Aurora cultural concerts deliver consistent, inclusive message


AURORA | When the Colorado Folk Arts Council’s cultural concert series first came to Aurora Fox Arts Center, the notion of an arts district in Aurora was little more than a hazy mirage to optimists, and a laughable chimera to, well, just about everyone else.

Members of Aztec Groupo Huitzilopotchli march in an August parade on Lowell Street near Regis University. The group is part of free cultural concerts hosted by the Colorado Folk Arts Council’s one Wednesday afternoon each month from October to May at the Aurora Fox Arts Center. This is the 20th year the cultural concerts have been held. Photo courtesy of Aztec Grupo Huitlzliopotchli.Today — 20 years, hundreds of performances and thousands of student-audience members later — the Aurora Cultural Arts District is an emerging lightning rod of cultural prowess in a neighborhood once written off as an irretrievable bog of delinquency.

And the cultural concert series at the Fox has remained a steady, ever-present cornerstone throughout that evolution.

Founded through a joint effort of the Fox, Original Aurora Renewal and the now-defunct Crossover Project, the annual concert series features eight performances for traditionally underserved public school students.

Now coordinated by the Colorado Folk Arts Council and the Journey Through Our Heritage program at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, the series is celebrating 20 years of performances at The Fox this November.

“This is a very special year for us,” Ron Gehauf, president of the Colorado Folk Arts Council, said in a statement.

Renee Fajardo, now a professor in the department of Chicano and Chicana studies at Metro State, helped launch the program with former Fox executive producer Robert Salisbury and members of Original Aurora Renewal.

And although different organizations have offered support for the concert series through the years, Fajardo said the programming has remained consistent.

“The kids that come through change, but we didn’t want to change because we want everyone to be able to come through and say, ‘I saw those Aztec dancers and African drummers, too,’” she said. “We wanted to create a legacy and a similar experience for everybody — it’s like going to see ‘The Nutcracker’ every year.”

Charles Packard, current executive producer at the Fox, echoed Fajardo’s comments on the immutable shape of the concerts.

“It’s one of the few programs that looks almost identical to the way it did before I was working here,” said Packard, who started working at the Fox as a contractor in 1998. “For the Fox staff, it’s a really wonderful opportunity for us to see a bunch of underserved kids walk into the theater, have a great time and be excited to learn something.”

The group pays performers with a small allocation dispensed to the Colorado Folk Arts Council by the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District. The rest of the organizational power comes from student volunteers with the Journey Through Our Heritage program at Metro.

The free concerts are held one Wednesday afternoon each month between October and May. This season’s debut is slated for 12 p.m., Nov. 9, and will feature Aztec Grupo Huitlzliopotchli and storytellers Red Feather Woman and Rita Wallace. Fajardo said the programming, which was scheduled with Native American Heritage Month in mind, is particularly potent this year.

“With all of the things going on with the Dakota (Access) Pipeline, and it being Native American Heritage Month, I think it will be a very respectful and honorable kick-off to this series,” Fajardo said.

She added that the enduring lifespan of the series has allowed the involvement to come full circle — those who once attended the concerts as students in Aurora Public Schools or the Cherry Creek School District have since become Fajardo’s student program coordinators at Metro State.

“It’s very cool to see,” she said. “It’s consistently delivering the same thing.”