Longmont hopes to become creative culture destination

Lexi Schwartz | Boulder Weekly

Downtown Longmont was no hotspot when Joanne Kirves, executive director of the Longmont Council for the Arts, began working in the community in 1999. However, it wasn’t for a lack of creative energy.

“There’s always been a very strong basis for an arts community here, and the thing we saw as a community of arts organizations is that people didn’t really know we were here,” Kirves says.

This, she says, is why the Longmont Council for the Arts and the Longmont Downtown Development Authority began working together.

“We saw that if we could bring all of our resources together and promote each other, promote the community as a whole, it would not only benefit our own organizations but help grow the entire district.”

With new galleries and offerings, more artists settling in the area, and historic venues looking to expand in the community, those growing the district are excited about the possibility of Longmont gaining recognition as an arts center.

In 2013 Colorado Creative Industries, a division of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, named parts of downtown Longmont a Prospective Colorado Creative District. Come 2014, those behind the district are hoping to become an official Colorado Creative District.

With the official title comes a $15,000 creative development grant, recognition by the governor, and assistance with marketing, data gathering, fundraising and more.

Kimberlee McKee of the Longmont Downtown Development Authority, is leading the charge to get Longmont’s full certification.

“What we’re trying to do is energize downtown and the downtown area,” McKee says.

Colorado Creative Industries sets out guidelines for the creative districts, including “economic vitality,” “regularly scheduled events and attractions,” and “a cluster of galleries and performing venues.”

McKee thinks downtown Longmont fits the bill perfectly.

“We had great things to build on: two independent theaters, the old Firehouse and Muse galleries, six places to take music lessons, a dance studio, interactive merchants, a yarn store to learn knitting, paint-your-own-pottery, lots of vibrant retail and restaurants,” says McKee.

The district saw an uptick in creative spaces this fall, as new galleries took root along Main Street.

Gallery aHa, created by local artist Gary Markowitz, opened in November at 338 Main St. after Markowitz returned from time spent abroad.

Markowitz says his work with the Longmont Council for the Arts is focused on making Gallery aHa into the sort of “creative hub” the district wants to see downtown, with “artistic discussion groups, events and music.”

“We’re working to create a space of creativity, for artists locally, nationally and eventually internationally,” Markowitz says.

Markowitz also teaches oil painting in his gallery, and he joins Longmont artist Patricia Burton in spreading arts education. Burton, an artist with Rabid Rabits Galeria & Studio at 319 Main St., offers jewelry-making classes at the gallery alongside the displays of 30 different local artists.

Since moving to Main Street in May of 2013, Rabid Rabits has brought diversity to the visual arts, with photography, paintings, ceramics, the work of ironsmith Rusty Brockman and more.

Local artist Gamma Acosta has also contributed to the 300 block of Main Street. His mural “Longmont Stories” now covers a breezeway with images of the town’s history, leading pedestrians to venues just off Main Street.

But visual arts are not all downtown Longmont has to offer. Firehouse Art Center has operated as a gallery in a historic firehouse downtown since 1986. Executive Director Jessica Kooiman is now trying to expand its offerings to include big-name musical guests. It will periodically convert into a concert space to bring “highly successful acts to Longmont, while supporting local and rising talents,” the Firehouse website says. For the first concert, a Nov. 23 Gregory Alan Isakov show, tickets sold out quickly.

Firehouse Art Center’s work is important, says McKee, because music is exactly what the community asked to see more of when surveyed in 2010.

“Stakeholder interviews and community input put music as the No. 1 priority,” McKee says. “I think Jessica [Kooiman] has done a fabulous job diversifying what they do.”

The Firehouse isn’t the only gallery offering musical opportunities downtown, though, as Kirves notes, the Muse Gallery also puts on a music program called “Longmont Live” three times a year.

“The whole idea behind the project is to help emerging musicians learn how to promote themselves; they stay for the whole event so they’re interacting with other musicians and learning from them, and at the end, they all play a song together. We’re building camaraderie,” Kirves says.

“There are so many synergies going on right now,” McKee says. “The district just has lots of dedicated volunteers and organizations really working together to make this [art district] happen in downtown Longmont.”

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