The state of Colorado certified the Durango Creative District this week, placing an official seal on a new effort to promote Durango’s innovative businesses, nonprofits and individuals.
“Durango is a creative community. From visual and performing arts to craft beers and spirits to artisanal food, we appreciate inspired artistry,” said Durango City Councilor Barbara Noseworthy, in a news release. “This creative district designation recognizes the importance of the creative economy to our community and will be helpful in securing external funding.”
The certification caps the city’s third attempt at organizing a creative district and more than a year of work that involved hundreds of residents in the planning process.
“We think it’s a no-brainer. We are obviously ready,” said Hayley Kirkman, interim director of the district.
Right after receiving certification, the district seated 14 board members who will direct the new organization focused on uniting, celebrating and expanding the creative economy, a news release said. In January, the district’s administrative office will open at Durango Arts Center.
Durango’s new district is among 23 others in Colorado promoted by the state as destinations. Certified districts elsewhere have also helped towns secure large grants, improve public infrastructure, develop signature events, install public art and develop affordable housing, Kirkman said.
The portions of Durango that will be promoted as part of the creative district include downtown, north Main Avenue, College Drive, Fort Lewis College and Bodo Industrial Park. The signs for the district are being developed and may be sculptures with the district’s name on them, Kirkman said.
To help the district get started, the city of Durango has granted it $40,000, and Colorado Creative Industries, a state office, is giving the district $10,000, Kirkman said.
The district’s Board President Bill Carver said he expects the public investment will bolster economic activity related to Durango’s cultural attractions.
“We are trying to leverage that public money into a really good rate of return. ... This really is an economic development tool,” he said of the district.
Carver said the Denver Metro Science & Cultural Facilities District is a good model for how public investment in cultural activities can generate economic activity. In 2017, the Denver district multiplied $57 million of public funding into $1.9 billion in economic activity, The Denver Post reported.
In its first year, the Durango district expects to fundraise, hire an executive director, plan “marquee” projects and hold discussion panels to allow creative professionals to share their knowledge, Kirkman said.
The district would like to take on one “marquee” project a year, such as putting in a band shell at Buckley Park.
Carver said he expects the new district will also advocate for creative nonprofits as a sector. For example, district representatives lobbied the city this fall for the restoration of dedicated public funds for the cultural institutions in town.
The new district may also work on joint promotional efforts with other creative districts in the area. Creative districts in northwest Colorado made a map to promote themselves, and Southwest Colorado districts could do similar joint-promotion, Carver said.
Part of the promotional work is determining the “secret sauce” that makes Durango attractive, determining how to bottle it, market it and make it well-known, he said.
“The creative economy is broadly defined and represents the culture as we define ourselves,” he said.