Creative District designation amplifies the arts in Steamboat Springs

Lisa Schlichtman
What is a Creative District? Colorado Creative Industries is a division of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. The Creative District certification process, administered by CCI, is aimed at focusing on geographic areas throughout the state that have proven they can attract artists and creative entrepreneurs to a community. Certified districts receive access to grant funding, technical assistance, networking and training programs. Other Creative District communities in Colorado include Greeley, Breckenridge, Carbondale, Cressed Butte, Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, Longmont, Mancos, Pueblo, Ridgeway, Salida, Telluride, Trinidad, North Fork Valley and several areas in the Denver metropolitan area. Visit for additional information.

It’s official. Steamboat Springs has been selected as one of three communities in Colorado to earn a new Creative District designation from Colorado Creative Industries.

Steamboat Springs Arts Council Executive Director Kim Keith and Creative District Committee chair Matt Eidt were present at a CCI meeting in Grand Lake Friday morning to hear first-hand the announcement of this year’s Creative District winners.

In a telephone interview on the drive home, Eidt and Keith confessed that, when the recommendation to grant Steamboat Creative District status was announced, they couldn’t help but express themselves.

“Kim and I were there in the back, hugging and shouting,” Eidt said. “I literally lifted my hands in the hair and yelled ‘woo-hoo,’” Keith added.

It’s exciting to realize that Steamboat’s creative sector is being recognized as a critical industry in our community. Kim Keith, Steamboat Springs Arts Council executive director

The two advocates for the arts were quick to give credit to a host of people who joined in an effort to “amplify” the voice of Steamboat’s creative community.

“We had so many community partners involved in this — there’s too many too name,” Eidt said, “from city leaders to different volunteers and leaders in the nonprofit community.”

But Eidt said there was one person who deserved to be singled out.

“This has been Kim’s driving passion for the past three years,” Eidt said. “She’s done the vast majority of work on this, and she deserves credit for that.”

When asked what being a Creative District means to Steamboat, Keith explained there were tangible and intangible benefits the community can expect to receive as a result of the designation.

The local Creative District will receive a $10,000 grant that will be used to implement the group’s strategic plan, and Steamboat will also receive special signage from the Colorado Department of Transportation and marketing through the Colorado Office of Tourism.

“We’ve always been a creative community — a community that upholds the arts — but now, we’re recognized by the state for this, and there’s an incredible network that we will have access to,” Keith said. “It’s exciting to realize that Steamboat’s creative sector is being recognized as a critical industry in our community.”

Eidt believes the Creative District designation will also bring more diversity to Steamboat.

“Hopefully, this will attract a new type of visitor, a new type of resident — people who are looking for a creative community,” Eidt said. “I like to say this is another feather in Steamboat’s cap.”

Main Street Steamboat Springs Executive Director Lisa Popovich, who helped write the original Creative District application along with Keith, Nancy Kramer, Candice Bannister, Jane Blackstone and Tyler Gibbs, said the Creative District designation has the potential to make an economic impact on Steamboat.

“Main Streets and Creative Districts go hand in hand … both help drive economic activity,” Popovich said. “This helps us work together. We can put granting opportunities together to work on projects to improve downtown.

“But it goes beyond downtown,” Popovich added. “It enables us to brand Steamboat in a whole new way. This creative tribe that has been here since the beginning is now recognized as part of the fabric of our community. And that’s a big deal.”

In 2016, Steamboat was named as one of eight finalists in the Colorado Creative District certification process, but it did not make the final cut. In response, Steamboat’s creative arts community regrouped and reapplied for the designation this year.

A site visit was held in April, and visiting CCI members were given a tour of Steamboat’s eclectic artistic assets, including visits to Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp, Strings Music Pavilion, the Steamboat Art Museum and Tread of Pioneers Museum. They also were treated to pop-up dance, music and painting performances throughout town and a walking tour of Steamboat’s murals and other public art.

At the time of the site visit, Bannister said CCI’s critique of Steamboat’s 2016 application indicated the community needed to showcase more of its western heritage and display a greater commitment to public art. During the past year, new murals went painted on the sides of several downtown buildings, and the city of Steamboat Springs ended its moratorium on public art and approved plans for creative sidewalks to be painted by artists on Yampa Street.

“It was an honor to work with Kim and the rest of the steering committee team to develop the district and hone the applications and site tours to highlight the fascinating history and heritage of our town; that, along with our vibrant arts scene, ultimately led to certification success,” Bannister said.

She added she believes it’s the community’s rich heritage that set the district apart.

“Steamboat’s arts, heritage and cultural assets are incredible and deserve the focus and attention that the district certification can bring,” Bannister said.

The work of the new Creative District will begin quickly. Next week, the group will begin meeting with a facilitator, who will help set priorities for implementing the strategic plan that was the basis for Steamboat’s successful application.

“We want to take a thoughtful and careful approach, so there’s real change and real inclusivity,” Keith said. “This is really about the whole community. We’re strengthening the overall brand of Steamboat as a fantastic place to live and visit.”

To reach Lisa Schlichtman, call 970-871-4221, email or follow her on Twitter @LSchlichtman

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