Scores of galleries, retail stores and nonprofits in Downtown Colorado Springs, Old Colorado City and Manitou Springs will be open late on April 5 for the inaugural First Friday event of the 2019 season.

First Friday ArtWalk spans what’s coming to be known as the Creative Corridor, which links the creative districts of Downtown Colorado Springs and Manitou with Old Colorado City.

ArtWalks take place from 5-8 p.m. the first Friday of each month. They feature gallery openings with many artists on-site, live demonstrations, special performances, and shopping and dining. A free shuttle bus runs continuous loops through the corridor, allowing patrons to park in one location and access all three areas.

“There are something like 65 art galleries from Manitou Springs to Downtown Colorado Springs,” said Natalie Johnson, director of the Manitou Art Center and the Manitou Springs Creative District. “That provides a lot of opportunity.”

Claire Swinford, urban engagement manager for the Downtown Partnership and First Friday program administrator, said the three districts have co-branded as the Creative Corridor. That happened in early 2018, after a successful 2017 season.

“That branding initiative is actively focused on regional and national tourism, making First Friday available to folks coming in from outside the community as a cultural amenity,” she said.

- Advertisement -

Downtown businesses invited to participate are not limited to galleries.

“We invite any business that is operating in the creative sector,” Swinford said.

According to Swinford, the state’s working definition of a creative organization is broad: It includes businesses and nonprofits that have “an aesthetic or handmade element, and that can be as wide as the culinary arts, distilling, handmade apparel and other forms of craft goods. Anything that involves the hands and the brain, we invite to participate and show off what they do.”

Participants see spikes in attendance whenever there’s a special event. On Sept. 7, 2018, when a progressive dessert tasting called the Popsicle Promenade was featured during First Friday, attendance topped 4,900, a total based on the 26 venues that reported their head counts for the evening. By comparison, the previous month’s head count was about 3,900.

It’s not just participants that benefit.

“First Friday programming ultimately impacts the entire downtown,” Swinford said. “The streets are full. People are going not only to the galleries and music venues, but they’re also going out to eat, maybe having dinner with friends, doing a little shopping at the retail locations that stay open late. They are patronizing all sorts of businesses, not just the galleries.”

The benefits and economic impact of the creative industry are borne out by data compiled and provided to the Downtown Partnership.

The Downtown Creative District, which encompasses the 80903 ZIP code area, scored high on the Creative Vitality Index, a tool developed by the Denver-based Western States Arts Federation. It measures the concentration of creative jobs, creative industries, arts nonprofit revenue and population in a region.

In 2017, the Downtown Creative District scored a value of 6.25 — a ranking much higher than the United States average index value of 1.0. The ranking has been climbing every year.

Additional data provided to the Downtown Partnership by WESTAF showed that the district’s creative industries earned more than $65 million in 2017 and provided 1,454 jobs. Cultural nonprofits generated more than $12 million.

During the upcoming First Friday in April, Swinford will lead a walking tour featuring the new, expanded ArtSpot public art exhibit. The tour starts at 6 p.m. at the northwest corner of Boulder and Tejon streets and progresses to a selection of First Friday venues. The tours continue monthly, guided by a different local artist or curator each month.

Since 2005, ArtWalks have been a First Friday feature in Old Colorado City, which has about 15 galleries. The events were originated by Sharon Wolff, owner of Hunter-Wolff Gallery.

“I was a new business owner, and I discovered that Colorado Springs did not have an art walk,” Wolff said. “I had done a lot of traveling, and nearly every city I ever visited had some type of art walk, art hop or first Friday.”

Since then, “ArtWalk has really become the vehicle to make Old Colorado City a destination place,” she said. “There are a number of us community influencers and leaders trying to put Downtown Colorado Springs, Old Colorado City and Manitou Springs on the map as an art corridor, and ArtWalk is part of that plan. We see it as the vehicle to get us to that creative corridor status.”

A wide range of businesses, from banks and wealth managers to restaurants, sponsor the events in Old Colorado City.

“They see the value to the community,” Wolff said. “An event like this improves the community overall and is a benefit to all of us.”

First Fridays also bring bigger crowds to Manitou Springs, where there are about 14 galleries.

“We’re bringing folks into town from 5-8 p.m., prime time for enjoying dinner and drinks,” Johnson said. “Folks that enjoy and purchase art often have a fairly high income level and can spend a little money. They’re great people to bring to town.”

On an ArtWalk evening when the weather is good, most of the shops in Manitou will stay open if there’s activity on the street, Johnson said.

“The Manitou Art Center participates; it’s a really big night for us,” she said. “We’re launching an art market in our parking lot this summer and we often have live music. We will always have two new shows every ArtWalk. The artists will almost always be available to talk about their work, and we will have a bar set up and food.”

For the April First Friday, the MAC is featuring Wunderkind, an exhibit of work by junior and senior high school students, and a new exhibit in the First Amendment Gallery showcasing work that has the theme of time.

The shuttle has been a well-received addition to First Fridays, offering onboard entertainment for riders as well as transportation.

“[The Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region] got that ball rolling two years ago as a trial,” Wolff said. “It had enough support, funding and ridership to warrant pursuing it for another season.”

This year, the shuttle will operate from 4:30-9:30 p.m. on First Fridays to allow riders to enjoy local dining options. The shuttle’s route and schedule are posted at peakradar.com.