06/07/2013 11:42 am ET Updated Aug 07, 2013

Colorado Rebrands Itself

The State of Colorado advertises itself as the home of "creative industries".

While statistics are fuzzy, the National Assembly of State Art Agencies (NASAA) points out that Colorado is one of a handful of states that has developed a strategy to use art and culture districts as a means to transform the state, and promote economic development. But more than that, by adopting such an aggressive plan Colorado clearly intends to be a magnet for the "creative class."

They also did something unique that may be a signal for other states, and indeed the nation, as we struggle to redefine our economy and ourselves for the age of innovation. They changed their statewide Council on the Arts into a new "Creative Industries" Division of the Office of Economic Development & International Trade.

It all seemed to start with the Beau Arts phenomenon in downtown Denver--at least as I remember it.

There was the Beau Arts train station, the Beau Arts style neighborhood, the Beau Arts Ball benefitting the National Jewish Hospital. They didn't call it an Art and Culture District, as the American for the Arts calls them, but that's what was, and it attracted the creative and talented to visit, work and live in the area.

Announcing the latest change, Colorado said their goal was "to create a strong brand identity, a Top 10 reputation, and create significant and sustained investment in the creative sector where creative entrepreneurs and enterprises will flourish."

All this followed much analysis and introspection:

"Based on the 2008 Creative Economy Study and input from the Creative Economy Advisory Panel, we established a strategic plan to identify outcomes, strategies and implementation activities that will result in educational advancement, economic growth and improved quality of life in drive economic growth in Colorado."

In making the change to emphasize creativity--not just the role of the arts--the Creative Industries Division discovered that:

• The number of jobs in creative enterprises ranks it as the 5th largest cluster of the Colorado economy, almost as large as biotechnology/biomedical and IT & telecommunications, and larger than defense & security and agribusiness, food processing & technology.

• Many creative occupations are expected to grow 30-45% over the next 10 years, far exceeding the projected state average growth rate of 25 percent. (And importantly, that)

• There is a significant amount of economic activity that is clearly creative but embedded in other industries.

The Governors Blueprint, a rather lengthy document produced after consultation with business, government, the larger non-profit sector, and consumers and citizens alike, focuses on economic development "to create jobs and grow the economy across Colorado." Specifically, it states that it is Colorado's "vision to foster Colorado's community of innovators, entrepreneurs and creative thinkers."

Four year later the statistics are impressive for a state just over 5 million people. The Creative Industries Division reported that creative industries economic impact for the state was $36 billion annually.

John Hickenlooper, former mayor of Denver and Colorado Governor has said," The essence of entrepreneurship is ... the exploration of innovation and creativity."

"Even before he was mayor," it is believed that "Hickenlooper understood the value that arts bring to business. (He) hired the first art curator for a microbrewery, and encouraged other restaurants to help revitalize Denver's Lower Downtown neighborhood into the vital urban neighborhood it is now-including some of the area's most prominent art galleries and music clubs."

Hickenlooper has been a tireless advocate for the arts as an engine for enhancing creative and innovative students and "partnered with the Colorado Council on the Arts to create an annual Arts Education Summit which ... has incubated grass-roots initiatives to restore arts education to Colorado's classrooms by empowering parents, teachers and administrators to create programs that work for their own schools."

According to Shelia Sears, Arts Education Manager of the new Division, there seems to be a lot happening that is all favorable.... people are talking to one another, meet-up groups are being formed, some major creative industries are moving into the state, and more small businesses and entrepreneurial ventures are sprouting up across the state. Equally important she noted, over 49 applications were received by communities looking for state designation as "art and culture districts."

While not every city will get to be an art and culture district recognized by the state, she said, more and more cities see the relevance, as do educators. The concept of art and art integration to workforce development are of concern to government, business, and philanthropic groups and are a high priority.

While the Creative effort in Colorado is still small (they operate with a minuscule budget and staff), their ideas--like those of the Governor and the legislature are big. Other states can learn something from Colorado.