Steamboat completes final steps in pursuing Colorado Creative District designation |

Steamboat completes final steps in pursuing Colorado Creative District designation

Audrey Dwyer
Artist Fernando Maldonado, a chef at Mambo Italiano, has spent the past month designing and painting this mural that gives the outdoor space at the downtown restaurant a Tuscan feeling. Although Steamboat Springs was not selected as one of the Certified Colorado Creative Districts, the steering committee and Steamboat Springs Arts Council will continue to make strides towards the designation in the future.
John F. Russell

— At the Depot Art Center Wednesday afternoon, Kim Keith, executive director of the Steamboat Springs Arts Council, took a moment to catch her breath and reflect upon the whirlwind of the past 45 days.

“I don’t know what I’m feeling right now, except … awe of all that we accomplished in a very short amount of time,” Keith said. “It was amazing, and I get teary about how we gave people the opportunity to show up and strut their stuff, and boy did they.”

Since 2015, Keith has led local efforts in pursuing designation from Colorado Creative Industries as a Colorado Creative District.

It started with acquiring an advisory committee, which is now comprised of Tyler Gibbs, from the city of Steamboat Springs; Jane Blackstone, from the Economic Development Council and the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association; Nancy Kramer, from Northwest Colorado Cultural Heritage Tourism; Lisa Popovich, from Mainstreet Steamboat; Candice Bannister, executive director of Tread of Pioneers Museum; Wendy Kowynia, independent artist and board chair for SSAC; Jim DeFrancia, from Lowe Enterprises; and Keith, representing the SSAC.

“I’ve been here for 20 years, and I’ve never seen quite a synergy come from one project,” said Bannister. “Regardless of whether or not we get the designation, the process of having the advisory committee come together for this application, inventorying our cultural and artistic assets (and) putting all of these people to the table to work towards this common goal, has created a synergy that is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.”

In March, Colorado Creative Industries announced changes to the application guidelines that sped up the application process and eliminated the candidate incubator program.

That required the local committee to complete a tremendous amount of work in about 30 days, while competing with other communities which had already gone through the candidacy period.

Wednesday marked the final step in the process: a site visit from Margaret Hunt, the Colorado Creative Industries director who toured each of the eight finalist districts this past week.

With hand-painted, up-cycled banners, chalk on the sidewalks, streamers in the trees, live painting at the Center for Visual Arts, newly created murals, an Oehme Graphics pop-up gallery in the old Circle 7 Gallery space, Emerald Mountain Students performing in Little Toots Park and the red dragon’s appearance at the Depot, Steamboat was pulsing with creativity Wednesday afternoon.

Hunt’s tour involved 21 stops at local businesses that encapsulated Steamboat’s definition of creatives, which goes beyond artists and galleries to include designers, architects, chefs and foodies, as well as coffee shops, breweries, music venues, museums, galleries, performing arts programs, historical programs and cultural heritage sites.

“Every one of the stops had an engagement piece, either creating something, sharing a story or giving a gift to our distinguished guests,” Keith said. “It was really cool to see them shine just doing what they do, and all along the path, there were these creative surprises and discoveries.”

The tour began at Tread of Pioneers Museum. Other locations included the Sequoya Building’s MainStreet Steamboat, the Community Agriculture Alliance, Historic Routt County and the Yampa Valley Sustainability Foundation, Portfolio Collection Photography and Publishing, Sew Steamboat, Harwigs L’Apogee, Steamboat Art Company, Off the Beaten Path bookstore, Center for Visual Arts, Homesteaders, the Chief Theater, Tom Mangelsen’s Images of Nature Gallery, the Yampa Project construction site, Mountain Tap Brewery, Bud Werner Memorial Library and the Depot Arts Center.

“It’s pretty remarkable,” Blackstone said. “I saw a very authentic display and celebration of our artistic and cultural side today. Pursuing this really recognizes what we have here and creates a nuanced identity for Steamboat, beyond what it may be known for most out in the world. But what today’s tour showed was the incredible diversity of arts, talent and creative industries.”

It is hoped earning the designation will spark the community’s revitalization, boost local economies, increase tourism and attract creatives. In addition, designation as a creative district gives communities increased exposure to professional development, increased funding for creatives, national and statewide marketing, signage, access to economic impact data, mentoring, coaching and consulting on strategic planning, marketing, branding, community engagement, history and heritage.

“For me, (the tour) was just a taste of what the Steamboat Springs Creative District can mean for our community,” said Kowynia in an email Thursday. “Our call for participation was met with great enthusiasm; many, many hands have worked in support of this initiative. The Steamboat Springs Creative District’s mission is to catalyze our creative sector as an economic tool and support our citizens’ quality of life through cultural and creative events.”

The Colorado Creative District designations will be announced later this month.

“Our work of the last 24 months has proven to me that we already are the Steamboat Springs Creative District,” Kowynia said. Receiving the state’s recognition will be a significant milestone with significant benefits, but the work of becoming a district has been done.”

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1

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