Colorado Creative Districts showcase growing arts communities across the state

A scene from the Telluride Creative District.
It takes a lot of work to be creative. It takes even more to become a Certified Creative District in Colorado. But for the areas that are successful, it's worth the effort.
Born out of a 2011 state law, the Certified Creative Districts program allows areas all over Colorado to apply for financial and organizational help in order to become more economically and artistically vital to the communities they serve.

But it's not easy to become a Certified Creative District. With the program's inception came more than 140 applications from all over the state. So far, only fifteen of those have been chosen for development; the Pueblo Creative Corridor, Corazon de Trinidad, North Fork Valley Creative District, Ridgway Creative District and Telluride Creative District were certified this summer by Colorado Creative Industries, a division of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

See also:
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Pueblo's Creative Corridor.
"It's basically a way to help facilitate expanding our job base for creative industries in the state, giving incentives to communities to use creative districts as an economic development tool," says Colorado Creative Industries director Margaret Hunt.

To be considered for the program, areas looking for certification must show that they are already doing the legwork it takes create a sustainable creative community. That means gaining support from their local government, providing affordable places for artists to live and work, and overseeing longterm projects that benefit cities and towns.

"We established what we call 'characteristics' of creative districts," says Hunt. "It's sort of foundational to the program and for a creative district to be successful, it has to be integrated with other community efforts, like economic development, tourism, transportation, urban renewal, social concerns and safety concerns."

But Colorado Creative Industries acknowledges that each area, whether urban or rural, has its own specific set of needs. "This isn't...a cookie-cutter program; it is really organic," say Hunt. "It starts at the community level and they determine what it is that they have going for them. What they as a community want to attract and build on."

That's why Telluride and Pueblo, while both plugging into the Colorado Creative District's set of characteristics, may have very different uses for the funding and support.

"If you look at places like say, Salida and Denver's Art District on Santa Fe -- one thing that they have in common is the artists and creatives in those districts own most of the buildings within that district," Hunt says, pointing to two of the initial districts in the program.

"The artists own the galleries -- they are property owners. One of the trends that we've seen nationally is, when creatives go into a blighted area, or an area with affordable rental rates or low property values -- something they can afford to buy -- they turn the neighborhood around," she continues. "But then it becomes too expensive for them to live there. So it's a gentrification problem. It is sort of a national conundrum."

And one that Colorado Creative Industries is hoping to address and work on directly though the Colorado Creative District certification process.

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