Colorado Springs arts scene

(Photo: Courtesy of John Olson/Colorado Springs Urban Intervention)

Colorado has certified four new creative districts in an effort to increase the economic development and cultural vitality of communities around the state. 
The new Colorado Creative Districts are: 40 West Arts District in Lakewood, Downtown Colorado Springs, RiNo Art District Denver and the Greeley Creative District.
The Creative Districts program in Colorado is managed by Colorado Creative Industries (CCI), Colorado's state arts agency and a division of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. CCI partners with The Boettcher Foundation, a Colorado foundation that funds scholarships, biomedical research, teacher training and capital grants for nonprofits, in administrating the program. 
"The program serves as a magnet for creatives to have a supportive environment in which to live and work," CCI director Margaret Hunt says. "It also serves as a magnet to draw people to communities."
The Colorado Creative Districts program came into being after the passing of House Bill 1031 by the Colorado General Assembly in 2011. The bill encourages the formation of Creative Districts in communities, neighborhoods or contiguous geographic areas.
According to Hunt, the process towards becoming a Creative District and the designation upon successfully completing the qualification requirements brings multiple benefits to communities. These include new jobs, increased property values and a more recreation opportunities. 
Hunt says that creative jobs and visitors to the 40 West Arts District increased by 25% between 2012 and 2013. In 2013 there were 74,000 visitors to the 40 West Arts District and 248 creative jobs.
Meanwhile, the city of Salida, which received accreditation for its Creative District during the program's first round two years ago, has expererienced considerable sales tax growth. "Salida's sales tax has gone up over last year every month," Salida Creative District  special projects coordinator Emily Katsimpalis says. Katsimpalis also reports increases in home prices and jobs. 
The process towards certification is long and rigorous. 
A review panel evaluates certification applications and conducts site visits over the course of two years. Evaluation is based on such factors as how a potential Certified Creative District reflects the local culture and integrates with community systems like tourism, transportation and safety. Applicant districts must also have the endorsement of their local governments.
The new batch of recipients started working towards achieving the requisite certification standards in July 2012 when they were accepted into the program as "candidates."
The two-year incubator-style program offers the candidate districts $5,000 in state funding and $5,000 from The Boettcher Foundation as well as professional assistance, training and networking opportunities. Candidate districts are eligible to apply for certification at the end of the two years. 
Upon approval, the Certified Creative Districts are each then eligible to obtain a further $10,000-$20,000 in funding. 
"Being certified brings exposure to our district, opens doors for our artists and will attract more visitors and enterprises," 40 West Arts District, Lakewood board chairman Bill Marino says. 
Marino says that 40 West Arts District will use the $20,000 it will receive in funding to further its programming efforts. The organization's total budget currently stands at just over $100,000. 
Not every applicant gets approved.
Of the seven candidate districts that joined CCI's program in 2012, three didn't achieve certification: Longmont, Parker and Aurora. 
"We wanted to see more progress in terms of long-term sustainability," Hunt says.
Hunt says the three candidate districts that did not pass muster are eligible to apply again in two years. 

The four new Certified Creative Districts join seven existing Colorado Creative Districts: Denver's Art District on Santa Fe, Pueblo Creative Corridor, Corazon de Trinidad, North Fork Valley Creative District, Ridgway Creative District, Salida Creative District and Telluride Arts District. 

CCI and the Boettcher Foundation have also accepted seven new candidate districts into the Colorado Creative Districts program.
Candidate districts include: Mancos Creative DistrictManitou Springs Arts Council Creative DistrictCrestone Creative DistrictCrested Butte Creative DistrictDowntown Fort Collins Creative DistrictCarbondale Historic Downtown Core and the Evergreen Creative District.