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The man whose design studio created downtown Fort Collins’ first interactive mural recalled his early years from ages 11 to 16 as miserable.

“I was not happy, not satisfied,” he said.

Ethan Bach, chief executive officer of Alt Ethos and executive director of the nonprofit Denver Arts and Technology Advancement (DATA), introduced a panel of artists in Longmont recently to discuss how to galvanize the creative economies. Bach will participate in a free Feb. 28 Artup Week panel discussion on “Notes from the Field: Using Technology to Advance Artepreneurship.”  

In his keynote speech, he talked about his adolescent years and attempts to numb his emotional pain. At 16, he finally walked across the hall and asked his brother and parents for help. He went to rehab. 

Years later, at age 27, Bach transitioned from female to male. That was 20 years ago. He acknowledged audience members’ surprised reactions to this revelation.

Later, when explaining his three keys to success, he said, “You can change your fate by being open to the idea that anything is possible,” and his words have greater meaning.

“A complaint is an indication that we’re unsatisfied about something,” said Bach, who moved to Denver three years ago. “I wanted something different, but I didn’t know ‘how.’”

“I learned how to motivate myself out of this place where I felt stuck,” Bach said, “and I had community of people to help.” He went on to graduate from The Evergreen State College with a bachelor’s degree in Media Production and from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a master’s in Electronic Arts.

Now a successful entrepreneur, and nonprofit founder, he boiled down his hard-won approach to life into three guiding principles for artists:

One. It’s important to have clarity. For example, instead of complaining about traffic, ask yourself, What would I like to see instead? What opportunities does this offer for exploration, inquiry?

Two. You can change your fate by being open to the idea that anything is possible. If you feel destined to fail, think about how life would be different if you were able to welcome fear, and welcome failure as necessary steps to success.

Working as a researcher in Santa Fe on digital dome projects, Bach said, “We failed over and over, found the pieces that did work and then we succeeded.”

“What would it mean for our community if people were not afraid to stand up and try something different?”

Three. Make a plan of action.

“The more risks we take, the more strong our community will be,” he said. “It’s really the meaning we put on the entire process that matters.”

He approaches challenges with a positive attitude. “Even if you fail, you win, because you learn something that tells you how to win. Every step we’re at as a community is where we’re supposed to be. We’re always practicing to get better.”

“Colorado is a growing. We have an opportunity, a responsibility to be risk takers, to be unafraid to fail,” Bach said. “How do we want to envision Denver, Longmont? Anything is possible. Start making a plan.”

A few weeks later, he visited Loveland to beguile passersby with Alt Ethos’ lasers, projection mapping, and kinetic light overlays on a downtown mural during the Sweetheart Festival. He mentioned population growth in Northern Colorado that recently prompted the City of Greeley to reach out to his studio about collaborating on new public art.

So it’s fitting that he concluded his keynote with this invitation: “Please, let’s imagine a new future together, and let’s make it happen.”

Katherine Valdez is publisher of www.DiverseFortCollins.com and writes about books at www.KatherineValdez.com. Visit www.facebook.com/DiverseFortCollins and www.facebook.com/AuthorKatherineValdez and follow @KatValdezWriter on Instagram.

Photo Courtesy of Katherine Valdez/Diverse Fort Collins