At Home with Terry Adams
Terry Adams has a request: he’d like a retractable roof over all of Denver’s Cherry Creek North shopping district. “I suppose that’s not possible,” he laughs. “But believe me: I’ve wished for it.”
You can’t blame him. As the leader of the non-profit that produces the hugely popular Cherry Creek Arts Festival, Adams spends 362 days of the year preparing for the three-day extravaganza, which takes place July 5, 6 and 7 this year. And each year, as the festival days approach, “I watch the weather like crazy,” he says. “It’s wild to look toward something all year and know that success depends, at least partially, on something you can’t control.”
It’s a good thing Adams is unflappable, the kind of guy who knows how to keep the big picture in mind while he tends to the details. Now in his 12th year as the festival’s leader, he has a job description that varies depending on the day of the week. Sometimes he’s securing the corporate sponsorships that bolster the festival’s offerings; other times, he’s managing the extensive logistics that come with working with the city and hundreds of shop owners in Cherry Creek North. And on the day after the festival ends, he’s up at sunrise with his team, combing the streets of the chic shopping district with trash bags to make sure there’s no trace of the festival anywhere. “It a job for a generalist leader,” Adams says. “I know a little bit about a lot of things.” That’s an understatement.
Adams’ resumé suggests that he may have been training for this gig his whole professional life. He earned a degree in accounting from the University of Arizona, and his first job was as a cast director for Up with People, the non-profit educational organization that takes college students and young adults all over the world to perform musical productions and serve the communities they visit. Adams performed with the group during an extended break from college and accepted a job after graduation.
He met his wife there and together, they spent six years on the road; Adams worked in the organization’s headquarters for an additional nine. “It gave me such a solid background,” he says. “You’re working with different cultures, different personalities. You’re helping people understand a shared vision. You’re adjusting to surprises. Sometimes you’re performing in high-school gyms, sometimes in high-end theaters. You learn to problem-solve. I loved it. But once we had kids, kissing babies in the crib and then going to the airport got old.” He and his family moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where he served as the development director for a Catholic school. He planned to raise his family there.
Then a phone call from a former Up with People board member, who was a founding board member for the arts festival, led him to Denver and a job that gets bigger—and more fun, Adams insists—every year.
As anyone who has been there knows, the festival is a big deal; it regularly ranks among the top five outdoor arts festivals in the country. It brings in as many as 350,000 visitors, who buy $2.6 million in work from 250 artists. A culinary tent hosts chefs who demonstrate their skills to standing-room-only crowds. An impressive line-up of regional musicians adds to the festive spirit, and kids’ crafts tents give families a break from the sun. And new this year, mega-gym Life Time Fitness is hosting 5K and 10K runs for women, called Esprit de She, that will end at Fillmore Plaza, the heart of the festival.
But the focus is always on the visual arts component first, and though he’d never say it, the festival’s recent success is due in large part to Adams’ clear vision. He’s sensitive to the artists’ experience, and always mindful of the fact that they drive their vans, loaded with their work, hundreds or thousands of miles to set up their tents and sit in the sun for three days. “We work hard to treat them well,” he says. “We make their lives as easy as we can while they’re here.”
It’s a vision that has served the festivalgoers well, too. “The cool thing about this event is that it offers something to the experienced art collector, but it can also be someone’s first chance to buy a piece of artwork,” Adams says. “You get hooked. You get addicted to that experience.” And lucky for Adams, that’s a feeling no fickle Colorado weather can ever wash away.
WE WERE JUST WONDERING…
What would you do if you didn’t have this job?
I have a passion for university athletics—promoting their advancement, fundraising, devel-oping sponsorships. It’s a calling I never pursued, but maybe that’ll be my final act. I’m a huge sports fan.
Do you have any artistic ability?
I can’t say I do. I’m a pianist and vocalist. But when it comes to visual art, Canvas and Cocktails is about all I can pull off.
What’s the last great book you read?
I just finished reading All In by Chester Elton—a great book that reminded me how important an organization’s culture is to its success.
When you find time to unwind in Denver, where do you go?
When I have the time, my greatest getaway is the golf course. There are so many great ones to choose from in this region.
Why the Arts Festival Matters Year-Round
Cherry Creek Arts Festival is a non-profit with a mission to take the arts into area schools. The organization’s Mobile Art Gallery travels the seven-county metro area—and occasionally treks up into the mountains—offering arts exhibitions in schools. The program trains upperclassmen to serve as docents, who then take the rest of the students through the exhibition. They learn about the materials, process and inspiration for each piece. “As arts programs get cut, the gallery might be the only experience students have with visual arts all year,” Adams says.