The Life of a Solopreneur

Grid display of letters spelling create and black and white images. The Life of a Solopreneur

A story of how creative districts can support creatives on their journey

What does it mean to be creative? Officially it means “relating to or involving the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.” Everyone has the ability to be creative. Whether coloring in a coloring book or building a gingerbread house during the holidays, those are acts of creativity. However, what it means to be “a creative” is a bit different. A creative uses their imagination and original ideas to produce artistic works — as a profession.

“I think anyone can be a creative. Society doesn’t support that. It’s not practical. To take the huge plunge and say I don’t care is a huge thing,” says Heather Bean, Owner of Syntax Distillery and Cocktail Bar in Greeley, Colorado.

In Colorado, the creative industry boasts over a $16 billion economic impact and in a smaller community like in Greeley it has got an even larger impact. To help communities like Greeley support and grow the local creative industry, Colorado Creative Industries (CCI) implemented the Colorado Creative Districts program to contribute to the state’s economy through creativity, culture, and the arts.

“The heart of the Creative Districts program is around supporting creative communities. It’s a community and economic development strategy that builds a network of support for individuals working in creative professions,” says Christine Costello, Deputy Director of Colorado Creative Industries.

“In Greeley, we’re seeing a lot of newer businesses being more creative,” says Jason Evenson, Executive Director of the Greeley Creative District. “In our location, we have more creatives in business. We’re a smaller area which allows creatives to make an even bigger impact in the community.”

"The Greeley Creative District can encourage you to take the leap. We need people to appreciate our creative pursuits,” says Bean.

“Half of the fun is making the thing but the other half is about sharing it and receiving the thing. We need a community of those who appreciate art and creativity,” says Armando Silva, Greeley Painter and Artist.

It is widely known that creative pursuits can be a challenging career path. Think of being a writer or a painter. Many don’t see those careers as economically viable even though there are many examples that debunk this idea. Many creatives are solopreneurs, meaning their work is in fact a business. They are the operation themselves and that can be quite challenging on its own.

“Everyone can be a creative. There are different hats we all wear. It’s important how you show up to do your thing,” says Silva. “As we are a Creative District the question here is how are you going to apply your creativity.”

It takes courage to own the identity of “creative” but in Greeley there’s so much support that the question becomes, what do you want to do in that identity?

“What’s special about our community is that the branding of the Creative District is there but we also know who the players are,” says Silva.

“There’s this perception that we’re the controller here. That’s not true. We say go do your thing and tell us what it is so we can tell everyone,” says Evenson.

The Creative District program is there to provide support for artists and others to express and explore themselves. There are currently 30 creative districts across the state from smaller communities like in Greeley, to the western slope in Grand Junction, and in larger cities like Denver and Fort Collins. It takes a lot to be different and pursue a passion that many may think isn’t the right move to make for so many reasons. In a world where career decisions can be judged how does one ignore all of that and pursue those creative interests anyway?

“In some ways the Creative District is a shortcut to community,” says Evenson.

“The district does a good job of supporting ideas. It allows us to connect to other creatives. There’s this weird magic trick of seeing the creative district flag at different events, it automatically legitimizes things,” says Silva.

In Greeley imposter syndrome is understood but the remedy to this is community and the Creative District program is a catalyst for this.

“My business is among a very small group of craft distilleries. We opened in 2010 and there wasn’t a lot of support and marketing and promotion was not my forte. Once the Creative District was established, it helped get the word out about what we’re doing. Promotion is expensive, marketing is expensive. The district is a great place for connecting with people and finding support,” says Bean.

To oversee the Colorado Creative Districts program, CCI certifies communities that contribute to our state’s economy through creativity, culture, and the arts. It is a program that has a concentration of arts and cultural organizations and creative enterprises. These are designated and certified by the state allowing varying types of support to flow into these areas for economic growth. Of course non-arts businesses such as restaurants, shops, and more exist within these communities but the distinguishing factor for these areas is the concentration of artists and creatives alike.

“For Greeley, our district will be 10 years old next year. Recertification happens every five years. There’s quarterly reporting that’s required and ensuring the strategic plan in place is effective. Our focus in Greeley is about providing resources and networking. We’re tracking how many people are coming into the district, and the tax impact of that,” says Evenson.

Having a state presence focused on creatives and artists does a lot to legitimize creative work. It can also draw in creatives from other markets with the big difference between small and big cities being the intentional connection and access to opportunities.

“Moving to a smaller and unknown place is new territory, it provides lots of opportunities. You can build new traditions and shape the culture and community there which is something that you may not be able to do in a larger city,” says Silva.

Colorado’s Creative Districts program is a call to creatives everywhere to come here and build a colorful and artistic community and future. Come here to build your best work and know that you have support. We call ourselves “colorful Colorado,” that may have something to do with all of the artists who beautify Colorado.

“Colorado has a chill culture. My perspective comes from being a coastal engineer. Sometimes a smaller pond is more comfortable. The things I do here have an impact. It’s a really lovely culture of community here, one where I know I’m passing something on,” says Bean.