Pueblo Creative Corridor focuses on reinventing the city's economy with a new arts base

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Under the Certified Creative Districts program enacted in 2011, areas all over the state of Colorado have a chance to apply for financial and organizational aid to help grow their artistic communities and creative economies. The Pueblo Creative Corridor was one of the fifteen chosen for initial funding and development -- which only complemented the city's creative industries-minded plans that were already in motion.

In advance of big events for this month's First Friday activities in the Pueblo Creative Corridor on September 6, Westword spoke with Susan Fries, executive director of the Pueblo Creative Corridor, about Pueblo's certification as a Creative District, and what that designation means to the city's growing arts community and industry.

See also: Colorado Creative Districts showcase growing arts communities across the state

Westword: What does the Creative Corridor encompass geographically in Pueblo?

Susan Fries: The Creative Corridor was based on the footprint of the First Friday Art Walk -- when we drew the lines for the state application, that's what we based it on. It's a 1.1 mile corridor from the north to south, and it's about two and a half blocks wide. It encompasses three historic city centers.

Pueblo used to be separated by rivers and other geographic obstacles, but now they're joined. There's the Main Street District, the Union Avenue Historic District and the Mesa Junction District -- and the corridor joins them all.

The Art Walk started twenty-three years ago with one gallery in the Union Avenue area and for nineteen years, it was very grassroots. The one particular gallery was consistent throughout the twenty-three years; as other galleries were around, they might join in also. But there was no marketing of it, no announcement of it. Three and a half years ago, the Performing Arts Guild, which is now the Pueblo Arts Alliance, started to do performances along with the First Friday Art Walk.

A gallery gave us a space at their dock and that was the stage for these performances. We wanted to help promote the First Friday Art Walk -- our mission is to promote the arts for economic development and enrich the quality of life. So it was pretty easy for us to decide to market the Art Walk.

We asked the artists and galleries involved, and they said yes, they would like us to, so we started with an Art Walk guide and posters. The designs for the guides and posters are always done by local artists and they change every six months.

Beyond galleries, what other businesses are happening in and along the Corridor?

We have a really diverse base of creative industry -- Solar Roast Coffee is the only solar roasted coffee company in the world, and that's pretty cool. There is a magic shop (The Party People) and they do performances all the time. The cool thing is that all three districts have similar make-ups -- they all have coffee shops, which are great hang-outs with art in them. Each district has an anchor: one has the library that hosts lots of cultural events, one district has the Riverwalk and the other has the Sangre De Cristo Art Center.

Can you talk a little bit more about what the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk looks like?

The Riverwalk is the historic riverbed of the Arkansas River. It is also significant to Pueblo because it's part of our cultural roots as a borderland community between all the different countries and states that occupied Colorado. Now the Riverwalk is beautifully landscaped with restaurants and cafes along it and soon, a brewery. Along with all of the festivals that happen along the Riverwalk, there is a boat trip visitors can take -- a gondola with a singing boatman. Why did you think Pueblo would fit in well when applying for the Certified Creative Districts program?

Just prior to the state legislators passing the bill for the creative districts, we created our own strategic plan with the final goal being the creation of an arts district in Pueblo. We didn't know what that meant, so these state guidelines really helped define what that was. That was our goal, so our action steps were already focused on that. We were intent upon being one of the first communities in Colorado to be certified.

What it means to us is that we recognize that a manufacturing economy is not sustainable any longer for most communities, especially ours. Our city leaders, non-profits, artists and businesses are looking for a new way to reinvent them. For us, creative industry has been that ticket. Being certified by the state is very important for us in that process of changing our economy to a new economy.

Something really wonderful about Pueblo's city centers is also that, without being stuck in the past, it seems that there has been quite a bit of work to preserve historic buildings. I think that speaks to Pueblo's past as much as it does to the future of the city.

We work really closely with the preservation commission in town because they recognize the need to honor those historic structures themselves. But they have to be relevant and they have to be usable. Besides being the Governor's Arts Award this year, we were also awarded the historic preservation award from the governor. It was a great year for us.

Where does the money from the Certified Creative Districts Program go?

You'll see more marketing for the Creative Corridor in Denver. We're also spending our money this year on infrastructure pieces -- writing grants for some really large, thirty-foot sculptures to go in the Downtown Pedestrian Alleyway Project that's being planned. There are huge murals that are being commissioned right now that are in the process of going up.

We're also planning our first ever Pueblo Creative Corridor arts festival -- the Pueblo Arts and Music Blast -- and that will be in October of 2014. We know how to throw a pretty cool art party.

Check out the Creative Corridor's First Friday Art Walk this Friday, September 6, which will be celebrating the opening of a new art supply store, along with hosting chalk art contests, live street performances and a free shuttle service circulating through the corridor's three main areas. For more information, visit the Pueblo Creative Corridor's Facebook page and First Friday Art Walk event page.

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