Headwaters Conference Archives

HEADWATERS XXVI: The Art of Community: Creative Place-Making in the Headwaters

Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic and poet Robert Michael Pyle kicked off an analysis of how the act of building community is, in itself, a kind of art.  Aaron Abeyta, Art Goodtimes, and Heather Orr organized panels of artists and community-builders from Antonito, Telluride, and Gunnison to discuss what artists and community builders can learn from each other as “place-makers.”


Explored the intersection of wilderness, working landscapes and environmental-justice perspectives on self-willed lands, self-willed species and self-willed communities in the Headwaters. In this 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, we went beyond the wilderness debate to discover how Headwaters communities are innovating upon the concept of wildness, while closing the political, philosophical and geographical gap between work and the wild.  Gary Snyder gave the keynote address.

HEADWATERS XXIV: Home/Land Security, Deep Sustainability in the Headwaters

Walter Echo Hawk sparked a powerful discussion concerning emerging food security, energy security, and ecological security solutions throughout the Headwaters region.  Echo Hawk was joined by leaders from Community Rebuilds, Solar Energy International, Costilla County Commissioners, Red Willow Energy, Headwaters Farm, the Gunnison Farmer's Market, and York University.

HEADWATERS XXIII: Beyond 'Both Sides': Unexpected Partnerships in the Headwaters

Courtney White, Dr. John Straayer, and other community leaders from throughout the region discussed the strange bedfellows that sometimes   connect around Headwaters challenges.  Topics included unexpected partnerships in sage grouse preservation, river conservation, and state-level politics.

HEADWATERS XXII: Small Steps, Big Story: Climate Solutions in the Headwaters (September 16-18, 2011)

Winona LaDuke, Enrique Salmon, and film maker Melinda Levin joined diverse community experts in imagining the narratives that might transform the small steps of sustainable energy and food solutions into a compelling cultural story.

HEADWATERS XXI: A Resilient Headwaters: Skills for Reinhabiting Places (November 12-14, 2010)

Rick Bass and Dr. Enrique Salmon helped us examine what a "resilient community" is in the context of a Headwaters region facing the shocks of climate change and unsustainable economies.  Workshops focused on "reskilling" citizens to build resilient communities, from food to energy to political voice.

HEADWATERS XX: Three E's Meet the Three R's (Oct. 16-18, 2009)

Examined varied interpretations of prosperity with the help of two inspiring and motivated grassroots change agents, Dr. Vandana Shiva and Dr. Devon Peña, as well as through a “triple bottom line” lens that equally considers Equity, Environment, and Economics.

HEADWATERS XIX: Complex Society, Power, and Energy in the Headwaters (Nov. 7-9, 2008)

What are we as a society going to do as energy production becomes increasingly problematic and more expensive? Will consumer behavioral changes be sufficient or is a fundamental change in the nature of our economy required? Will we be prompted to explore ways to generate our own power ? Will the existing power generation and transmission system inhibit such developments or be altered to allow or promote them? Who will dictate the terms of energy conservation, exploration, production, and distribution?

HEADWATERS XVIII: Resort Communities in the Great 21st Century Transition (Nov. 2-4, 2007)

The 21st Century in America promises to be a time of a “Great Transition” in American society, from a consumptive, petroleum-based economic society with a low level of environmental sensitivity, to a more sustainable and environmentally aware society relying primarily on renewable and carbon-neutral energy resources. This “Great Transition” is likely to be even more important for communities that are “marginal” in our economic society, either geographically or economically, or both, and dependent on amenity-based tourism —places like the mountain resort communities of the Southwest’s “headwaters region,” geographically remote communities with median incomes, for the most part, that are inversely proportional to their altitudes. What can our communities do to prepare for such transitions?

HEADWATERS XVII: Building Social Capital for a Stronger Civil Society (Nov. 10-12, 2006)

Explored the challenges of developing social capital - the connective webs of social relationships and networks, informal as well as formal - that might help communities develop stronger civil societies - the voluntary, unregulated, non-state aspects of community wherein the people of the community decide to work together to address their challenges and develop their opportunities. Keynote speaker: Lewis Feldstein, author with Robert Putnam of Better Together: Restoring the American Community, and president of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation.

HEADWATERS XVI: The American Dream in the High Borderlands (Nov. 4-6, 2005)

The question we want to consider at the 16th Headwaters Conference is--what "American Dream" drives these migrations into the region? And whether that is one dream or several, can we articulate it better so that those who bear that dream or dreams here can be incorporated into the common spaces of our communities rather than inadvertently destroying them?

HEADWATERS XV:  The Second Great Ethic (Nov 5-7, 2004) 

We have often discussed the concept of "sense of place" in Headwaters gatherings; it is obviously an important concept for a program whose goal is a larger awareness of both the challenges and opportunities a specific region presents for those who would live intelligently there – “civilized in relation to nature,” as Victor Hugo put it. But in our discussions we have not really considered the extent to which our "sense of place" on coming into any place is pre-formed by a worldview, a cultural paradigm, we bring with us, usually without even being thoroughly aware that that pre-formed worldview is shaping our response to any and every place where we find ourselves. Or fail to “find ourselves,” as it were.

HEADWATERS XIV: Environment and Economy, Democracy and Media (Nov. 7-10, 2003)

Environmental journalism was the focus of the conference, and its attention (or lack of) to a decentralization in the great national "Economy vs. Environment" debate over the past quarter century, with many local communities providing leadership in working out land use and other environmental issues beneath the "analysis paralysis" and special-interest pandering that often dominates the debate at the national level. High Country News was both celebrated and critiqued as the leader in true environmental journalism.

HEADWATERS XIII: Conflict to Consensus - Meeting Obstacles to Community Action (Nov. 8-10, 2002) 

Participants in the conference examined ideas for trying to take communities in conflict past the kind of "cultural gridlock" that results from the widely differing value systems now common to the mountain communities.

HEADWATERS XII: Senses of Place - How we shape and are shaped by where we live (Nov. 2-4, 2001)

The conferees examined ways in which the mountain West has been shaped by ideas imported from elsewhere — but also the way the places of the mountain West have exerted their influences on the cultures of the West over time.

HEADWATERS XI: The Region's Local Economies (Nov. 3-5, 2000)

The presenters and conferees followed the transition in the headwaters region from a commodity-based economy to an economy based around recreation, natural aesthetics and resort-related development. Presentations and discussion also focused on the extent to which local economies are externally controlled, and the possibility of regaining more local control of those economies.

HEADWATERS X: The Code of the West Revisited (Nov. 5-7, 1999)

The conference explored the cultural impacts of too-rapid growth, with newcomers coming into a region faster than it is possible or the local communities to “break them in” – to at least make the newcomers aware of local cultural mores and values before they unconsciously change them. The “Code of the West” – the set of written and unwritten guidelines for life in the West – was examined, to see if was still relevant to western life. Peter Decker, author of Old Fences, New Neighbors, was the keynote speaker.

HEADWATERS IX: Relationships between Learning and Locality (Nov. 13-14, 1998)

The conference returned to the fall months. This ninth conference was a collaborative workshop involving the college’s Center for Teaching Excellence as well as the Headwaters Project, on implementing the portions of the college’s mission concerned with place-based experiential learning and other interactive work with the communities of the headwaters region. A featured event was a presentation by the greatest advocate of experiential learning, John Dewey, as portrayed by Tom Hart, a professor of drama at Colorado Mountain College.

HEADWATERS VIII: After Oñate and 400 Years of Unsettlement – What is Working? (April 3-5, 1998)

At the quatrocentenary of Don Juan de Oñate’s entrada in the upper Rio Grande valley, and the sesquicentenary of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo transferring Oñate’s old territory to the United States, the conference explored the different ideas and ideologies that have been imported into the headwaters region, with an attempt to determine what among all those ideas and ideologies is, or has been made, “fitting” in the evolutionary sense to the mix of spiritual beauty and physical rigor in the natural environment and the challenges and opportunities in the cultural environment? Western faculty members, students and participants from the larger region portrayed ideological avatars in the region, from Oñate to Edward Abbey.

HEADWATERS VII: Where the Western Frontier meets La Frontera del Norte (April 25-27, 1997)

At the sesquicentennial of the Mexican-American War and the beginning of negotiations for the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the conference examined the extent to which the headwaters region has been, and is still, an open zone of interaction between the Hispanic American culture to the south and the Anglo-American culture whose compass homes eastward. Poetry, literature, folk arts and other cultural artifacts were the main presentations.

HEADWATERS VI: Educating the Democracy in the Community of Place (April 26-28, 1996)

Going from Alexis de Tocqueville’s edict that “the first duty imposed on those who now direct society is to educate the democracy,” the conference explored the state of education in the headwaters region. This was the year that the Annenberg Rural Challenge in education was announced, and Rural Challenge directors Paul Nachtigal and Toni Hess participated in the conference.

HEADWATERS V: Clarifying “Community” (April 20-23, 1995 – conference moved to the spring)

The principal question was: Is it possible for a lot of well-educated, materially spoiled, over-worked but under-engaged, and highly diversified cosmopolitans, more or less fleeing (but with too much baggage) from an out-of-control mainstream culture, to create workable communities-of-place when we have nothing more in common than an attraction or attachment to the place where we all are? The principal event of the conference was an interactive dramatization of a public hearing, in the “Forum Theater” mode of Auguste Boal, under the direction of Dr. Paul Edwards of Western’s theater faculty.

HEADWATERS IV: Re-inventing, Re-investing and Re-inhabiting the Headwaters (Sept. 23-26, 1993)

The focus the fourth year was on the tension between visions crafted elsewhere for the place where one is, and the subtler re-visionings that emerge after enough time in the place. Much of the discussion revolved around the usually colonizing relationship between the nation-state and the local place. Important discussions emerged from presentations by historian Michael McCarthy, portraying 1890s Colorado Governor Davis H. Waite, and Dr. Philip Klingsmith of Western State College, a candidate for Colorado Governor at that time; also between Denver Post columnists Ed Quillen and Bill Hornby on “whether Denver was necessary.”

HEADWATERS III: Who we are – and are not, a Quincentenary Exploration of Colonization and its Consequences (Oct. 1-3, 1992).

Colonization, not just as a process of the past but as an ongoing phenomenon, was the theme at the Columbian Quincentenary. Featured was a discussion between Latino writer/scholar Linda Chavez and sociologist Devon Peña, on whether assimilation to the mainstream or affirmation of heritage was the better option for minority cultures in the coming century.

HEADWATERS II: The Battle of the Paradigms in the Headwaters (Oct. 4-6, 1991)

The first year’s more general look at the cultures of the region was more focused in the second year on land use. A featured event was an evening presentation on “paradigms” of land use by John Wesley Powell (as portrayed by chautauqua artist Clay Jenkinson), an anthropocentric America settler as portrayed by Colorado historian Michael McCarthy, the indigenous place-oriented perspective by Latino sociologist Devon Peña, and a biocentric perspective by environmental historian Rod Nash.

HEADWATERS I: The Reopening of the Western Frontier (October 5-7, 1990)

Commemorating the centenary of the “closing of the Western frontier” by the Superintendent of the Census in 1890, the conference attempted to establish a deeper sense of a “frontier” as a zone of interaction between two or more abutting cultures, with presenters from indigenous, Hispanic and Anglo cultures presenting their culture’s perspectives on life in the region, past and present. Included were chautauqua artist Clay Jenkinson, historian Patricia Nelson Limerick, author John Nichols.