Visitors to Paonia might see a quaint and quiet little town with not much going on at first glance, but look a little closer and creativity is everywhere.
A group of about 20 people, including representatives from state and local governments and entities, nonprofits and the arts toured downtown Paonia last Thursday. They all share an interest in "Space to Create."
Space to Create Colorado is designed to assist communities in developing affordable housing and work space for artists and arts organizations. It is the first state initiative of its kind. Colorado Creative Industries (CCI) is partnering with the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, the Boettcher Foundation, the national ArtSpace organization, and History Colorado to offer $45 million of public and private funds for nine projects in Colorado's eight regions over the next eight years. The application deadline for the Region 10 area is Jan. 1.
"We define the arts sector broadly," said Margaret Hunt, director of public policy and creative districts with CCI, a division of the Colorado Office of Economic Development & International Trade.
Hunt and Meredith Marshall, with the Office of Economic Development and Trade, flew into Blake Field in Delta, thanks to the addition of jet fuel service at the facility. They used to fly into Montrose, said Hunt.
Hunt has visited Paonia before when the CCI was certifying the North Fork area as a Colorado Creative District in 2014. She wants people to step out of the conventional ideal of artists as painters and sculptures trying to make a living. The culinary arts, jewelry, design, and even the healing arts are all part of the creative sector, she said. Artists might even be working for a business or proprietorship, an architect, for example. "They are authentic and unique to the community."
Elsewhere Studios is very interested in Space to Create, said development director Karen Good. Since Elsewhere began offering six-month artist-in-residency in 2011 it has hosted 139 artists from 10 different countries and 26 states. They've included photographers, writers, performing artists, ceramicists and composers, to name a few. "We've been pretty much 100 percent occupied for the last three years," said Good.
During their stay artists are immersed in the community, said Good. They experience the local music, the rich agriculture, the restaurants and farm-to-table events, and the local artists creating them. "They really add to the vibrancy of the community," said Good. "For some it's a transformative experience."
Elsewhere currently has a small woodshop and ceramics studio and rents studio space. On their wish list is a fiber arts studio, a darkroom and a printmaking studio. "We have more artists applying than we have space for at this point," said Good. "So having additional living space at this point would be awesome for us."
The North Fork is already known for its arts community. In 2012, CCI and the Office of Economic Development identified North Fork Valley as an Emerging Creative District, and in 2014 the area was granted full creative district status.
Hunt said she noticed a lot of changes since then. The tour passed Revolution Brewing and stopped to admire the artful metal work out front. At The Cirque Cyclery, which opened last spring, they were treated to a rainbow of fresh-pressed fruit and vegetable juices and learned the business carries electric E-bikes made with locally-engineered electrical systems.
A block away at The Refinery, the flagship store for Elisabethan recycled clothing, they heard how owner Elisabeth Delehaunty's designs are sold across the country and were worn by Hillary Clinton's campaign staff at the Democratic National Convention.
In between, they passed the community-owned Paradise Theatre, historic buildings with empty upstairs living spaces, and admired the colorful paint job on the Blue Sage Center for the Arts. They took photos of Seth Weber's mural of children playing on a fence and a young girl picking a peach.
The tour started at the former Paonia Middle School. The building opened in 1959 as Paonia High School and was designed by Denver-based Wheeler & Lewis. Delta County School District Administrator Caryn Gibson said that when the new junior high school opened in 2004, the building was vacated. Delta-Montrose Technical College later established EnergyTech, a mine-related technical training school, with the help of a DOLA grant.
Since 2013, activity at the school has gone down along with the decline in coal mining activity, said Gibson. The district's Vision Charter Academy now occupies the west end of the school, and basketball, adult-league soccer are held in the gym. "Just give a holler and I'll find you a room," said custodian Rene Atchley.
District facilities director John McHugh said the building has some code issues, but is otherwise sound. Among the features are a shop, a kitchen that needs to be brought up to code, a gymnasium with decorative brick work, and a spacious, well-lit studio.
Paonia is in the process of getting one-gigabite rate broadband delivered by fiber, said John Gavan, a board member for Delta-Montrose Electric Association. The school building is "fiber-ready," and is already wired with Cat 6 Ethernet cables. "You can bring gigabit speed to every classroom in this space, along with WiFi. That means users can send and receive huge files, a big asset these days."
"The district wants the building to be used," said Gibson. There is interest in the building for use as an urgent care facility or a business incubator, but those ideas aren't moving forward at this time, said Gibson. The district has considered the space for a career tech pathways school or other use that will benefit all students in Delta County.
"Everyone drives to Delta," said Gibson. "Let's get them driving up here."