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New Colorado Initiative Wants To Give Rural Artists 'Space To Create'

Stacy Nick
Gov. John Hickenlooper points at a map of the eight rural regions the Space to Create initiative will focus on over the next eight years.

In the shadow of the Loveland Artspace Arts Campus, a new statewide initiative to create mixed-use sites for artists in nine rural Colorado communities was unveiled by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

A first of its kind in the country, the Space to Create initiative will feature customized affordable housing/work space for artists as well as commercial space for creatively inclined organizations and businesses.

Hickenlooper announced the initiative's first site will be in Trinidad.

"To be blunt, Denver and Boulder and Fort Collins, they don't need that much help. The more rural parts of the state are still struggling and some of them have very high unemployment rates up close to 6 percent," Hickenlooper said. "So we want to try to put energy into those communities and try to make sure that their economy gets a lift as well."

The initiative is based on the success of the Loveland Artspace project, which opened its doors in June.

Space to Create projects will be customized to their location, but will typically cost less than the $10 million spent on the Loveland project and the renovation of the Feed & Grain building. Funding for Space to Create efforts will come from a mix of private and public sources, said Shannon Joern, Senior Director of National Advancement for Artspace.

"In order for a project like this to be successful, a community really needs to want it and so for us, the commitment on the part of local leadership is a huge factor in making these projects successful," Joern said. "Because we spend a lot of time on the ground working for sometimes years to get these projects done and we need partnerships in the community."

While Loveland has been an arts community for more than 40 years, the energy the Loveland Artspace Arts Campus has created is reaching beyond just the arts scene, said Loveland Mayor Cecil Gutierrez.

"We're seeing other artists come in and take a look at this, and we've got developers that are looking at other opportunities in our downtown, so it's not just with the arts and the creative sector,” Gutierrez said. “But there are other developers now saying, 'Wow, you know this is a great project.' So it's kind of a catalyst."

Another piece of the puzzle for the Space to Create initiative is the affordable housing component. The governor alluded to the successes of other creative neighborhoods in the state – and the double-edged nature of that success.

"Artists have always been the people that are on the frontier of neighborhoods and communities, usually on the edge of what's safe – warehouse districts," Hickenlooper said. "But once they colonize and people see it's safe and cool, all of the sudden, young people start following them and then pretty much everybody follows them and then the rents go up and the artists can't afford it anymore. So they get priced out. So, we're trying to find ways that we can create long term housing solutions for artists who don't make very much money, without having them get pushed from one place to another."

In Loveland, that solution took the form of an affordable housing project on the Artspace Arts Campus. During a tour of Caryn Sanchez's new loft, the documentary filmmaker applauded the program for allowing artists opportunities once relegated to more urban locales.

"(Los Angeles) was the only place to find enough work to be able to live as a filmmaker and work," said Sanchez, who grew up in Berthoud but moved to L.A. to begin her career. "I don't think people understand how important the component of having affordable housing for all artists, (of) all disciplines, is."

"This is going to allow me to spend the next couple years working full time as a documentary filmmaker - as a filmmaker. Not here and there and bits and pieces," she said. "I'm going to be able to do this as a full-time job, because my housing is within means so I can put that time and energy into what I do."

In Trinidad, work has already begun on its Space to Create project. The city will work with officials from Artspace, which will serve as lead consultant along with Colorado Creative Industries.

The goal is to have a location identified by early 2016.

“Trinidad is one of the most beautiful cities in the state of Colorado and yet, for a variety of reasons, it’s kind of struggled over the last several decades,” Hickenlooper said of the town known for its cobbled streets. “I think if we can figure out some ways to get more cultural energy into Trinidad… You know – look at all the people that go to Santa Fe. Right? Trinidad is every bit as cool as Santa Fe. We just haven’t branded it as successfully as they have in New Mexico.”

Stacy was KUNC's arts and culture reporter from 2015 to 2021.
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