn some of those grants, and if that’s the case, all of Manitou will win as well.

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