RIDGWAY – Ridgway painter Stephanie Rogers held up a T-shirt made to promote Imagination Day, coming up this Saturday in Town Park.
The T-shirt says: “What Can It Be? Ridgway Creative District. Ask Me About It.”
What indeed? Rogers and Mayor John Clark, who has an art glass business, are both on the month-old Creative District Committee, which is charged with answering – or at least starting to answer – that question. Imagination Day is their first go at it. “Instead of a survey, another survey,” Rogers said, “we decided to get creative! And we came up with the idea of an outdoor, open-space, community drawing board” and picnic in the park that will help define what the creative district should be, and what role it might play in Ridgway’s economic and cultural future.
The two artists sat in the shade of the big cottonwoods in Hartwell (Town) Park on a recent morning and admitted that the whole creative district thing has been amorphous and confusing to people.
“It is a new concept,” Clark said. “Even [Colorado Creative Industries], the organization that brought creative districts into being, is vague. But that, to me, is the definition of creativity; it’s something that doesn’t exist already, it’s something becoming.”
In a process that began last year, out of the governor’s Bottom-Up economic development meetings, Ridgway applied for and made the short list of Colorado communities that have a designated creative district. Only two full-status districts were funded by CCI to the tune of $15,000 – the Town of Salida and the Santa Fe Arts District in Denver. Ridgway was one of five applicants (there were 45 total) to receive “prospective” creative district status, and $8,000 in seed money to get started.
Get started doing what?
“We have this opportunity from the governor,” Rogers said, “to brand Ridgway” as a place that promotes and celebrates the arts. “There are so many creative people here. But we need a center. People need to be inspired that we can be an economically viable center” for the arts.
“It’s about Ridgway’s identity, its history,” Clark added. “Ridgway used to be this sleepy little town, a ranching community that if you blinked, you missed it. We have this opportunity to create a more 21st century identity – an arts ‘branding,’ to use the current term – to create a reason for people to stop.”
The reason for people to stop in at the park this Saturday, “the point of Imagination Day,” according to Rogers, “is to get people’s ideas of what they’d like to see.”
She pointed to one of the biggest of the 100-plus year-old cottonwoods in the park’s center and said, “We decided this is our Tree of Knowledge, not to get too hippy-dippy about it. We’re going to wrap canvas around these trees, Cristo style, to create a visually interesting drawing board. Everybody’s invited to stop in, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. – it’s a picnic, too – everyone from the littlest toddler to the oldest grandma, to draw, write, contribute whatever their creative ideas might be.
“There will be sharpies to draw with. We’ll have a big round table with laptops so that people who would prefer to type their ideas can do so, and we’ll make a word cloud of all their ideas. We [the committee] will be circulating with prompts to help people get started. And we’re going to document the whole thing on video. That’s going to become part of our application this fall, to achieve full creative district certification. I know we’ll get it.”
Clark said about $1,000 of the district’s $8,000 seed money will be spent on the run-up to Imagination Day: the t-shirts, a banner for the park, the canvas, the video production. “Really, anyone can come and contribute anything they want. It’s inclusive, open.”
“This will be our data,” Rogers said. “Our SurveyMonkey.com.”
Rogers stood up, excited, and opened her arms to indicate the entire small town. “The $8,000 is for us to come up with a plan that will create an economically viable contribution to the town,” she said. She said the plan should help attract creative entrepreneurs and artists to the community, it would attract visitors, and it would help showcase local cultural and artistic organizations and events. She hoped it would “link up all of the great things happening in Ridgway, the River Festival, the town’s Streetscape Plan, the Color Crew at the elementary school.” Rogers explained how she had helped get sponsorship from Ralph Lauren – and potential long-term funding from CCI – for school children to paint murals depicting the valley’s ecosystems on the inside walls of the school, all in a time of arts budget-cutting. “The state can help us get grants,” she said of the creative district legislation, HB11-1031.
“We want to shine a light on the unique, grassroots, local arts possibilities here.”
“Who are we?” Clark asked rhetorically. “How do we identify ourselves, put ourselves on the map?” He noted that Ridgway is really the “only place in the county with room to grow.” And he likened the creative district process to tending a flowerbed.
“A certain flower will attract a certain butterfly,” Rogers said. “We think the arts can help us do that.”