Athousand miles southeast of Cedaredge, nestled deep in the Ozarks, resides the city of Fayetteville, Ark. Surrounded by mountains and forests, the people there are endowed with southern graces and they love the arts -- especially music. So it seems natural that Fayetteville native David Starr and his wife Cindy have carried their creative spark to western Colorado and inspired their adopted community to embrace the arts.
This month, after over a year of whirlwind of activity, the Grand Mesa Arts & Events Center (GMAEC) will open its doors to an enthusiastic public. And it all began with two people who grew up together, drifted apart, and then reunited as adults. In many ways it's an old-fashioned love story but it's also a modern tale of fate and Facebook.
"We were miles apart but we had both reached the same milestone in life," recalls David. Both were single with grown children and both were welcoming grandchildren into the world and celebrating the event on social media. The year was 2010 and their Facebook profiles seemed to mesh so they exchanged greetings. Then came more emails and phone calls and in January 2011 they reconnected in person in Arkansas over lunch. Comparing notes, they remembered that they had been together in Sunday school classes and shared time in the same homerooms from elementary school days through high school. They had been friends and classmates even though they didn't date.
"He sat behind me in high school," Cindy recalls, "And I didn't think he liked me that much." Her most vivid memory of David was formed in grade school when she was working at her parents' ice cream parlor in Fayetteville. "He kept coming by riding his bike and showing off by popping wheelies, so maybe he did like me just a little."
After high school, Cindy stayed in Arkansas, earned her degree in dental hygiene and worked in the dental profession for 23 years. David pursued a musical career and eventually moved to Cedaredge where he opened Starr's Guitars on Main Street and continued to perform and record.
After the couple reconnected, Cindy came to Cedaredge for a visit in August 2011 and she fell instantly in love with the area. Over the next two years David found more and more reasons to return to Fayetteville. The couple married on Oct. 10, 2013, in Arkansas and decided to make their home in Cedaredge.
From the first moment Cindy set foot in Cedaredge she felt a part of the Colorado community. "It's such a welcoming family here," she recalls. Soon she was immersed in the small town environment becoming active in the local chamber of commerce but she also embraced the open road as she joined David in his life as a traveling musician.
It was while touring with David and experiencing multiple performances as an audience member that Cindy began to envision the idea of establishing a performance venue in Cedaredge. David and his fellow musicians traveled across the nation and overseas performing in diverse communities and a wide variety of settings but every performance had one thing in common.
David felt it on stage and Cindy felt it as an observer. "The performances linked people," David recalls, "Songs and stories brought people together. Heads nodded, hands clapped. Everywhere we played it was a feeling of shared community."
"Each time we visited a venue," Cindy recalls, "I became more inspired. I talked with the managers and I began to ask myself 'Why can't we have something like this in Cedaredge?' And I began asking David the same question."
David had grown up in a household that supported the arts. The Starr Theater in Fayetteville's renowned Walton Arts Center is one tangible manifestation of his family's contributions to the arts and to community development. Thinking of his family's donations and their tireless fundraising efforts he recalls, "I was taught at an early age that the arts are important -- not only to enhance the culture of an area, but also to serve as an economic driver."
When Cindy shared her vision of an arts center for Cedaredge, David didn't need much convincing to jump on the bandwagon. The couple continued to discuss the idea and he encouraged her to write her ideas down in a notebook. "I still have that notebook," she laughs. "And he may tell you he jumped on the bandwagon but I definitely nudged him."
Back home in Colorado, Cindy was soon nudging and recruiting others until, in the spring of 2017, she and David and other enthusiasts gathered in the basement of the Cedaredge United Methodist Church to discuss what had come locally to be called "The Project." A board of directors and advisory council was formed and the community immediately began pitching in with ideas, monetary donations, and dedicated volunteer hours as the idea of a local arts center took shape.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
The new arts center will open to the public on Friday, June 15, and that weekend, David Starr and fellow musicians will take the stage for the center's inaugural performances. The concerts will mark the debut of the self-taught musician's seventh solo album and everyone in attendance will receive a copy of his newest CD: "South and West." The Saturday, June 16, evening show is already sold out but tickets are still available for the 7 p.m. Sunday, June 17, show at firstname.lastname@example.org or at Starr's Guitars, 250 West Main Street, in Cedaredge.
On the center's inaugural weekend, David will perform on Cedaredge's newest stage, doing what he does best, bringing people together with songs and stories. And Cindy will be there too, a member of the community audience --smiling and nodding her head along with her fellow audience members. And everybody will agree: "It's here! It's really happening! We did it!"