Those and other questions were at the core of an informational meeting last Wednesday (May 2) at the Ridgway Community Center. Presenters Lynn Padgett and John Clark (Ouray county commissioner and Ridgway mayor, respectively), both of whom were involved in the application process, did their best to answer questions posed by the 40 or so artists and “creatives” in attendance. But it wasn’t easy.
“It’s such a new process,” Clark said, that even the state agencies who created and will administer it are “flying by the seat of their pants.”
Padgett started with some history. Applying for creative district status grew out of Governor Hickenlooper’s Bottom Up economic development process, which had spawned the Ouray County G3 Committee, devoted to supporting and expanding the arts already contributing aesthetically and economically to the region.
The G3’s first task, Padgett said, was to “decide if Ouray County should have a creative district, as designated by the governor” under newly passed legislation HB 1031. “Ten to 20 percent of our county is involved with arts,” Padgett said. “This was a huge opportunity. To take an existing strength and take it to the next level: in the realm of education, tourism, companion industries, identity.”
They only had a month to put together the application. The G3 decided, with the blessings of the up-valley Ouray contingent, that only Ridgway should apply this first go round. They put together a map encompassing most of the residential and commercial core of town, with identifying symbols for the scores of arts and companion enterprises already extant, from John Clark’s art glass studio to the Resource Gallery to Michael McCulloch’s monumental bronze sculpture studio to Weehawken Dance to the Billings Grammy Awards shop to Lisa Issenberg’s industrial design works.
And, said Clark proudly, “We finished fourth in the state out of 45 applications.” Only two creative districts were “certified” by Colorado Creative Industries (a wing of the state’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade). They received $15,000 in initial funding and technical support for developing their plans. The certified districts were the Santa Fe Arts District in Denver and the entire Town of Salida.
Ridgway was selected, along with Telluride, downtown Pueblo, Denver’s River North and Longmont’s Arts and Entertainment District, to be “prospective” creative districts, recipients of $8,000 each. In addition, eight “emerging” districts were selected.
The task now, Clark said, was to create a budget, to spend the windfall. Using a “very broad brush,” he suggested the expenditures fall into two areas, three actually: marketing and outreach, program development, and reapplying in the fall for full (permanent) creative district certification.
The first might include mass-producing the town’s arts map, or developing a web site. The second might include “events, studio tours, open studios, things like the alley art program and public sculpture we have now, something perhaps like Main in Motion in Montrose. We will get technical help and planning assistance from CCI.
“What would you guys like to see this become?” he queried the crowd.
Artist and graphic designer Kelli Day spoke up and suggested: “Web links? Maps? iPhone apps? Easy ways for people to find us coming from anywhere in the world.”
Painter Stephanie Rogers said, “It would be cool to have a visual identity. Maybe you didn’t seek out Ridgway, but you see art when you get here, you see the signs everywhere.”
That theme of identity ran strong through the meeting. “We do have an identity,” John Clark said. “We’re not just a place to pass through on their way to Telluride or Ouray.”
How to make that identity visual? Joan Chismire suggested that Ridgway is “the gateway to the San Juans. Could we maybe have a gateway arch over the new bridge” now beginning construction over the Uncompahgre River?
Town Manager Jen Coates said, “Well, no.” An arch would not be part of CDOT’s plans. But she hastened to say, the state’s engineers had come a long way on aesthetic details, like pilasters, railings, colors and textures in the concrete.
Susan (Lupita) Baker imagined “sculptures on the bridge itself – I guess not. But if there were some way to say ‘arts community’ as you drive in?”
Sculptor David Miss struck a practical note asking, “Do we have to reapply every year for this? Do we get the money every year?”
Coates answered with a refrain common to the just-born creative district process: “YTBD. Yet to be determined.”
She and Clark closed the gathering by saying “the G3 stays as a countywide committee. Now we need a new committee made up of artists and creatives who live in the district and can help decide how to use this money and move ahead.” They both knew that artists and organization are not always compatible. “Any volunteers?”
There were volunteers. David Miss was not among them. He buried his face in his hands and shook his long white beard.
Four members of the G3, including Coates and Mayor Clark, will be attending a Creative Districts meeting in Salida, with representatives from CCI and all 15 of the new districts, Friday and Saturday, May 18 and 19.