Carbondale works to become a ‘creative district’

· Jul. 18, 2014, 6:02 am
Photo: Carbondale's Art Around Town(Photo: Courtesy of Aspen Public Radio by Marci Krivonen)
Colorado is working to grow its creative economy, and a community in the Roaring Fork Valley in the western Colorado is part of this effort.
Last month, Carbondale was selected to be a candidate for the state’s Creative District program. The program helps to foster economic development in civic areas where arts are a big draw for visitors and for creative industry workers.
In 2011, Colorado lawmakers formed the Creative District program. Now, 11 creative districts exist in places like Colorado Springs and Greeley. Seven more are working on becoming creative districts, including Carbondale. Carbondale is in the running, in part, because of shops like Out West Antiques on Main Street in Carbondale.
"Everything in this store, even though most of it is old and antique, is unique, like old birdhouses that somebody made," says Deborah Taylor, who works at Out West Antiques.
The store is filled with items like Native American heirlooms, vintage clothing and jewelry. Taylor says Carbondale is a good fit for the business.
"The fact that we’ve got great restaurants, coffee shops and everything is walkable and it’s easy to park, I think it’s really good," Taylor says.
Amy Kimberly, the executive director of the Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities, is heading up the effort to get Carbondale certified as a Creative District.
The state is providing a $5,000 grant. Kimberly says the idea is to identify creative zones in town, lay out a direction for the community and ultimately attract new creative entrepreneurs and visitors. It is, she says, a community effort.
"Our real goal is to come together for a vision and be able to attract businesses that fit in, be able to make things easier for people who are here, look at solving problems like housing for creatives, or for anyone." Kimberly says. "We want to be able to keep a good mix of people here."
A 2012 economic analysis, part of a Town of Carbondale comprehensive plan, found the creative industry plays a critical role in Carbondale’s economy. Town Manager Jay Harrington says many residents are supportive of the creative sector.
"The town’s been pretty vocal in its desire not to grow its retail base through big boxes and large retail development, so the creative district aspect and the creative industries, it’s a good partnership where there are some opportunities," Harrington says.
A study commissioned by the National Endowment for the Arts found that Colorado ranks fifth among all states for concentration of artists. The study categorizes creative industries into six sub-groups: design, film and media, heritage, literary and publishing, performing arts, and visual arts and crafts. Colorado’s strengths are design, literary and publishing, and film and media, which represent 73% of all creative industry jobs.
Margaret Hunt, executive director of Colorado Creative Industries, which falls under the mantle of the Colorado Office of Economic Development, says the focus of the creative district program is to build on an already strong creative core.
"What we’re trying to do is create more synergy around that," Hunt says. "Because it’s really important for our economic development strategy that we’re recruiting bright, young talent. Young workers are interested in living in places that are interesting. And creative districts are interesting."
Carbondale has two years to complete the Creative District certification process.

Marci Krivonen is a reporter for Aspen Public Radio.

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