Mar 24, 2023

A Blossoming Initiative: How the Space to Create Colorado Approach is Reviving Rural Communities | THE ARTSPACE QUARTERLY

Grand Opening of Artspace Loveland Lofts




It’s February 2016. Kelley Lindquist, the staff of Artspace, and the community of Loveland are celebrating the Grand Opening of Artspace Loveland Lofts, the first Artspace development in the state of Colorado. The joyous event filled with community-led art, remarks by city and state officials, and a party lasting through the night is the culmination of six years of work—a long and sometimes arduous timeline that the people, partners, and processes of Artspace are built to withstand. 


Forty-six miles south of Loveland is Colorado’s capitol city, Denver, and the office of then-Governor John Hickenlooper. Witnessing the accomplishment from afar and sending his congratulations on the successful feat, he sees the Loveland project as a template to address the longstanding need for affordable housing in rural communities across the state. Soon after, he sets up a meeting with Margaret Hunt of Colorado Creative Industries, Tim Schultz of the Boettcher Foundation, and Lindquist, and together they draft the plans for what would become Space to Create Colorado.



“We were captivated by Artspace’s model of combining housing for artists with community arts space,” said Tim Schultz. “We approached Artspace about adapting its model to rural communities because we saw an opportunity to help rural Colorado towns revive their main streets while tackling issues of affordable housing.”



After finding support from public agencies like the Department of Local Affairs and Colorado Housing Finance Authority, Governor Hickenlooper officially announces the $45 million project—the nation's first state-led initiative providing affordable workforce housing for the creative sector in rural and mountain communities. The initiative would eventually surpass $100 million in public-private partnerships. 



“Artists, artisans, and creative enterprises are the heart and soul of Colorado communities,” said Margaret Hunt. “Creative people not only inspire us with their work, they are brilliant community problem solvers. Creative industries represent 4.2% of GDP and are an economic development strategy for rural communities to diversify and grow the state economy.”


Spanning eight regions in the state, the initiative set up a clear process and specific parameters to qualify for a Space to Create Colorado development with Artspace as the lead nonprofit consultant and developer. Towns with a robust artistic community and sense of creativity would be encouraged to apply through Colorado Creative Industries to acquire a state-certified Creative District designation, and from there could qualify for a development. Through this process, the city of Trinidad was selected as the demonstration project; and the town of Ridgway would follow shortly after. 



The iconic Trinidad sign on top of Simpson’s Rest overlooking the city

The iconic Trinidad sign on top of Simpson’s Rest overlooks the city. Jordan Amrani / Artspace Projects


Demonstrating Success

Located in the southwest corner of Colorado, close to the border of New Mexico, sits the historic town of Trinidad. Described by almost every community member as being eclectic, the former mining town often associated with being Al Capone’s hideaway now touts one of the most thriving creative communities in the state. Though the Trinidad Space to Create project would soon run into some bumps in the road, it eventually found its stride through what Marilyn Leuzer of Corazón de Trinidad Creative District describes as “the cities’ strength of perseverance.” The project found its home in the form of three preserved buildings on one whole block in the middle of its main street downtown, as well as a newly constructed development of 28 housing units six blocks away. In September 2022, the completed project and its occupied units opened their doors to the public for its official Grand Opening celebration. 



One of the many art cars from the Art Cartopia Museum

One of the many art cars from the Art Cartopia Museum. Jordan Amrani / Artspace Projects



The morning of the Grand Opening was filled with community members with frazzled brains sweeping up the last bits of nails and drywall dust, hanging local art, and waving to curious onlookers who couldn’t help but drive by for a quick peek into their exciting new arts facility. But as the iconic, bedazzled Artocade trucks rolled right into the building and residents set up their art demonstrations, we waved to all the onlookers to come on inTrinidad Space to Create was now theirs. Celebrating the Artspace way, the evening was jampacked with commercial tenants showcasing their products, residents touring their spaces, artists describing their pieces, live music, an invocation poem by Colorado Poet Laureate Bobby LeFebre, remarks from Mayor Phil Rico, and regards from now-Senator John Hickenlooper. 



“We share your commitment to ensuring that every American has access to an affordable, quality place to live,” said Senator Hickenlooper. “Rural economic development and the creative economy remain priorities for me and all my team.”



Also present for the celebration was the Mayor of Ridgway, John Clark. Riding his bicycle to the party, he marveled at the community-led effort to build a long-term solution to housing needs. His excitement grew in anticipation for the next Space to Create Colorado project in his own town 300 miles west within the San Juan mountains. Artspace is set to celebrate the Ridgway Space to Create Grand Opening in June.



Mayor John Clark among the crowd

Mayor John Clark among the crowd. Jordan Amrani / Artspace Projects



As the party continued through the evening, we were able to find Marilyn in the quiet of her office. One of the forces of nature behind the project’s success was holding a bottle of champagne in one hand and mini paper cups in the other. With a mischievous laugh, she let out a peaceful sigh. Knowing that this would be one of her last full days before her planned retirement, we asked what her hopes and dreams were for the space and for the Creative District that she spent years stewarding.



"My dream for Trinidad is for people of all avenues and all aspects of our community to use this space for numerous purposes,” she said. “And for people who may be at odds with one another to come together with a common goal of having conversations and understanding each other." 



That’s a dream she extends to all future Artspace developments throughout Colorado. Looking ahead, Space to Create Colorado projects are set for Grand Lake, Carbondale, and Salida.   



Marilyn Leuzer

Marilyn Leuszler. Jordan Amrani / Artspace Projects


Urban Cities Too

Though the Space to Create Colorado initiative is focused on rural and mountain towns, these smaller communities aren’t the only places in need of affordable housing. Knowing of Artspace’s long-standing work throughout the state thanks to the trust-building of our Consulting division, grassroots efforts to bring Artspace developments to larger cities still occur, such as the Downtown Partnership of Colorado Springs. Following the traditional process of feasibility studies, market surveys, pre-development, fundraising, and financing, we are proud to announce that Artspace Colorado Springs will officially begin construction after the groundbreaking ceremony this spring. 



For more than four decades, Artspace has led a national movement by collaborating with communities in urban and rural neighborhoods to ensure access to stable housing and workspace–this tried and proven work is not new to the Artspace team. Being a cornerstone of a state-driven, multi-agency, public-private initiative, however, is a new honor. As a result, this unique partnership has developed more projects in Colorado than in any other state outside of Minnesota. “This first-of-its-kind model is a new strategy for us in addressing affordable housing needs,” Artspace President Kelley Lindquist reflects. “We’re meeting the needs of thousands of creative people and hundreds of cultural institutions from a holistic approach, viewing every community throughout the state of Colorado as indispensable contributing members to economic and cultural vitalization. We couldn’t be more proud of this work and are excited to share this approach with other states ready to take the leap.” 



This piece was written by Kevin Duong, Manager of Communications & Community Engagement at Artspace Projects.