Transfer Warehouse

The Transfer Warehouse building, acquired by Telluride Arts, will soon be a hub for arts activities and events in downtown Telluride, as depicted in this architect’s rendering. (Image courtesy of Telluride Arts/LTL Architect)


The Telluride Arts District is thriving and growing. Following this summer’s visit to town by panelists from Colorado Creative Industries (CCI), the district, established in 2012, was recertified for another five years. The arts district’s certification status is re-evaluated every five years based on the success of the district to reach goals set in the Telluride Cultural Master Plan and by CCI.

Numerous representatives of arts organizations and galleries were on hand to greet the panelists, including the Sheridan Opera House, the Ah Haa School for the Arts, Telluride Historical Museum, Telluride Gallery of Fine Art and Telluride Arts HQ, among others. The day revolved around a picnic lunch in the Telluride Transfer Warehouse, hosted by the Telluride Arts board. Telluride Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park actors entertained the gathering with vignettes from this summer’s production of “Pericles.”

The importance of an arts district cannot be underestimated, according to Telluride Arts Executive Director Kate Jones.

“The Arts District and the cultural vitality it represents helps to maintain a creative vibrancy that keeps Telluride culturally interesting,” she said. “We know that resort towns are susceptible to a dampening and homogenization of culture, which would be a travesty in Telluride, and a dishonor to our history. The Arts District is a part of ensuring that culture, innovation, fearlessness, adventure and a healthy dose of irreverence remains a part of our local character.”

The arts in many communities are economic engines, providing jobs, cultural events and arts tourism. Telluride is no different, Jones said. A study using established metrics that take into account direct economic impact (jobs for locals), leakage (money that is being generated by the cultural sector but is spent elsewhere) and multipliers (money that is being generated in town and stays in town), revealed an outcome the local arts community  was gratified to see.

“We conducted an Arts and Economic Prosperity Study with Americans for the Arts when we established the Arts District five years ago to give us a baseline understanding of how the cultural sector impacts economic vitality in Telluride,” she explained. “We were able to determine that the arts sector has an impact 10 times that of comparable communities with populations of 50,000 or less. We know the Arts District has grown significantly since this time, and we’re due to conduct an update to see the growth in real numbers.”

Five years ago, Jones added, spending by arts audiences was $150.22 per person per day, compared to the national average of $24.60 for smaller communities. That includes food, lodging, clothing, gifts, transportation and other expenses. Nonresident attendees spent an average of  $382.29 per person per day. All told, the study revealed that the nonprofit arts and culture area in the Town of Telluride is a $37.4 million industry — one that supports 977 full-time equivalent jobs and generates $2.6 million in local and state government revenue.

“This report shows conclusively that the arts means business,” Jones said.

What impressed the visiting panelists this summer was the arts community’s spirit of collaboration. The meet and greet with representatives from the arts community and town officials, Jones said, “… basically knocked their socks off. One of the panelists noted that we seem especially collaborative here, which is a huge compliment.”

The CCI panel applied numerous criteria in its review, including district characteristics, management and planning, and community buy-in. The Telluride Arts District met a series of minimum standards to achieve its recertification, including recognition from local government, a high concentration of creative organizations and businesses, sustainable funding sources, paid staff, and a strategic plan, according to a recent CCI press release.

“The economic impact of the creative class and creative districts cannot be understated,” said Stephanie Copeland, Colorado Office of Economic Development director. “Investing in and supporting the arts provides the foundation for places where people want to live, work and visit.”

The arts community has seen significant growth in the past five years, Jones said. It’s a long list. 

“Telluride Theatre and the Black Box facility, the expansion of Mountainfilm being exported from Telluride to the country, Art + Architecture weekend promoting fine art, culinary and design, the new space in the town building for the Ah Haa, the shift in our local galleries to be more edgy, the new Dance Collective and dance programs at the Palm, the solid Opera House programming, the new Club Red, and the John Clute science fiction library, just to name a few,” Jones said.

One of Telluride Arts’ biggest and most ambitious plans is unfolding at the Telluride Transfer building, which has been acquired by the organization and is undergoing a phased reconstruction as an arts center. Calling it “ a tangible manifestation of the Arts District,” Jones admits it’s her favorite project. 

“It’s a true center for the arts that will serve the entire community, and a powerful move to secure a significant historic property for public use,” she added. “It represents how quickly we have been able to get traction as an Arts District, and how much is possible in this town.”

CCI welcomed two new Creative Districts to the fold this year: Downtown Grand Junction Creative District and Grand Lake Creative District. Other districts in the region include the arts communities of Ridgway, Paonia, Carbondale, Mancos and Crested Butte. There are 23 throughout the state.