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Creating an ‘Arts Town’

The Archuleta Economic Development Association and its supporters made an excellent decision this week — opting to restructure the organization to create a Community Development Corporation, altering the non-profit status of the group, thus allowing it greater leeway in raising funds for its efforts, and prompting what should be a more productive board and committees.

News of the creation of a CDC, coupled with news of the town’s move to create a long-term capital improvement plan, prompt more thoughts about economic development— untutored as those thoughts often are.

Some of the thoughts are extreme but, often, it is a far-fetched notion that bears the most fruit. All notions based on a certain amount of evidence are worthy of consideration.

With all the talk of “high fliers and lone eagles,” and the attendant efforts to stimulate the migration of individuals to Pagosa Country who work at home or run businesses at a distance, we can’t help but think there is another community of business people who might move here, flourish and, in turn, lead to the growth of a substantial and enduring business sector and the blossoming of a new tourist base.

Artists. And the businesses that inevitably accompany a thriving arts community.

By artists, we mean professional visual artists, musicians, theater folk and the like — individuals with established reputations and experience who make their living as artists, art dealers and arts entrepreneurs in the private sector.

Why not make Pagosa an “arts town?”

“We are too far off the beaten track,” some might say. Ever been to Taos? It is every bit as much out of the way, every bit as isolated as Pagosa Country. Sedona? The same. Pagosa has the surrounding environment to match either of these towns. What it does not have yet is the allure. To make the place attractive to artists will require serious work on the part of the local mavens of economic development.

What could be done to attract artists, galleries, clubs, recording studios, professional theater groups to Pagosa? Is there some kind of cooperation possible between a CDC, governments and banking and lending institutions that could lead to “deals” being worked for residential and commercial properties? Are there districting options available that would promote arts-related business development in designated areas? Could there be cooperation among entities (governments and property owners’ associations, for example) that would allow for areas now zoned commercial and industrial to accommodate live/work facilities?

The move to create an “arts town” would not and should not, require large-scale, publicly-funded projects and facilities (with one possible exception, noted below), but rather incremental changes — tax incentives to encourage arts business growth in certain neighborhoods, incentives for arts-related renovations, arts-specific fee waivers, etc.

Artists are always looking for welcoming environments in which to do their work in quiet comfort, places where their commercial establishments can be housed (galleries, small theatre facilities, etc.). Restaurants, quality retail outlets and clubs follow. And visitors follow as well, once a reputation is established. Check out Marfa, Texas. Who would have imagined?

Also, we again come to the idea that, once the significant capital improvement of a new wastewater treatment plant is completed by the town, the next investment could be in a facility on Reservoir Hill, in the creation of a permanent concert and festival site — one that could be in use throughout the temperate season. Such a facility, over time, could be put to use by concert, theater and festival promoters, hosting events that would further boost cultural tourist traffic to the area as it becomes known as a prime entertainment destination. Such things, coupled with the incredible outdoor recreational opportunities in Pagosa Country, could provide solid economic input to the area.

So, when our newly energized economic development organization gets to business, we hope some of its work aims to make this an “arts town.”