Elizabeth: [00:00:00] Welcome to Creativists In Dialogue, a podcast embracing the creative life. I’m Elizabeth Bruce.

Michael: And I’m Michael Oliver.

Elizabeth: This is part two of our interview with longtime friends and colleagues, Roger and Diane Kahn. To refresh your memory, Roger is an author, an action sociologist, a community organizer, an activist, a professor, and a jazz and mushroom aficionado. Diane is a visual and scenic artist, a designer, an architectural professional, an educator, and an incredibly creative cook. In part two, we move west with Roger and Diane Kahn.

Moving westward, we’ve got you from New York, New Jersey, [00:01:00] with this one experience in the south, and then you move westward to Cleveland and then you make this giant leap from the east to Crested Butte, Colorado, which is a small mountain town in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, in, I think, 1970? You, you moved to Crested Butte? Having spent some time there with friends and gotten to know the community and you uprooted yourselves and moved. Roger, I remember you saying that there were more people in the apartment building you grew up in than in the entire town of Crested Butte. So, this is a transformative experience. You, Roger, have written a fascinating book about it and I want you to tell us about that. But can you describe the, this sea change personally and professionally and as a family to be big city people transplanted to this tiny mountain town?

Diane: It felt like anything was possible. There didn’t feel like there were any constraints. We had [00:02:00] bought a little house on the main street, unpaved main street.

Elizabeth: Right.

Diane: For $4,000. I can’t even imagine what it would sell for now.

Roger: North of a million.

Diane: Yeah.

Roger: Probably north of two million.

Diane: And with my theater construction experience, I thought I could just double up the lumber and fix this house. Which is pretty much—

Elizabeth: What you did.

Diane: —what we did.

Elizabeth: It was, I remember this house, a little white house with blue trim. Am I remembering it correctly?

Diane: Yeah, I painted it red, and the sun turned it pink.

Elizabeth: Okay.

Diane: I, where—I may have grown up in New York, but I grew up on my street. I didn’t ride the subway the way Roger did. I was very sheltered. I had a very frightened mother. And I was very protected. And so this was freedom for me.

Michael: Interesting.

Elizabeth: Yeah. What about you, Roger, this [00:03:00] creative sea change going from your urban experiences to this little tiny town?

Roger: Probably the best thing is that from the time we went south to Houston, Texas in the desegregation draw until we moved from, to Crested Butte, we lived in a Black world, worked professionally in all Black-led organizations, we integrated a racially integrated an apartment building that we lived in. Our friends were African American, our associates were African American, and we went into an all-white ethnic Croatian Serbian community with, that had I think one Mexican family at that time still. Who were all retired minors and working-class people.

Diane: And we moved there with our Black infant son.

Elizabeth: This was Randy, right? Yeah.

Roger: [00:04:00] Yeah. We were the first Jews and we had the first Black person—

Elizabeth: Right.

Roger: —there at that time. So that in itself was a pretty dramatic shift. It was a counterculture. The new people that came in, at least half of whom would be considered counterculture people, hippie types. The others were people who grew up in Colorado and who were blonde-headed, blue-eyed, big smile white teeth people. And they, they were into outdoor activities and didn’t particularly have any causes or social values that were they espoused or that were, they were just, into being nice and having a good time. And for 10 years before that, we certainly had plenty of good times, but we had purpose in our life. And I don’t think most of the people that we knew in that community at that time [00:05:00] had.

And then, drawing on my organizing background and some of the stuff I did after we, I was, well, I was in the civil rights movement, but after the period we’ve discussed in this interview, I learned facilitation technologies and I, my organizing skills, I basically organized the first town election where the day before the election, the old timers had a hippie problem and the day after the election, the hippies had an old timer problem. And it, that, that’s a cute way of saying that people who wanted the town either not to grow at all and be an unknown place and a haven for dropouts and—of all kinds, some legal and some not and—just when you think of the old west—

Elizabeth: Right.

Roger: You think about the dirt streets—

Elizabeth: Right.

Roger: —in the old west [00:06:00] and the false fronts—

Elizabeth: Right.

Roger: —in the, on the sides of those dirt streets. And you think about swinging doors in the bar—

Elizabeth: Right.

Roger: —and cowboys going through the bar and bad guys going through it. That all happened when we were there.

Michael: And did, did you know anything about this sort of culture clash before you got there, or did you discover it?

Roger: I discovered it.

Michael: Discovered it. And then you decided, obviously, how, how am I gonna deal with, or how should we deal with this?

Roger: Exactly. I, there were guys arrested, including me, by these marshals that were in the town, and they were harassed. And people who smoked dope would be arrested for smoking dope. And there were guys walking down the street with six shooters and holsters on their hips.

Elizabeth: Open carry, yeah.

Roger: Yeah. And I used to eat breakfast at one particular place, and it was, there was a communal table that we ate at and, but it was a counterculture.

Michael: Sure. So the organizing skills that [00:07:00] you had learned in all the civil rights work with—

Roger: I brought to Crested Butte.  

Michael: And did, you were, did you discover that some of those techniques needed to be fine-tuned or adjusted? Or could you base, could it, could you simply shift from the techniques you learned in the integrated communities?

Roger: It was pretty much a simple shift, Michael. It was the basic principles. I listened a lot in there at the breakfast table, at the communal table. I listened to the old-time people talk about the dirty hippies and I listened to the hippies talk about the dirty—

Diane: Not dirty.

Michael: You were listening to both sides as you were trying to—

Roger: Oh, absolutely.

Michael: Right.

Roger: Absolutely. And, and it wasn’t that the old timers were dirty people. That was, they weren’t dirty old timers.

Diane: Not at all.

Roger: They were just old timers. Quite the opposite.

Michael: ‘Cause there you’re, in a sense, I would assume you’re trying to heal the rift in somehow.

Roger: I [00:08:00] tried that initially.

Michael: Okay.

Roger: And we had that, before we had the election, I described where the day before the old timers had a counterculture problem, and then the day after, the young people, counterculture people, had an old timer problem. I wanted three particular old timers. There was, the city council was composed of six people plus a mayor, and I wanted three old timers to run. And I talked with them and tried to get them to run. And basically, they couldn’t because the social pressure from the other old timers wouldn’t let that happen. And, and we couldn’t continue being arrested and being harassed and—which was what was going on.

Michael: Sure.

Roger: And you remember the old sixties sign on restaurant doors, “No shirts, no shoes, no service.”

Elizabeth: “No service,” yeah.

Roger: And [00:09:00] those, we couldn’t go into certain places without being really harassed. And when I realized that the people that I was particularly hoping would be a coalition team or a coalition slate, I guess is a better word. It was just a question of organizing the new people to stop moaning and groaning and run for office and basically address the needs that we had as counterculture people. And I was really one of the only radicals. There were a couple of other political radicals and, but, but not many.

Michael: So after, after they won the election, did you all then shift, I guess stage two where you’re helping them devise new policies, new approaches to governance that would—because complaining against about the status quo is one thing, but then taking power, you’ve gotta create the new set of power or new approach.

Roger:  We, and [00:10:00] we did. And one of the things—unlike what I did as a community organizer, as a trainer and facilitator in the civil rights movement later on—I actually had to run for office in order to make this happen. And so, I was one of the people elected to office. And then once we were in office, a few days afterwards we went on a facilitated—not a facilitated, a retreat—to plan what we were going to do and who was on what committees and who would—and I became head of the police department. And why did I become head of the police department?

Michael: You were—

Roger: Three months earlier, I was arrested!

Elizabeth: Talk about casting against type here.

Michael: And so let’s shift. Diane. Okay. You created or worked, you participated or founded or co-founded a theater in Crested Butte. The Crested Butte Players, the theater there.

Diane: Crested Butte Mountain Theater.

Michael: Crested Butte—and [00:11:00] it’s still in existence?

Diane: And it is, I think, the longest lasting community theater in Colorado.

Elizabeth: Wow. Wow.

Michael: So did, I mean, I definitely want you to talk about your experience creating the theater, which I think is a fascinating process, having created one myself with Elizabeth, but, but also this question of working at the Karamu House and other theaters, but now working out in Crested Butte where there’s, I don’t know if there were cultural traditions that existed in the town prior to the theater, but what was the difference? What was that experience like for you?

Diane: There had been something called the California Players who came and did “you must pay the rent.”

Roger: Melodrama.

Michael: Oh, melodrama, yeah.

Elizabeth: “I can’t pay the rent!”

Diane: Every summer. And someone, his name was Tom Tower, came into town with this idea of starting a theater. And he had been working in, I think, Chicago and several of the people who were, had been [00:12:00] working with him followed him to Crested Butte. And so, we had a core of theater people. And we took over the theater space, which was in the upper story of the old town hall—did not make the California players very happy—and put on, our first production was an outdoor production called Dark of the Moon facing Crested Butte Mountain, for which the town is named. And built a platform set. Moonlit nights. Really a beautiful production.

Elizabeth: Wow.

Diane: It was the, that first production. Most of the actors were local town people, young people for the most part. Made costumes, helped build the set. There were no drops because the backdrop was the mountain—

Elizabeth: Right, talk about site-specific, yeah.

Diane: The, the play took place in the Ozarks, it was just a really good backdrop for that play.

Elizabeth: Wow.

Diane: It was very successful, and it led [00:13:00] to many other—I think we did about six productions a year. I did all of the sets for the first two years and then subsequently every now and then I did a set.

Michael: So most of the people that participated, had they done theater before or were they like newcomers?

Diane: The first people did. The people from Chicago. And some people from the community who just wanted to be involved or people who had done some stuff in college or high school. After we started a restaurant to support the actors so that they could control their time for rehearsal. And I designed the interior of the restaurant.

Michael: Do you know if you ever got any of the old timers to come to the performances?

Diane: To come? I don’t know if we did.

Michael: Right.

Elizabeth: Well, speaking of young people, I wanna just ask you a bit, ‘cause [00:14:00] you and, you and Roger had your young infant son, Randy, with you when you moved to Crested Butte and your son Eric joined your family shortly thereafter.

Diane: Yes.

Elizabeth: So, can you speak about the creative dimensions of raising young boys in this idyllic but rugged place?

Diane: It certainly didn’t feel rugged to these kids. These, I, they, I think it was an idyllic childhood. They had the run of the town.

Elizabeth: Right.

Diane: If they had a bicycle, they could go anywhere.

Elizabeth: They could go anywhere, yeah.

Diane: Of course, I said, “You can’t leave the town.” And, of course, they did. But fortunately, they survived. They had their friends. It was, it was easy child rearing. They would leave in the morning. There was a noon whistle.

Elizabeth: Okay. Your noon whistle or the town’s noon whistle?

Roger: The town’s.

Elizabeth: The town’s noon whistle. Okay.

Diane: Which they had to make sure it worked because of the [00:15:00] mining activities. And so they rang it every day at noon.

Elizabeth: Okay.

Diane: And so the kids had to come in for lunch at the noon whistle, go back out and play and come in when the street lights went on.

Elizabeth: Okay. Okay. And it was, yeah. So there was this community, this village raising the children.

Diane:  Exactly. The eyes of the whole town on them. There was one summer I was afraid to pick up the phone because Randy was getting into so much trouble. In somebody’s strawberry patch—

Elizabeth: He was climbing trees, whatever.

Diane: A very different upbringing than I had.

Elizabeth: Yeah, yeah.

Roger: I want to add something to what Diane said relative to your interests. The kids play was unlike play anywhere else that I’ve heard about or knew. There were no little leagues, there were no formal organized anything. These kids—

Diane: [00:16:00] Softball.

Roger: That was part of what they created, that didn’t exist before they created it and it turned into adults playing softball with the kids and mixed adult-kid teams and mixed men-women teams, and so on. And the baseball field was rock-strewn. And when you slid into a base, you knew you were gonna get a raspberry. And the kids knew that. And the kids—I just saw a picture yesterday that Randy showed me, about half a dozen jumping off a roof into a snowbank. Not skiing off the roof, which they did. But these kids, Randy, when he got married, his best man told them a story about when they were eight or nine years old, and they took construction Styrofoam and Tom Sawyer went down the river. And they fortunately survived. They, the kids created their [00:17:00] entertainment and it was brilliant.

Elizabeth: “Magical” comes to mind. For a kid, I can’t imagine.

Roger: When I was a little kid, I played little league baseball. There was no baseball team. There was no nothing. When these kids were there. They created bicycle tracks and jumped bikes over them, they were the beginnings of extreme bicycle riding and extreme ski jumping. And it was like they egged each other on—or encouraged each other on is a better way to say it. They were so unbelievably creative from the time that we were two, three, four, five years old.

Elizabeth: So this is really like a social experiment. Obviously, times in the past, there weren’t all these organized things. But in this little town you had all these people coming from someplace else with all these values of art and creativity and imagination and, sort of, freedom. And you have a batch of kids who get to live that life and [00:18:00] create their own world. It really is pre-internet, pre-video games, there weren’t absolutely TV shows.

Roger: Exactly.

Elizabeth: It was—

Diane: There were TV shows, but they had three channels.

Elizabeth: Okay.

Diane: Two of which always showed I Love Lucy.

Elizabeth: Okay. That was, that was a, a Lucy retrospective going on all the time. Yeah, so the social experiment aspect of that for those kids really is fascinating.

Diane: And there were not—the old timers were old. All of the young people moved out of town when the mines closed. So they didn’t have the resident kids to show them their games.

Elizabeth: Right. Let me switch gears and go—now, we’ve moved west and let me move slightly north and east from Crested Butte back to Denver. ‘Cause you and I, Roger and you, Diane—I met you, Roger, when you were in the founding days of the Colorado Coalition for Full Employment, which you founded in Denver in ’77, I think. Can you, Roger, briefly [00:19:00] describe what the Coalition’s mission was and what the creative leaps were that led you and others to, to start this Coalition?

Roger: Let me answer your second question first.

Elizabeth: Okay.

Roger: The Coalition for Full Employment, the Colorado Coalition for Full Employment, came about because of my prior roughly 15 years life experience. I worked with poor people and people of color, mostly African Americans, and then went into a white area where the dominant population were retired miners and also ranchers, active ranchers. And then I started consulting in Denver before the Coalition was formed, and I commuted between western Colorado and the western slope in Crested Butte—not the current resort town, but the [00:20:00] old, vacated mining town populated by ranchers—and the African American community, primarily African American community in Denver.

And when you drive 250 miles each way twice a week—which is what I did for six, eight months a year, something like that—you think. And what I realized was that when I was working with the Black community, I was talking to them about how to get more power so that they could win on some of the issues that they were losing on in this formerly Ku Klux Klan state. And when I was in Crested Butte for that period of time, I realized that the old miners and their way of life and the issues they had, like [00:21:00] black lung disease—

Elizabeth: Right.

Roger: —and disability payments that were not very good and that ranchers were always short. I started to realize that these totally disparate groups who never communicate with each other—

Elizabeth: Right.

Roger: —were losing on all the issues most important to them.

To the second question or the other question, as I realized that, I started thinking about how do you bring these people together who are always losing on their issues and don’t know each other and that the other guys, if they know ’em at all, are also losing on their issues? How do you bring them together and help them support each other on each other’s issues so that they can win? So that miners [00:22:00] can get decent treatment for black lung? So that people in the African American community or the Hispanic community can pass anti-discrimination laws, can get them implemented if they’re passed, enforced? How environmentalists can get a wildlife and wilderness agenda implemented, which they were having great trouble doing it those days—this was the oil and gas drilling, mineral extraction industry, the ranching industry—how those environmentalists could get organized workers to support an environmental issue.

None of the environmentalists had ever thought about [00:23:00] occupational health and safety environmental issues. And they never defined them as environmental issues. So we helped them understand the issues that they had that were different and how they could try and support each other and get wins on their issues legislatively.

As we were looking at all of this stuff and feeling our way and listening, doing all the listening I was talking about before when we talked about community organizing, I started to realize because of my listening and because of what these groups who never talked to each other were saying, that without knowing it, in a lot of ways, they were saying the same things. And particularly on one issue, [00:24:00] and that issue was energy and energy production.

And so, we were able—I have to say, in terms of creativity that we’ve been talking about behind the scenes, if not overtly directly, the most creative act I’ve ever been involved with in my life—starting college programs, organizing in the south, et cetera, et cetera—the single most creative work I ever did was organizing the Colorado Coalition for Full Employment and within that framework, having people who never talked to each other talk to each other. And go so far as to change their institutions, modify them. So that the first environmental task force in the United States, in the AFL-CIO, was within the [00:25:00] Colorado AFL-CIO where they created an environmental task force. The first environmental organization, umbrella organization, Colorado Open Space Council it was called at that time, they made room, took a few years until they got to this point, but they made room on their board for a couple of trade unionists, a couple of people from the Hispanic community, and a couple of people from the African American community. They had never done anything like that before. Groups that had no notion. The Farmer’s Union joined the Coalition for Full Employment and sat on the board. Why? When you think of farming, you think of Monsanto, you think of the mega corporations that control farming. The [00:26:00] family farmer—I can’t say what I was gonna say—gets screwed. I was gonna use another word. Cause that’s clear what they, what happens.

Elizabeth: Copy that, Roger.

Roger: We had support for the work we were doing from environmentalists, from farmers, from the Black community, from the Chicano community, from the labor community, and from the religious community. And the religious community was where we first gained support. It was a Lutheran minister—

Elizabeth: Dick Magnus.

Roger: That’s right. Dick Magnus was, became my model for whenever I was on a board afterwards. He was the best chairperson you could ever get. And he got discretionary money from different pockets within the Protestant church. So he’d get a thousand dollars for us from the [00:27:00] Lutherans and a thousand dollars for us from the Church of Christ, a thousand dollars from the Presbyterian Church. And he was just remarkable in raising money so that we could continue our work. And over the years we ended up getting a lot of money from the federal government, from the Department of Labor, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency—

Elizabeth: Right.

Roger: Because slowly but surely, they all realized that what we were doing could help them implement their agenda. Just like at the local level, what we were doing could help the local communities implement their agenda.

Michael: So let me ask you this, Roger, earlier you described your experiences in Crested Butte, which is this very creative environment, not only for your kids, but for you and Diane and in this sort of the creation of theaters, [00:28:00] schools, communities. Did that experience in Crested Butte, when you go back to Denver and you organize, what you call just called the some of  the most creative experience of your life, where you’re getting people from diverse backgrounds to communicate with each other and open their minds to new possibility, do you think there was any connection between those experiences in Crested Butte and what happened with the Coalition for Full Employment?

Roger: Absolutely. And I might not have made myself clear enough. I talked to ranchers, and I talked to retired miners. And a lot of the other counter counterculture people who we’re political but were cultural counterculture people, they didn’t, or very little. The women did more than the men.

Michael: Okay. So out in Crested Butte, you got to comm– meet communities that you personally encountered these communities—

Roger: That’s where I got my contact with [00:29:00] the, with wildlife and wilderness environmentalism, which I always defined before I went to Crested Butte as just the purview of the rich or the rich middle class and whites. It had nothing to do with poor people, it had nothing to do—as I saw it then. But I came to understand that was that the environment is important. Real important. The wildlife and wilderness and preservation and conservation of our earth is very important. I didn’t know that before I went to Crested Butte. I defined it as something that was put up to stop the civil rights movement, environmentalism. And then I talked to people, and I listened more than talked, and I listened in bars, and I listened to breakfast coffees and I listened when I was on the town council to what the old timers were saying. And [00:30:00] my, so when I went to the Coalition—before I went and formed the coalition, when I was doing this consulting and going back and forth and back and forth and thinking about what I had been listening to Black people for 10 years before, 12, 15 years before. And I had been listening to people of color, mostly Puerto Rican people, rather than Mexican American people, but I started listening to Mexican American people. So, it was—the Coalition, I hate to say this ‘cause it was like 40 years ago, was present in a different way. It was the culmination of my prior 20 years of adult life. And what I learned in Crested Butte was and is still a key component of my [00:31:00] consciousness in my life. And in Crested Butte, among other things, I learned to play. I learned to get loaded. I learned a lot of things. And it’s not by accident that I still go back to Crested Butte and live there for four to five months a year.

Michael: Playing is the touchstone of creativity.

Roger: Somebody told me that once, too. That and being able to laugh at yourself.

Elizabeth: Speaking of playing—this is not really a complete segue, but I, I wanna bring our listeners back to Diane’s experience post-Crested Butte, or simultaneous with Crested Butte, coming back to Denver. In creating these extraordinary interiors in your home in Denver, as you did in Crested Butte, you went back to school, back to architecture school. You continued to provide your, or to apply your design skills to, to your own home and to other settings. Can you talk a little bit about this fusion of your own artistic forms from theater to visual art to dance [00:32:00] to design and how that crescendos once you came back to, or how that continued in Denver and in your continued studies in architecture and elsewhere?

Diane: I discovered that, like theater, architecture is also a collaborative exercise. All the hairs have to lay in the same direction.

Elizabeth: Okay.

Diane: Like set designers, architects are problem solvers. So, some of the difference is that when you’re creating architectural space, it’s for people to use and you don’t know how they’re going to use it. Theater, you have a good idea of how it’s gonna be used.

Elizabeth: Sure.

Diane: I’ve done a lot of stuff for myself, so I know exactly how I’m gonna use it. But when you design for other [00:33:00] people, you, you are often surprised at their creativity in what you’ve given them.

Elizabeth: Right. So there’s, yeah. So it’s a, there’s a lot of listening and there’s this interplay between you and a client or a colleague.

Diane: Well, I never, I didn’t work with personal clients.

Elizabeth: Okay.

Diane: I was my personal client for a lot of our projects.

Elizabeth: Sure.

Diane: But no. I did department stores.

Elizabeth: Okay.

Diane: And I guess I was an interior designer, ‘cause that’s interiors. And so, we had one client and, who had two separate chain, two chains of retail stores.

Elizabeth: Okay.

Diane: There were limits to what you do, just all kinds of limits from the people who, who own the malls to the client themselves.

Elizabeth: Let me ask, just expand upon this creative part of your life, Diane. Because you and Roger are both in different ways are veteran educators and you’ve shared your [00:34:00] complex skills and experiences with adult learners primarily. So, you, Diane, have been teaching art and visual art in an adult, to adult learners in a senior community center here in Denver for many years, and—

Diane: For—except for the, even with the two years of the pandemic—for 14 years.

Elizabeth: Wow. So can you tell us what that is? What is that creative process like?

Diane: My first teaching experience was in the New York City school system.

Elizabeth: That’s right, yeah.

Diane: I only lasted for one semester and then we moved to Crested Butte. I did a few little arts and crafty things there. Working with, I love working with older people. First of all, I’m older, I’m 80.

Elizabeth: As we are. Yes.

Diane: But they bring so much life experience. And most of them either never did any artwork or hadn’t since [00:35:00] elementary school. And everybody’s retired and they’re looking for what to do with their lives. They’re really vibrant and have some physical drawbacks, but they’re, most of them are fully aware and interested. One of the most influential things that I learned about how to teach art—

Elizabeth: Okay.

Diane: —was from a woman who was severely, I don’t wanna say demented, what’s the term for old people?

Elizabeth: Oh, they have memory issues.

Diane: Alzheimer’s.

Elizabeth: Alzheimer’s, yeah.

Diane: Yes. And so, it helped me create a vocabulary about how to get people to produce art, things that they were proud of. [00:36:00] With this woman, I would draw a shape and give her one piece of chalk for her to color.

Elizabeth: Okay.

Diane: It was almost like paint by number, and she turned out wonderful stuff.

Elizabeth: Wow.

Diane: And so, the concept of don’t worry if it’s an ear, don’t get all uptight because you don’t know how to draw an ear.

Elizabeth: Okay.

Diane: It’s a shape of color.

Elizabeth: Okay.

Diane: And you put these shapes of color together and you have a picture.

Elizabeth: There you go.

Diane: And I started with off buying with pencils and charcoal and watercolor, and I have spent at least 12 of the years, maybe 13, with pastels. Because pastels have brilliant color. They, you can almost not make a mistake because you can erase, you can draw over it, smear it—

Elizabeth: Smudge it out.

Diane: And you get wonderful [00:37:00] results. And it’s, it doesn’t take time to dry and—

Elizabeth: It’s not messy, it won’t ruin your clothes, yeah.

Diane: You can take it home and show your family and it has, it has, that teaching experience has really been wonderful. And I realized I’m a really good teacher.

Elizabeth: Oh, excellent.

Diane: I didn’t, I had no idea.

Elizabeth: Who knew? I can just, I’m envisioning this kind of incredible blossoming that happens in the class between individuals who, as you say, have not been, they haven’t been professional artists, they haven’t been focusing their imaginations in the creating of visual art, but suddenly they are, their creative imaginations are released and given direction, and there’s this wonderful synergy that happens.

Diane: And their families think that they have uncovered this hidden talent that nobody knew about.

Elizabeth: We’ve become, as a society, I think we’ve become much more open to the multiplicity of [00:38:00] possibilities that people can have, but older people didn’t experience it, particularly women who didn’t have a lot of opportunities and a lot of encouragement.

Diane: And most of them are divorced or widowed, but they worked all their lives, and they had an income. Not a lot of income, because we live in this neighborhood because our family is of mixed race and that rec center that I teach at used to be almost all Black. My students were almost all Black. I have noticed over the last few years many more white people are not just in my class, but in the rec center.

Elizabeth: Older people also?

Diane: Even, like, I passed by the gym and there were younger people there, but take a water aerobics class and it’s called Silver Sneakers and it’s for retired people.

Elizabeth: For retired, yeah.

Diane: And I think out of a class of 35, there are four [00:39:00] guys.

Elizabeth: Okay.

Diane: And it used to be almost all Black, and now it’s half and half. Because the neighborhood is changing. Neighborhood is gentrified.

Elizabeth: Well, we know what that’s like. We’ve lived in northeast DC for 35 years and it was this, and now it’s not.

Michael: So Diane, just in terms of the question of this, of subject in your, when you have a bunch of artists together in your class, how do you deal with the question—

Diane: I dislike classes where everybody draws the same thing. That’s not an art class.

Michael: Sure.

Diane: But because some of the people have mobility issues, we draw from calendars, we draw from photographs, we draw from imagination. And I work with people where they are. Some come with some skill, and some don’t. But they get it. There’s still a couple of people who still think, “oh God, it’s a nose [00:40:00] I can’t draw a nose!” And I can’t say “shapes of color” any more often.

Elizabeth: Right. Speaking of teaching, Roger, you are also a veteran educator. You taught for many years at Regis University, teaching, as I recall, about community and organizational development. So can you tell us some of your most creative teaching methods? As a university professor?

Roger: First and foremost speaking English rather than jargon.

Elizabeth: Oh, good point.

Roger: I think that’s really important.

And I guess when I went to Regis, I went there to create a graduate department, basically. So I had to develop the curriculum for leading and managing non-profit organizations. And my professorship was of non-profit organizations. And I had to figure out what it was that people in non-profit organizations need to know in [00:41:00] order for that organization to successfully implement its mission. And I, just to name a few—I guess when I went there, I might add, I was, my starting this department was opposed by a vice president for academic affairs because his notion was, we teach business administration, why should we teach a non-profit organization administration? And ultimately, we were able to prevail. One of my academic mentors was a dean at that time and he’s the one that brought me over from the college I was at before and wanted me to start this program for them. And he and another dean overrode in the dean council or the administrative decision making [00:42:00] where the president and the academic vice president and the three or four deans decide stuff, they decided that it would come in and start this program.

And, so, to give you an example, examples of a curriculum development, you would never in a business school have volunteer management as a course. And so volunteer management was one course that I had developed. And then you would have financial management for nonprofit organizations, and you would have different fundraising courses for nonprofit administration management, and you would have working with boards of directors as a course, a course. And so I developed that and then brought in people.

And I also developed the content of two courses, one that was offered in the [00:43:00] first semester and the other in the second semester. And the first semester was organization politics, non-profit organization politics, which you would never have in a business organization.

Elizabeth: You can’t acknowledge politics exist in business.

Roger: And then the next semester I developed a course called Ethical Issues in Nonprofit Organization. And I’ve always felt from the days that I worked in advocacy organizations, like the Coalition for Full Employment, that the hardest sector to work in as an, and to have an organization become successful, was the nonprofit sector. In the private sector, there’s a clear bottom line. You’re either making money or you’re not. That bottom line.

Elizabeth: Right.

Roger: In the government sector, there’s a clear bottom line. You’re going to get [00:44:00] reelected or not, or elected or not. In the nonprofit sector—and you know who your constituents are in both of those organizations, they’re your customers and so on—in the nonprofit organization, the bottom line is oblique. There really… is your board of directors the bottom line? Your staff the bottom line?

Elizabeth: Right.

Roger: Are your funders the bottom line? Who’s your bottom line? The volunteers in your organization the bottom line? How do you know when you’re successful? Because you’ve got—one organization I started in Crested Butte, which I am no longer a part of and would never think of being a part anymore, they defined the original mission of that organization was to air significant and controversial issues of public policy. Today, [00:45:00] that same organization’s mission changed because the board of directors changed over a 15-year period and now its mission is to have civic conversations about public policy, organizations of public policy. Totally different. No controversy, no significance.

I told you about developing a curriculum and I told you about developing a couple of courses in that curriculum, and I segued into what some of the conflicts in non-profit organizations can be about. And, in fact, are. The board of directors wants you to raise money and the staff wants you to put on more plays in your group. You as the director of the organization, what do you do? You got—it’s not [00:46:00] clear. Those are ethical issues. Fundraising. Do you take money from whoever will give it to you? What if a right wing son of a bitch wants to give money to liberal—I don’t even wanna say progressive—liberal organization because he or she needs to have that shown somehow or other in his credentials. Do you take that money or you don’t? That’s an ethical issue, okay?

Now the third important creative thing that I did in the course is I did not have any traditional academics teach the courses. The person that taught, they were all what we called senior practicing professionals.

Elizabeth: Alright.

Roger: So the person that talked about advertising in a private organization, in a nonprofit organization was a top advertiser by profession. The [00:47:00] volunteer management instructor taught in the, when he or she wasn’t teaching, ran the volunteer arm of United Way, let’s say, for example, or whatever. And so those are the three main creative things that I try and answer that question because that too was a very creative act and not by any means as complex as the Coalition for Full Employment but required a fair amount of innovation.

Elizabeth: Speaking of complex, I wanna shift over to Diane and your extraordinary skills as a cook. I have been the happy, very fortunate recipient of many, partaker of many extraordinary meals at your table, and I wanted to ask you to just describe, if you could, your culinary practice and how do you [00:48:00] start? Where do these extraordinary meals come from and what is your process and how is that a synthesis of all your other creative skills?

Diane: I don’t read novels, I read recipes. First of all, you learn a lot from people who write recipes.

Elizabeth: Okay.

Diane: Because they know how things go together, how things taste, how to spark something, how to play it down. When I shop, I’m really tight with money.

Elizabeth: Okay.

Diane: I don’t buy expensive—mostly, mostly I don’t buy expensive foods. There are certain things I want good quality, but I don’t want buy caviar every night, or lobster, although I love both. So, it often has to do with what’s in the refrigerator and what’s in the pantry. And then I can usually find a recipe that will give me a [00:49:00] beginning for those items. I, after being married for 61 years—I was definitely not a good cook when I started, Roger will attest to that. His dog wouldn’t eat my hamburgers.

Roger: It’s true. It’s true.

Diane: I have learned a lot about cooking. It’s a science, really. You know, what to do when and for how long. And I can always pull something together.

When we lived in Crested Butte, I had to go 28 miles to the grocery store on icy, snowy roads. So I developed the habit of having a very full refrigerator and pantry.

Elizabeth: Right.

Diane: So I always have something to draw on.

Elizabeth: Right.

Diane: I don’t know if I talked about this when, before while we were having our wine, but my [00:50:00] grandmother—who I never knew, she died the year my parents were married—

Elizabeth: Okay.

Diane: —was reported to be a cook who could make wonderful meals out of nothing.

Elizabeth: Wow.

Diane: She, my grandfather was a bartender at a, in a hotel in New Jersey, and she ran the kitchen.

Elizabeth: Wow. That’s—

Diane: And my father was a wonderful cook.

Elizabeth: Is that right? Okay. So visual artist and a culinary artist.

Diane: Yes. Yeah. And a musician.

Elizabeth: And a musician.

Michael: A musician as well.

Diane: Never had a lesson. Played by ear. Could play anything with strings. 

Elizabeth: Wow.

Michael: So, we like to—

Roger: Before you come in—

Michael: Okay.

Roger: I want to add one quick thing to Diane’s culinary skill. She talks about improvising from a recipe. She rarely cooks for one night.

Elizabeth: Okay.

Roger: And there are always leftovers. And she has never once served the same meal [00:51:00] twice. Ever in her life.

Diane: Except for paella.

Roger: Except for Christmas paella, and even that has variations depending on who’s coming. But I benefit immensely from Diane’s cooking.

Elizabeth: You, too, are the happy recipient.

Roger: I’m sorry.

Michael: It’s alright. Yeah, we like to conclude our interviews with focusing on the larger, looking at creativity and from the larger perspective. On the role that creativity plays in the shaping of who we are as individuals, who we are in community and, and basically looking at what the screenplay writer might call the narrative arc.

Clearly both of you have had an incredible narrative arc, right? And experienced creativity in all of its many facets, both at the individual level and at the community level. If each of you could maybe just speak about the larger role that creativity plays in the [00:52:00] shaping of who you are or continues to play in the shaping of who you are as people and who you are in community.

Diane: I grew up in a Christian neighborhood. My family was one of three Jewish families that I knew about. When, my friends, when they were seven were confirmed, I wanted to be a bride too, when they were dressed in their white with—I always felt other, I’m also dyslexic, so I approach things a little differently than other people might. That’s, those are both seeds of creativity. You, you, you’re not, tied in to the way things are done. And it gives you the freedom to mess around, to experiment.

Michael: So having an experiment, having, having that different perspective or seeing yourself, recognizing [00:53:00] that difference between yourself and others has fed your creativity throughout your life and—

Diane: I believe so. I don’t have to do it the way it’s always been done.

Michael: Great. And Roger?

Roger: I too, since my dad died, have always been an outsider and on the edges, and I think that’s an important part of stimulating creativity. I think there’s a word in the English language somewhere that talks about that and it calls itself the interstice, the intersection of things. And I pretty much have always been at the intersection of things because I think my earliest experience with my dad’s death and looking at him dying and being about as far away from me as you are, and just having a heart attack and being dead 10 minutes later and being a 10 [00:54:00] year old boy when that happened, is pretty traumatic. And I, I didn’t realize until much, much later in life, probably 15 or 20 years ago, that effect that that had on my early being. Not only because it put me into the streets, which I wasn’t originally supposed to be in, prior to this death, but it made it easy, my street experience made it easier for me to understand my life in the civil rights movement and with working class African American people primarily. As well as upper class African American people when I worked at the National Urban League.

And then Crested Butte, 10 years later, had almost become a Black person—although clearly not—being in this ethnic white [00:55:00] world was another transition. And another kinda who the heck am I and what am I doing in my life? And that uncertainty is a creative force.

And when I became a professor that, here, I never graduated from high school, I flunked out of my first college, and now I’m a college professor. That’s a little incongruous from most people’s experience. I’m not unique in this. There are others who similar, in academe, who are in similar paths, have personal trajectories, not so different. So, yeah.

And then going into small, creating a business. When I said earlier that I thought the nonprofit sector was the hardest sector to manage, the people that were business people that I used to have to deal with for money or for other reasons, they all thought I was nuts. And that their business was the hardest thing in the world to do. [00:56:00] And I thought it was pretty easy. So I created a business. I made more money once I created the business in three or four years after I started it than I ever did as a professor.

And I, still, then I started writing. ‘Cause I had enough money, so I didn’t have to worry about selling a book. I could just write what I wanted to do.

And so I think being betwixt in between, coupled with being curious, is essential for creativity. And I don’t think all people have a need to be creative or are creative, but I think creative people are found in politics, in law, in psychology, in academics, in art, in science. [00:57:00] When I say art, I mean both performing and visual. I think—in small business entrepreneurship. I hope sometime in your programs you interview some young or not so young entrepreneurs and ask similar questions because you’re gonna find that there’s a degree of creativity in virtually every field.

Without creativity, we’d never be on the moon or to Mars or all of our “social advances,” quote unquote, are a consequence of social creativity of one form or another. And our business advances—I would never have said this 40 years ago—our business advances, for the most part, and their technical advances, technological advances are the consequence of creativity. So, in all fields that I could [00:58:00] identify, I think there are creative people. And for them, I think being creative is important. And often I think it is important because they were what sociologists and psychologists called the Other. They’re outside, in some sense, the norm. In an important sense. The norm. They don’t fit in. And if you don’t fit in when you’re a kid, from my point of view, just wait 50 years and you’ll fit in.

Elizabeth: Well that, that’s a great segue, Roger, into one of our other final questions. As we’ve said in other conversations, one of the major reasons we’re doing this podcast is because, as you said, we see creativity as a vital life force, a really essential necessary ingredient to a healthy emotional life. And [00:59:00] I think we’ll all agree that world today is definitely in need of some greater emotional health. So, do you have, Diane, do you have some advice that you could give people about nurturing their own creative impulses? About sustaining it, developing it? Any practical, kind of, succinct, practical advice you would give to our listeners who are interested in their creativity?

Diane: I think if you have an idea, you should pursue it. Even if people tell you it’s not a good idea.

Elizabeth: Okay.

Diane: And it could be something really minor, like a different way to make guacamole. Whatever. Because the worst thing that could happen is you fail and then you have learned something. And you can start with small steps. Could be a little dangerous to jump into something really big. But step by step, you can [01:00:00] over time really have something that you can be proud of and that other people can recognize and be proud of you. And I, there is this picture of the solitary artist in his garret working by himself. I don’t think anything comes out of working completely by yourself.

Elizabeth: Okay.

Diane: I don’t even think you can. You are in the world. You are influenced by what, what you hear, what you smell.

I don’t sell my work anymore, I’m not interested in people paying for my time. We’re tired. I’m not, I don’t need people to pay for my time anymore. I do it ‘cause I like to do it.

Elizabeth: Well, that’s really great advice, both of both starting small, making changes and just nurturing yourself through the camaraderie of others. Roger, what about you? Do you have any practical [01:01:00] advice?

Roger: Before I go there, I want to say something that contradicts your assumptions that, that basic assumption that you just articulated.

Elizabeth: Oh, okay.

Roger: I don’t think everybody has a need to create. And I don’t think creativity necessarily enhances everyone’s life. For those who need to be creative or who would like to be creative, irrespective of their field, then I think that’s true. That creativity is personally enriching, irrespective of what profession or field you, you develop it in.

In terms of advice, Diane, but in a slightly different set of words, I think people should just go for it. I think that people who have [01:02:00] an impulse should follow that impulse. Sometimes you make it and sometimes you make mistakes, and when you make mistakes, as Diane said, if you have any smarts at all, and I don’t mean necessarily IQ intelligence, but just basic street smarts, common sense, you’ll learn from those mistakes.

And I guess the other thing I would say that I’m not sure Diane said, and it’s a, a follow up to that thought, is be persistent. One of the things that, I’m going back to organizing and teaching for a minute, that I formulated, and I called it the minority perspective. And the minority perspective is essentially do more with less professionally and persistently. [01:03:00] And I think that’s what is essential for people with creative impulse.

Michael: Finally, this has been fabulous talking with you both for such a, in such an in-depth way. It’s just been a joy. Roger, you have a book, I want you to pitch your book. Diane, you have your course that you teach. Do you, can you tell our listeners, knowing that this is not gonna air until sometime in 2023, but is there any, are there any linkages that you’d like to tell our listeners about?

Diane: I have not, I don’t have anything in the works. My next project will be Christmas Eve dinner.

Elizabeth: Okay. It’s coming up.

So, did, can you tell our listeners, anyone who lives in Denver who wants to take your course, what is the community center and what is the name of the course?

Diane: The name of the community center is Hiawatha Davis.

Elizabeth: Ah, named after the one and only Hiawatha Davis, yeah.

Diane: [01:04:00] Yes. And it’s a drop in course. It’s for adults, although I’ve had the grandchildren of my students come and we give them some—

Elizabeth: And what’s the name of the course?

Diane: They’re, there’s—pastel drawing.

Elizabeth: Pastel Drawing by Diane Kahn.

Diane: Pastel Drawing. However, one of my students decided she wanted to work in acrylics, so she’s been working in acrylics.

Elizabeth: So the Hiawatha Davis Community Center in Denver, Colorado. Pastel drawing. The instructor is Diane Kahn.

Diane: And mostly senior citizens.

Elizabeth: Mostly for seniors, for folks like us. So, Roger, pitch a book and tell folks how they can get it and other things that are going on,

Roger: I think, but I’m not even sure of this, that you can still get it through

Elizabeth: And the name of your book is?

Roger: How Crested Butte Became a Tourist Town: Drugs, Sex, Sports, Arts and Social Conflict.

Elizabeth: [01:05:00]. Okay.

Roger: How Crested Butte Became a Tourist Town will get you there.

Elizabeth: And, in terms of the future, we’ll talk about that off—

Elizabeth: Off, yeah. You have, you, you have, you do your jazz aficionado piece in a particular, at a particular date and time.

Roger: In Crested Butte, where I live four or five months a year, I have a jazz show called “Jazz on a Summers Eve.” And it varies on which day it appears, year by year. So I don’t know what day it’s going to be, but the radio station is K, B as in boy, U as in ugly, T as in Thomas.

Elizabeth: Okay. This has been fabulous.

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