If you see Academy board member Donna Barrow wearing an even bigger smile than usual, there’s a good reason: she recently helped snag a grand piano for The Academy’s music courses and concerts.

Donna BarrowDonna happened to be online at the exact moment that Opera Colorado director Greg Carpenter emailed several nonprofits about The Westin Denver Downtown Hotel’s offer to donate a piano bought to celebrate the hotel’s opening 30 years ago. Donna’s instant e-reply led to the piano finding a new home at The Academy, just in time for the Opera Colorado Young Artists’ already-planned performance at The Academy on Feb 27th. (Click here for information on that event!)

Of course, it wasn’t quite as easy or lucky as that news bite sounds. In The Academy’s search for a piano for its new Greenwood Village campus, Donna and Jim Kneser had both asked Greg Carpenter, Opera Colorado’s director and a longtime Academy programming partner, if he could help. And the rest, as they say, is history . . . with a dash of serendipity.

But it isn’t the piano coup that Donna ranks as her most significant contribution to The Academy. “What I’m most proud of,” she says, “is the fan base we’ve got here now [for the CU Science series and other science courses] that wasn’t here before.”

As many Academy science fans know, Donna initiated The Academy’s courses on innovative scientific research at CU and continues to create variations on this theme, such as this spring’s Colorado Science Researchers: At the Cutting Edge class, running for four weeks starting March 26.

Like the piano episode, Donna’s first foray into the CU series was marked by a fortuitous coincidence. After she told the Knesers that she’d like to pursue such a series but questioned how The Academy could find an entrée to scientific experts, she happened to attend a “terrific” science lecture at CU–with lamentably poor attendance. Afterward, she cornered the CU development officer introduced at the lecture, realizing that the officer’s presence signaled CU’s twin needs to reach out to the community and foster public support for research. Donna quickly capitalized on this “wonderful opportunity” for The Academy: “What we can give them is an eager, engaged and sizable audience.”

Her success with CU led her to make similar overtures to Opera Colorado, one of her and her husband Ken’s favorite cultural organizations. Numerous exciting Academy courses featuring Opera Colorado performers and educational staff (and sometimes their Colorado Ballet counterparts) have since attracted The Academy’s many opera aficionados.

Donna notes that, as a course coordinator and board member, “I’ve really enjoyed these relationships with our institutional partners: it’s win-win.” And The Academy’s wins just keep coming, thanks to its good fortune in having Donna herself as one of its most creative and energetic partners.

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The publishing editor of Coloradan BK Loren’s first book, The Way of the River, marveled that BK “wrote like she was raised by wolves.” “I try to live up to that daily,” BK says. And you instantly feel life’s wildness in both her writing and when she speaks–as she will on April 9th, during this spring’s Experts & Entertainers series.

Her first novel Theft captures that animal energy and spirit so masterfully that it won two coveted prizes this past year, the 2013 WILLA award for fiction and the 2012 Reading the West award from independent booksellers in the West.

“I find that my writing is richer when I’m out in nature,” she says. But as a “writer trying to survive,” sh

e has tackled a host of challenging, unlikely and urban jobs—ranging from cook for a gourmet catering service in New York to college writing professor, an aide in a locked psych ward, as well as a hired hand on a small Taos cattle ranch. Her one criterion for any job: it had
to give her the “psychological space” essential for her writing. You can hear the triumph and delight in her voice when she notes, “But I’m just writing now.”

Currently she is working on two books simultaneously, a daunting task for any author. She devotes each morning to her new novel, “while I’m closer to the dream world.” She turns to her book of nonfiction in the afternoons. Occasionally she’ll offer a workshop, do a reading or speak to a lucky group like The Academy. To find out more about her appearances and writing, check out

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