The news came to representatives of both towns, tantalizingly, somewhat secretively, during Rural Philanthropy Days in Ouray and Ridgway, June 16-17.
“We got the news direct from Margaret Hunt, the new executive director of Colorado Creative Industries, but for some reason she wanted to keep it quiet for another couple of days,” said Ridgway Mayor John Clark, a glass artist, and a founding member of the town’s two-year-old Creative District Committee.
“She tipped off Jen [Coates, Ridgway’s town manager], but we had to keep the news quiet until the press release” came out a week later (as announced in last week’s Watch).
Telluride Arts Executive Director Kate Jones had a similar experience: “It was over a glass of wine. Margaret told me we’d made it over a glass of wine at Rural Philanthropy Days.”
The designation comes with an additional $15,000 in CCI grant money (on top of the $4,000 the two towns received with their “prospective” designations in March 2012), and the opportunity for $10,000 more in matching funds from the Boettcher Foundation.
The two Western Slope neighbor communities now join five others across the state with full Creative District status. The two originals, the Art District on Santa Fe (in Denver) and the Salida Creative District, were named in 2012, a year after legislation that authorized state-recognized creative districts. The five certified last month also include the North Fork Valley Creative District, the Pueblo Creative Corridor, and the Corazon de Trinidad.
CCI, an arm of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, was authorized by that legislation to encourage the formation of creative districts, recognizing that artists and other “creatives,” from architects to restaurateurs, enhance the quality of life and, significantly, the economies of their communities.
Were they surprised by the news? Yes and no, said both Mayor Clark and Kate Jones.
“Telluride has for 40 years been working toward these goals,” the ones set out for creative districts, Jones said. “The town, the Telluride Council for Arts and Humanities, the Commission for Community Assistance, Arts and Special Events, all the nonprofits; it’s nice to get this recognition.”
Clark likewise acknowledged the work of many hands and minds: “We weren’t surprised; well, maybe a little bit, given that we made it and some Front Range entities didn’t. [Forty-four communities submitted proposals.]
“The nice thing about our two-year effort,” he said, “starting with the governor’s Bottom Up economic development meetings, is that we always believed in our potential. Everybody along the way believed in our chances.”
Clark said the committee wowed CCI with “a very detailed Strategic Plan” created with the help of Telluride-based planner Amy Levek, who was paid out of the original “prospective district” grant.
“Margaret [Hunt] came for a visit two weeks before the application deadline and was blown away by all we have going on,” he said.
Telluride’s presentation also included a major document, an update of the town’s Cultural Master Plan, first drafted in 1996. “A lot of people participated,” Jones said. “We wanted to show our commitment to ensuring the viability of the arts over time. Our sustainability over time. Our leadership.”
“We’re all asking ourselves that question,” said Clark, referencing a creative-district concept that has been amorphous at times, and shaped substantially by the participants themselves. “We have a lot of stuff in the hopper that we’re excited about,” he said. “We are excited about making our monthly Moon Walks art walks a major event. We’re working on a new events kiosk in Town Park. And new banner poles for events; the tennis courts [on which banners have traditionally been hung] are going away eventually.
“The Creative District designation just adds to the buzz that this sleepy little ranch community is being reborn as a creative community.”
Jones, for her part, has “a big ole expensive wish list that comes directly out of the master plan process,” she said, only half kidding. In its Creative District leadership role, Telluride Arts has identified these goals: marketing the arts, including developing a community calendar; leveraging funding for the arts; creating space for the arts (studio space, rehearsal space, performance space, housing for visiting artists, etc.); advocating for the whole arts community, “so everyone understands what the arts contribute to the community as a whole”; and, finally, support services for artists, “for their health and welfare.”
“It’s so nice,” she said, “to have the acknowledgement from the state for what we have been putting on, big things, for a long time.”