By Beth Dodd:
A crowd filled the Woodland Park City Council Chambers on January 15 to learn about the possibility of forming a Creative Arts District. An arts district is expected to attract new businesses and foot traffic to downtown Woodland while showcasing local arts and culture.
Gray Brovetto, Woodland Park City Councilman and liaison to the DDA, started the meeting by sharing what a Creative Arts District is and his vision for how it will benefit Woodland Park. He anticipates that the competitive two year process will result in a greater ability to attract both artistic entrepreneurs and visitors to town, provide access to new sources of grant funding and marketing, and improve the quality of life in Woodland Park. Creative arts can include a wide variety of activities from the traditional painting and music to theater, photography, architecture, sculpture, public art installations, art walks, art festivals, and more.
The proposed Woodland Park arts district lies almost entirely inside the boundaries of the Downtown Development District. It would be an irregular shape bordered by West Street, Lake Ave, N. Park St, Henrietta Ave, Laurel Street, Grace Street, S. Park St, and Columbine Ave.
The arts district would include most of Woodland Park’s major cultural assets like the Ute Pass Cultural Center, the Woodland Park Library, the Ute Pass Historical Society’s History Park, the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center, and Memorial Park. The new Woodland Station development, which is expected to include an events center, is also within the proposed district. The Woodland Park High School theater and the local churches, many of which support musical groups, are not included in the area as now suggested.
After Brovetto’s introduction, Susan Edmondson of the Downtown Colorado Springs Partnership discussed how a Creative Arts District could help provide long-term economic growth and stability for Woodland Park. Ms. Edmondson has experience in starting and funding arts related organizations, businesses, and programs. She has been part of the Creative Arts District application process for the Downtown Colorado Springs Creative Arts District, which is now a district candidate and hopes to become fully certified in the coming year.
The Creative Arts District concept is still fairly new. In 2011, the state initiated the Certified Creative Districts Program which allowed areas all over Colorado to apply for financial and organizational help. The goal is for each district to become more economically and artistically vital to the communities they serve, thus bolstering their overall economic strength.
Since the program began in 2012, more than 140 applications have been submitted from across the state. Only fifteen areas have been chosen so far. Seven of these have now successfully completed the process. The project is run by Colorado Creative Industries, part of Colorado’s Office of Economic Development.
There are many benefits of successfully starting a Creative Arts District. Districts gain access to state and national marketing opportunities, technical assistance from professional consultants, CDOT signage, webinar based training opportunities, funding opportunities, access to data tools like the Creative Vitality Index, and networking with other Creative Arts Districts.
Ralph Holloway of the Woodland Park Arts Alliance concluded the meeting with an appeal for members of the community to get involved in the Creative Arts District application process and turn the vision into a reality. A sign up list was passed to collect the names of the people who were interested in volunteering to work on the project.
Reaction to the meeting was generally positive.
“I’m glad attention is being directed to how the arts in the community can, should, and could impact the economy of the area,” said Craig Harms, Director of the Woodland Park Wind Symphony. “It’s important, however, that the district map outlined in the presentation be expanded. It has always been a challenge to figure out how the arts and business community can best work together. Sometimes, if not handled well, this can become a right brain/left brain collision. Regardless, it’s really important that this program not simply become a political issue. The goal should be a balanced collaboration by all local arts and business elements in the area. As impressive as the turn-out for this fact finding session was, the power will be in the planning and completion of this endeavor.”
In response to the large turnout at the January 15 meeting, Councilman Brovetto plans to present a resolution to start the application process for a Creative Arts District to the Woodland Park City Council on February 5. The application process requires that communities show they are already doing the legwork to create a sustainable creative community. It also requires that they demonstrate that they have support from the local government, businesses, community artists, arts organizations, and other citizens. The district must also have defined boundaries. Volunteers from the community will be needed to move the process forward.