Manitou Springs recently acquired a new feather for its colorful cap.
After three and a half years of trying, the tiny town was certified as a Creative District by Colorado Creative Industries' Colorado Creative Districts Program.
The coveted designation comes on the heels of an April announcement that due to a partnership of Manitou organizations, including the City of Manitou Springs and the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce, Natalie Johnson would assume duties as full-time executive director of the Creative District. She's the first full-time employee in seven years devoted to the town's economic development, and believes the creation of the job was the tipping point when it came to finally earning certification.
"To say we're a state certified creative district does lend credibility," Johnson said. "It gives our town pride in its creative community and that goes a long way. It also gives our city officials and residents a way to talk about Manitou. We can say we're a creative or artsy community or a certified creative district and this is why."
The designation will last five years, at which time the town can apply to be re-certified. Each district will receive financial support, though Johnson doesn't know the specific amount yet, technical assistance, marketing support, grant opportunities and leadership training. But the perk Johnson is most excited about?
"We get signage on U.S. Highway 24 and Interstate 25 that says Manitou Springs Creative District," she said. Two Colorado Department of Transportation signs will go up within the next 6-8 months. "That's hard to get - you can't get a sign on a state-owned highway."
Colorado Creative Industries is a division of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. The Creative Districts Program was created in 2011 to attract artists and creative entrepreneurs to the state, and enhance economic and civic capital of communities. There are now 21 creative districts state-wide, including Manitou. Downtown Colorado Springs became certified in 2014.
"These 2017 certified creative districts are great examples of how the arts create exciting places for people to visit and live," said governor John Hickenlooper. "These districts increase quality of life, help with economic vitality of the area and attract people from all over Colorado and the country."
A CCI review panel employed stringent standards when it came to selecting this year's finalists, and included recognition by local government, a high concentration of creative organizations and businesses, sustainable funding sources, paid staff and a strategic plan.
"It's thrilling to receive the Creative District designation, said Manitou mayor Nicole Nicoletta in a press release. "Manitou Springs embodies creativity in every sector of our community and greatly appreciates the committee's recommendation to be included in the district."