- File photo
- Natalie Johnson, here with Chris Vestal of Pikes Peak Makerspace, has led Manitou's Creative District campaign.
At the end of May, Colorado Creative Industries announced its newest certified Creative Districts — not including Manitou Springs.
This came on the heels of a sudden change in how CCI handles the Creative District certification process, including a change in requirements. CCI director Margaret Hunt says that the change was in response to an increasingly competitive field of applicants. As a result, CCI wanted to prioritize communities with more diverse, more sustainable funding.
Manitou had been a certified candidate for two years and was considered likely for final approval. Now, Hunt says CCI encourages communities to designate arts and creative districts independent of their certification process — in other words, regardless of the state outcome. That's also what CCI told Manitou Arts Center executive director Natalie Johnson.
"When it comes down to it, we don't need the approval of anyone to be and know who we are," Johnson told the Pikes Peak Bulletin (full disclosure: Bulletin publisher Ralph Routon, also the Indy executive editor, served on the Manitou Creative District steering committee). She adds that art and artists are a huge part of Manitou's identity and culture.
For instance, Johnson says that while most cities bring in artists later when planning civic projects, Manitou works with them from day zero. In particular, she notes the Creative District was invited to participate in the Westside Avenue Action Plan, the effort to improve infrastructure on Colorado/Manitou Avenue between 31st Street and the U.S. Highway 24 interchange.
"It's a big project, and from the get-go, they're saying, 'OK, how are we incorporating art in this? How are we asking artists' opinions from the beginning instead of throwing them in at the very end?'" Johnson says. More recently, Pikes Peak Library District has been enlisting the Creative District to help in expansion plans for the Manitou Springs Library.
Things like that give a sense of community and inclusion to a city's artists. And community is a huge part of what brings Divide-based artist and Manitou Arts Council board president De Lane Bredvik down the pass. He says that two of the most important assets for a city to support its artists are galleries and spaces to sell art.
"As long as an artist has a place to sell their work, they can live," says Bredvik. "They can move anywhere. They can live anywhere, pretty much."
Still, affordable housing and day jobs help. And it can be hard to find either within Manitou city limits. Because the city relies so heavily on tourism, it can be difficult to find work during the off-season. Further, Manitou is in a valley, so there's a very real physical limit on real estate, and that means every square foot is valuable.
"Affordable housing becomes very difficult when there's no affordable property to start things off with," says Johnson. "...Certainly no one's going to donate something that would be worth so much money in a for-profit market. If you go to other communities like Trinidad or Pueblo, they have a ton of that. We struggle with the basic parts."
Johnson instead wants to support affordable housing and day jobs in Old Colorado City and other parts of Colorado Springs. With those opportunities, Manitou can focus instead on keeping galleries and retail spaces open, as well as improving transportation.
"If you can't get here easily, quickly, efficiently, affordably, it doesn't matter," Johnson says. "A few miles can be very limiting."