Downtowners to discuss arts, culture

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In keeping with national trends, Colorado Springs could utilize its arts, culture and creative class to build a stronger sense of community and — along with it — a stronger economy downtown.

Downtown, arts and area leaders will discuss creative place-making and using arts and culture to develop a stronger downtown economy in a special community conversation Feb. 26 at Cottonwood Center for the Arts.

Colorado Creative Industries, a division of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, last spring certified downtown Colorado Springs as an emerging creative district.

It was the first year that the agency, which was born from a merger between the Council on the Arts and Art in Public Places program, certified creative districts. Only two communities had fully mature creative districts — Denver’s Santa Fe Art District and downtown Salida.

“It took everyone a little while to figure out what it really means,” said Susan Edmondson, director of the Bee Vradenburg Foundation and former chair of the Downtown Development Authority board, who will take over March 4 as the new president and CEO of the Downtown Partnership.

“They’re taking the lead on what a lot of people are seeing nationally — that arts and culture can be used to strengthen the economy in a region,” she said.

Edmondson applied last year for the certification from Colorado Creative Industries.

“I knew downtown Colorado Springs could be competitive,” she said. “We don’t just have great assets in terms of cultural destinations like the Fine Arts Center and the Center for Performing Arts; we have great enterprises like S.P.Q.R. and Modbo galleries. And so many of those creative industries like architects and graphic designers, advertising firms, choose to be downtown.”

The certification came with a $2,000 grant. The money won’t go far toward achieving the goals, but it’s enough to get conversations started.

“This will give us a chance to talk about what we can do to integrate arts and culture into the way we market downtown,” said Lara Garritano, who is managing the creative district program for the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region.

Panelists will include Maryo Gard Ewell, the statewide creative district program manager; Edmondson; Garritano and John Hall, economic development director for the city of Parker on the southeast edge of Denver’s metro area. Hall will discuss Parker’s program for helping artists rent spaces in urban renewal districts.

“It’s just a chance to hear about what other communities are doing,” Garritano said.

She added that early efforts for developing the creative district likely will involve simple strategies like coordinating and advertising First Friday art walks downtown.

The initial conversation Tuesday also will give people an idea of how they can get involved, Garritano said.

“I think there’s a lot of value to this,” Edmondson said. “We’re part of a group of communities that’s trying to work toward making community.”

If you go

What: Creative Placemaking conversation

When: 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26

Where: Cottonwood Center for the Arts, 427 E. Colorado Ave.