When artist Jack Chivvis bought a building in downtown Salida more than 30 years ago he had no idea he would help spark a renaissance in the former railroad hub and mining community to the southwest of Denver. “Artists seem to have the ability to look at something like an old beat-up building and see the vision and see what it could be,” said Chivvis. What he saw was a place, as rich in natural beauty as it is remote, to live and work. The vision of artists like Jack Chivvis helped slowly transform historic downtown Salida from beat-up to upbeat.
All told, about 100 creative enterprises help shape Salida’s “Creative District,” a designation bestowed upon it by Colorado Creative Industries in 2012. City officials made the appeal for the designation (and the accompanying grant) to leverage the creative capital amassed by Chivvis, local artists like Joshua Been and others.
“It’s like an outdoor mall with galleries, built in the late 1800s. You can’t beat it,” said Been.
That critical mass of “artistic, cultural, and creative enterprises and activities is really important” says Margaret Hunt, Colorado Creative Industriesdirector and was an advantage for Salida when the program launched. “We want to make sure this is a magnet, not only for locating businesses but attracting people to those businesses to support them and purchase their products.”
Salida’s Creative District, which spans 23 city blocks, meant “instant credibility for Salida with people on the Front Range.” That’s translated to more visitors and increased spending, says Creative District Coordinator Michael Varnum.
Sales tax revenue increased 6.6 percent in 2013 and 7.4 percent in 2012, according to city sales tax reports.
Salida’s City Administrator Dara MacDonald said it goes well beyond community branding and tax receipts and could mean long-term economic development both inside and outside of the arts.
“Creating that long-term, year-round economy is very important,” said MacDonald. “So having things that build on the Creative District - in terms of whether that is a local software company or local food production - those are things we are trying to foster as much as we can.”
“We are all here for the quality of life,” said Pinto. “For the incredible beauty, the air, the arts, the every thing. And you have to be brave to be here. You have to be creative and resourceful.”
Although she has lived in Salida for 20 years, Pinto hesitated to setup shop because of the challenges associated with distribution from a mountain community. Pinto Barn now has 28 full-time employees, and Jane Pinto anticipates expansion from its current two brands to seven.
With almost two years since the Creative District designation, city leaders are actively seeking a way to balance current affordability and would-be growth. City Administrator Dara MacDonald said Salida doesn’t want its artists priced out of the very district they helped to craft.
By Carrie Saldo
Arts District is a collaboration of KUNC, Rocky Mountain PBS and KUVO.