Since the Cultural Caravan's foundation in 2021, we have become one of Boulder's most dynamic and collaborative organizations. Not only do we present top-level artists from a broad range of genres and backgrounds, but we present them through creative partnerships with local businesses, social-service nonprofits, and municipalities, lifting up the whole community in the process. We were incorporated as a 501(c)3 in April 2022.
Find our full story below.
The Birth of the Caravan
Boulder, Colorado is replete with arts organizations, many of them thriving. But during the pandemic, many lost up to 90% of their operating revenues. Regular donors pulled back, or refocused their efforts on political or economic causes.
The pandemic, like other critical moments that force us to recalibrate, had a profound effect on these organizations. The downstream impact on artists and other sectors that benefit from cultural activity, like local businesses, was even more dire, leaving them with minimal financial cushion. Additionally, city budget proposals were (and are) calling for broad cuts, with even deeper cuts in the areas of arts and culture.
Amid this chaos and confusion, the Cultural Caravan was born. When we launched in the spring of 2021, many were optimistic that the pandemic might be waning, but the community remained vulnerable. Boulder needed an organization that understood culture to be inextricably linked to other economic sectors and that could advocate for their collective benefit.
The model was simple:
Bring safe communal cultural experience out of the concert halls (shuttered due to Covid) and deliver audiences directly to local businesses struggling to stay afloat.
Manage every element of each event so businesses would not have to stretch their staff or space to participate.
Make each event low-cost or free to attend, and encourage audience members to support flagging businesses instead.
Present the community’s best artists, and compensate them appropriately.
The Caravan launched in May 2021 with a weekend of pop-up concerts at Spruce Confections (along Pearl Street) and at River & Woods, as well as special gallery performances at the Museum of Boulder and a concert at the Boulder JCC. Each event was the first in-person communal programming these businesses and organizations had presented since the pandemic began.
Over the next 11 weeks, the Caravan presented more than 30 local artists in 22 concerts at over 20 local businesses. We raised $35,000+ from private donations alone, all of which we reinvested back into the community.
A Strong Start in a Vulnerable Moment
How did we successfully start a brand-new arts organization when others were struggling so much?
We carefully considered what artists need to express themselves, and what connects a community. We also identified what was hampering other organizations. Concert halls? Impersonal virtual events? Prohibitive ticket prices? All out.
Instead, we provided intimate and dynamic in-person encounters with a diverse collection of world-class artists in settings that breathed life into businesses and community organizations that had been scraping by. And we gave businesses and organizations with no resources the ability to participate.
Or, to put it simply: we considered what our community needed, we got creative, and we delivered.
Evolving in 2022
In the following season, an 11-day festival brought focus to our programming and an even greater diversity of artistic voices to every corner of the community.
We clearly differentiated pop-up concerts from MainStage concerts and teamed up with three amazing venues — the ATLAS Institute, the Dairy Arts Center, and the Longmont Museum — to present seven unique shows, each featuring a different headline artist.
This condensed schedule enabled us to bring our headline artists together on one stage for a memorable festival finale that featured everything from Bach to Brazilian Baiao, traditional Zimbabwean songs to American folk, all arranged for our unique ensemble.
To prioritize diversity and inclusion, the Caravan partnered with two local nonprofits: Boulder Food Rescue and El Centro Amistad. We performed concerts at six of Boulder Food Rescue’s no-cost grocery program sites, and made free tickets available to all our MainStage concerts. Similarly, we performed at El Reto de Boulder, the first post-pandemic event hosted by El Centro Amistad, and offered attendees deeply discounted tickets to our MainStage events. Our work with these organizations is just beginning.
The Caravan also worked with the City of Louisville, using Louisville Arts Council grant funding to present an event at the Louisville Fire Station to thank first responders for their heroism in the wake of the Marshall Fire. Three local restaurants generously donated food for the hundreds of community members who attended.
What resulted was an incredibly robust June Festival featuring more than 40 artists from a wide variety of backgrounds, participation by dozens of passionate local businesses, the inclusion of diverse communities usually relegated to the margins, and a cultural exchange among artists from all over the world who—because they all live in Boulder County—are now beginning to form new artistic partnerships.
All this, because of the Cultural Caravan.
The Cultural Caravan is giving hope to people. Every time we play, we give hope. That's the mission that we have as musicians in moments like these.
bassist, composer, educator
There’s a lot of care and creativity going into this project, more than the creativity of the music itself. There’s a lot of intention behind the Cultural Caravan that I find to be very inspiring, and it just made sense for Boulder Food Rescue to come on board.
Boulder Food Rescue
It’s been really helpful to have the Cultural Caravan, allowing me to just focus on music for a little while without having to worry so much about having to try to earn a living.
bandleader, ZiMbira Afrofusion band
If the Cultural Caravan has proven anything, it’s that we all benefit from working together. Our collaborations have been so overwhelmingly meaningful that every artist we worked with in 2021 eagerly joined us again in 2022, and every business we’ve worked with has expressed the desire to work with us again.
Our task now is to prove the full potential of these partnerships. With a year-round presence in the Boulder community, the Cultural Caravan will:
Grow our audience
Build a more diverse community
Advocate for local businesses
Connect with municipalities and municipal organizations Create opportunities for artists
Foster new artistic collaborations
Offer a window to a wider cultural world
Educate the next generation