Ginger White Brunetti's role, at its most simplistic, is to perform like a plate spinner in a circus act. As executive director of Denver Arts & Venues, she manages a $60 million budget and five Denver venues including the Denver Performing Arts Complex, McNichols Building, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Denver Coliseum and Colorado Convention Center. In addition, she oversees Denver’s 400-piece public art collection, free cultural programs and economic development initiatives like Five Points Jazz Festival.
Denver’s vibrant cultural scene is in no small measure attributable to the programming that goes on in the city’s performing arts venues. This is why when the coronavirus pandemic hit, it was like all those plates came crashing to the floor.
With the economic fallout resulting from canceled shows and the staggering job losses, the arts and exhibition sectors were hit with, Brunetti and her staff had to figure out what programs and assistance they could offer. She called on her more than two decades in the public and nonprofit sectors, 15 of them with Arts & Venues, to bring people and ideas to the fore. One of the things they did was to create the Denver Artist Relief Fund, allocating $375,000 for those needing support. She also encouraged programming and attendance at events like Buntport Theater’s The Grasshoppers, a mini drive-in, which was a short play performed outdoors (while the audience remained in the safety of their cars) in September.
Through it all, she remains driven and optimistic, dedicated to the arts.
How do people describe you?
According to my 9-year-old, I am “kind, caring, stressed because of COVID, and loving.” I would add approachable, driven, energetic and good-natured. My husband says I’m too focused on work.
Who do you most admire?
Like many, I admire Michelle Obama. I recently listened to her new podcast, which further reveals her wit, authenticity, smarts and her abiding commitment to community–all qualities that I regard highly and try to emulate. Closer to home, my parents are my real heroes. They selflessly raised three kids and actively care for my youngest brother, Ted, who is profoundly autistic, and still lives at home.
What’s your favorite Colorado restaurant?
Potager! I’ve been enjoying food and wine at their concrete bar since I moved to Denver in 1997. When I crave my Sittee’s cooking [Sittee is Lebanese for grandmother], I go to Phoenician Kabob on East Colfax.
What was the last great book you read?
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett.
What is your biggest fashion faux pas?
Not sure it was my biggest fashion faux pas, but a memorable fashion “don’t” was when I wore nude fishnet stockings (which looked weird against my olive skin) with a striped T-shirt dress and nude heels—yikes. As someone who wore a uniform throughout my formative years, I’m better off keeping things simple and basic!
What is one thing that you absolutely can’t live without?
My son says my iPhone—do you sense a theme?
What was your last major purchase?
A new sofa for our living room—the second one in three months. It’s a sore subject in my household.
What gadget can you not live without?
My Apple iWatch. I thought I would hate it, but it’s kept me motivated and moving during the pandemic. Each day, I try to close all three rings.
What are your hobbies?
Traveling, exploring new places by bike, running, yoga, seeing art, cocktails on a patio and seeing live music.
What is your most memorable Colorado experience?
I’m fortunate to have had many memorable, quintessential Colorado experiences: driving around Telluride in my friend Kyle’s orange convertible Harvester, rafting down the Colorado River with my husband as the oarsman (we saw a bear!), enjoying live music outdoors at Red Rocks, Aspen and many mountain towns, spring snowshoeing in shorts, sailing on Lake Dillon, kayaking on Grand Lake, drinking wine at City Park Jazz—the list goes on. The common denominator: anything active and outdoors with my favorite people.
What one word describes Coloradans to you?
Energetic—Coloradans are active in body and spirit.
What is your favorite spot in Colorado to visit?
I have a lot of favorite spots across the state, but Colorado’s creative districts—especially Crested Butte, Steamboat Springs and Salida—are some of my favorites. Also, any place with water.
Are you involved with any charities?
I serve on several boards, including Clyfford Still Museum, Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Denver Theatre District and Visit Denver. There’s a special place in my heart for PHAMALY Theatre Company.
What took you down this career path?
My love and admiration of human ingenuity, creative expression and urban spaces took me down my career path. I grew up with a deep appreciation for the arts and their ability to bring communities together for common understanding, joy, celebration and healing. Later I became interested in political science and urban planning—a different kind of art form that at its best supports the growth and stability of healthy, vibrant communities. I now get to work at this exhilarating intersection of arts, culture, community and placemaking for the City of Denver.
The pandemic forced the closure and cancellation or postponement of programming in the city’s key cultural venues. How did this affect you and those you work with?
The closures have been difficult for the Arts & Venues team. We get a thrill seeing folks from across our community—and the country— come to our venues for unique, uplifting and joyous experiences. At this time of year, we’d be welcoming thousands of people nightly to Red Rocks and preparing for Hamilton at the Arts Complex, for instance. Like our audiences, we also relish live performances, so this has been a double whammy. Nevertheless,
the team has remained resilient and creative throughout. At A&V we have an acronym—PATH—that describes our values: Professionalism, Personal lives matter, Adaptability, A+ Service, Teamwork, Trust, Hustle and Humor. The team continues to exhibit these values even during these challenging times. Denver’s creative community is brilliant and heartfelt. A high point of stay-at-home was participating in a virtual dance party hosted by the Denver Public Library—they are doing amazing programming. Of course, many members of our creative community are making masks, including Mona Lucero, Knotty Tie and Union Stitch and Design—I have some from all three! Other artists have been painting murals, and theater companies such as Buntport hosted live performances in a drive-in format.
Do you see any silver lining to what has been a devastating time for the arts, artistic community at large and the economy?
I don’t want to diminish the hardship that so many of Colorado’s creative community and their families are experiencing. Musicians, actors, dancers, visual artists, and others have had the rug pulled out from under them because of the pandemic. As of July 13, the Coronavirus has had a devastating $9.1 billion economic impact on America’s arts sector with a 67 percent unemployment rate among artists and gig workers. Since the first U.S. case was reported in January, 96 percent of arts and culture organizations have canceled events—some as far out as 2021—resulting in a loss of 325 million ticketed admissions and billions of dollars more lost in event-related spending by audiences at local businesses (restaurants, lodging, retail), impacting 533,000 jobs. If there’s a silver lining, I hope it’s that those of us who have been buoyed by the arts during lockdown— watching Hamilton, bingeing on Netflix, streaming music, reading a book—will appreciate the importance and relevance of the arts in our daily life and advocate for federal dollars to support artists and arts organizations.
Name: Ginger White Brunetti
Marital status: Married
Children: One, Nicholas
Career: Executive Director, Denver Arts & Venues Hometown: Atlanta, GA Where do you call home today? Denver, CO Website: artsandvenues.com
Suzanne S. Brown is managing editor of Colorado Expression.
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