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Space to Create initiative eyed in North Fork

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Question: What do a Hotchkiss High School teacher, a social worker, a retired architect, a drummer, an entrepreneur, a Paonia High School student, a farmer and a Delta County planning commissioner all have in common?

The question, posed by Paonia resident Elaine Brett at the Sept. 27 Paonia Town Board meeting, stumped the audience and trustees. Brett asked the question at the opening of a presentation on "Space to Create," a national initiative through which Colorado is implementing support of the arts in small, rural mountain communities.

The answer, by the way: They are all members of the North Fork Community Marching Band. The more than 30 band members joined members of the Marimba Project for a performance at Town Hall as part of the 16th annual Mountain Harvest Festival, held Sept. 23-25 in Paonia. Musicians, jugglers, hula-hoopers and others paraded onto the street in a demonstration of artistic talent, community spirit and showmanship, said Brett.

Brett, along with Mary George with the North Fork Valley Creative Coalition, Karen Good with Elsewhere Studios and members of the North Fork Creative District met recently with representatives from Delta County Economic Development, Region 10, the Delta County Tourism Cabinet and the Department of Local Affairs "to start to explore the possibilities of this program for our county," said Brett.

The Colorado Space to Create initiative was announced in July 2015. In discussing who will qualify to apply for funding, the big cities -- Denver, Boulder Fort Collins -- don't need that much help, said Brett. The more rural parts of the state are struggling and the decision was made to put the energy into giving those economies a lift.

STC is the first state-driven initiative designed to develop affordable housing and work spaces for artists. A total of $45 million generated from private and public funding sources will facilitate development of nine projects in Colorado's eight regions over the next eight years. The initiative can position Colorado as a national leader in artist-led community transformation and stimulate economic development in these communities, said Brett.

A consortium of public and private organizations partnering in the initiative includes the Colorado Office of Economic Development, DOLA, the Boettcher Foundation, the national ArtSpace organization, and History Colorado. DOLA will serve as the primary interface between the state and local communities.

The initiative calls for increasing support and opportunities for creative nonprofit and for-profit businesses, artists and entrepreneurs. Locally, they are looking at ways to create long-term housing opportunities for artists who don't have high incomes. The definition of artist is broad, said Brett. A long list of arts includes the culinary arts and agriculture as art. "The more you get creative energy into a community, the more the entire business climate can improve," said Brett.

The communities of Loveland and Ridgway are already approved for funding. In Trinidad, a community that has struggled economically in recent years, the first demonstration project will launch this year.

The application deadline for the Region 10 area including Delta County is Jan. 1. It's highly competitive, as Meeker, Crested Butte and Carbondale are also considering submitting applications, said Brett.

Brett said the area is "uniquely positioned" to qualify for funding. The North Fork area received creative district status by Colorado Creative Industries in 2014, Hotchkiss, Delta and Cedaredge all have strong arts communities, and the area has lost jobs recently due to declines in coal mining.

A collaborative effort between the Delta County communities is also possible. If they receive funding it would probably take a year to complete feasibility studies and identify financial and infrastructure resources.

This area has a concentration of professionals who can get the program going, as well a concentration of artists, an established creative sector, available vacant spaces, and developable property. The North Fork area also demonstrates a strong ability to execute community-based initiatives, one of the prerequisites for funding. "We got that," said Brett. "Thank you, North Fork Ambulance. Thank you, Mountain Harvest Festival."

The final piece is a commitment of support at the town or county level or a combination of both, said Brett. With the election looming and two seats on the Board of County Commissioners up for grabs, it may be difficult to get a commitment at the county level before the application deadline, but organizers are moving forward.

"We have a desire here to create a steady local economy," said Brett. "And this could be one way to do it."

Trustees expressed an interest in supporting efforts and urged the group to keep the town informed as it goes through its 2017 budget process. The plan now, said Brett, is to convene an advisory group of local experts.

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