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Downtown Creative District wants to establish sense of place and community

Led by the Longmont Downtown Development Association, the district hopes to unify businesses and creatives throughout Longmont.
Breezeway Art (Main-3rd-4th) (1 of 1)
Murals and a hulking metal bear adorn the breezeway between 3rd and 4th Ave on Main St

Longmont’s Creative District, in the heart of Downtown Longmont, wants to establish a sense of place and community for all creatives. 

Led by the Longmont Downtown Development Association, or LDDA, the district hopes to unify businesses and creatives throughout Longmont.

“Every dollar that goes into our creative community (in Longmont), in any of the creative groups, is a dollar well spent,” said Kimberlee McKee, executive director for the LDDA.

Longmont is home to creative arts organizations like Left Hand Artist Group and Longmont Artist’s Guild, along with Firehouse Art Center and galleries like The Walnut Gallery and The Great Frame-Up. According to McKee, the goal of the creative district isn’t to provide oversight but to facilitate and encourage collaboration.

“We want to work together to leverage more money for our community, see how we can cross-promote the initiatives that other people are doing in Longmont,” McKee said. “We don’t want to step on any toes. The more everyone can support our creative community, it’s going to be beneficial for all.”

To that end, the LDDA and Creative District team have engaged “champions” for the creative industries in Longmont. These champions are chosen from local artists, musicians, restaurant owners and other businesses to help the district stay connected and work towards addressing the needs of creatives in Longmont through a public town hall.

In 2010, the LDDA created an arts and entertainment district downtown which immediately worked to join the Colorado’s Creative Districts program. The Colorado Creative District was established in 2011 to recognize districts and municipalities that enhanced the cultural and economic vitality of the area. Longmont was one of the first five areas to receive prospective status in 2012, and was designated a Certified Creative District by the state in 2014. The certification was renewed for another five years in 2019.

“That first period of our creative district was about stabilization, was about attracting new businesses, about creating a sense of place,” McKee said. “I feel that we have done a great job with that.”

The next step for the district is to continue to foster growth for the community at large. Though currently under the oversight of the LDDA and an advisory board, the goal is to create a new nonprofit entity for the creative district. If the first ten years were about establishment, the next ten will be about broadening the scope of collaboration and opportunity for all the creative organizations in Longmont, according to McKee. It’s also about opening up the conversation with the community as a whole, to be as inclusive and equitable as possible. 

The LDDA partners with the nonprofit organization AmeriCorps for outreach and engagement. AmeriCorps is a federal agency for community service and outreach that provides resources and staffing to aid underserved communities. AmeriCorps VISTAs are volunteers and employees that work in civic and nonprofit organizations in administrative and support capacities.

“We have two of our AmeriCorps Vistas that are working on a project to go into communities that have been underserved, or that haven’t really seen a reflection of themselves or their cultures in what we’ve been doing, and take the show on the road,” McKee said. “We’re going to take a showcase of artists, musicians and creatives and engage with those communities where they live to talk about what kind of things they would like to see in the Creative District.”

“I think that’s where it starts, meeting people where they live and talking to them in environments they’re comfortable to see who is missing and who should be a part of the conversation,” McKee said. “To build their trust and build on the requests, to see what we can all do to work together to make this a fantastic place that’s a reflection of the whole community.”

To that end, the LDDA is working with organizations like El Comite to engage the Latino community and other voices of color to bring in new perspectives. 

Elaine Waterman, executive director for the Firehouse Art Center, also sits on the board for the Creative District and is a lead organizer for Longmont’s ArtWalk this year. The Firehouse Art Center took over the management of ArtWalk after the ArtWalk organization was merged with the Firehouse in 2019.

“We’re trying to invite more diverse perspectives into our exhibits (at the Firehouse),” Waterman said. “More women, more LGBTQ, indigenous, First Nations, more voices of color in our art community. We’re trying to make sure we’re exposing Longmont to creative voices of color, but we can do more and definitely have more work to do.”

Waterman felt that the town hall approach to the Creative District was a positive step. 

“It’s so great to work with these other businesses and industry creatives in fields I wouldn’t typically work with,” Waterman said. “I think that Longmont has a great culture of collaboration and openness to new ideas, and that is why entrepreneurs and creatives love living here. Being a part of the Creative District opens up avenues of networking and innovation, and that is important during tough times, like during the pandemic. I have never felt like I was alone doing the work of supporting artists and creativity at the Firehouse.”

Other art groups in Longmont are working to join the community as a whole, and define a place within Longmont’s creative ecosystem. The Longmont Artist’s Guild was originally formed in 1957, making it the oldest active art organization in Longmont. Though the Guild’s membership is predominantly visual artists, they are open to all creative disciplines.

“The Guild’s focus going forward as everything reopens (after the pandemic) is to have a lot more hands in a lot more pots than we ever had before, in the sense of collaboration,” said Christina Boykin, vice president and media director for the Guild.

“I’ve noticed that since the years since Arts Longmont dissolved, pandemic excluded, there’s a sort of disconnect where these various circles don’t necessarily overlap or if they do, it’s in slim ways,” Boykin said. “I’d like to make those overlaps thicker. I’d like our member artists to know people in other groups, collaborate and be inspired. Getting involved with the Guild was my way to help do that, and the way I see us positioned is headed right for that.”

Boykin wants the organizations to overlap and benefit from each other, not only through members but joining each other’s events. 

“I loved the April Fool’s Day parade Left Hand Artist Group did, for just the absurdity to break things up and make a pop of color,” Boykin said. “I think all the groups could benefit from these things, if there was a way to make those connections known.”

“We want to create a sense of place in the core of the community. No matter where you are, you can come showcase your creative talents, you can be part of things that are happening here,” McKee said. “I think it’s a great time to get involved, no matter where you’re at in Longmont. If anyone is interested in being more involved with the district, they should let us know.”

Update/Correction: It was previously stated that the Firehouse took over management of ArtWalk from Arts Longmont, which was incorrect. ArtWalk was an independent nonprofit and was merged with the Firehouse to best manage both organizations resources. The article has been updated to reflect this information.