Artfully Edmonds: Edmonds crosses finish line first for Creative District designation

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About 60 civic leaders and interested citizens filled City Hall’s Brackett Room Monday as the City of Edmonds officially received its designation as Washington state’s first (and thus far only) certified Creative District.

Karen Hanan, executive director of the Washington State Arts Commission (ArtsWA), congratulated Edmonds and read a statement from Gov. Jay Inslee, who said Edmonds serves as a role model for other communities seeking certification.

“Edmonds has a wealth of cultural assets that are attractive not only to its residents and to visitors, but also to employers and innovative businesses who are looking for a vibrant community that will attract a talented workforce,” the governor’s statement read. “A special congratulations to Mayor Earling, City Economic Development Director Patrick Doherty, City Arts and Culture Manager Frances Chapin and the many community stakeholders who came together to craft [an] ambitious five-year work plan.”

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal’s representative, Yazmin Mehdi, was also on hand to congratulate our city. She singled out the great work being done at the Edmonds Center for the Arts, the Edmonds Public Library and the city’s Diversity Film Series as prime examples of why Edmonds is worthy of a creative district designation. “The congresswoman and I look forward to witnessing how Edmonds leads the way in creativity in Washington, and particularly in Washington’s 7th Congressional District,“ Mehdi said.

Earling was pleased, telling the crowd: “When we are competing for something, I tell them to go ahead, but I want to win! Staff will attest to that — if we are going to go ahead with something, we want to be the first to get there. I’m so delighted to receive this recognition for the city. This will be an opportunity for us to grow jobs related to the arts.”

It was also nice to see Councilmembers Dave Teitzel, Neal Tibbott and Kristiana Johnson in attendance.

Edmonds came over the finish line first among a field of about 25 communities interested in achieving this designation. 

ArtsWA Program Director Annette Roth has been spearheading the project for the state.

“We look forward to working with the city over the next five years to really build on its successes to enhance its creative economy and achieve its objectives,” Roth said. “Edmonds is the first Creative District, and we are working with other communities around the state that we hope will be able to join them as Creative Districts in the coming months.”

Roth said the state plans to add four to six communities to the list of Creative Districts, each year for the next several years.

The Washington State Art Commission’s stated goal is to help communities statewide grow their local economies through arts and cultural activities as well as establish new partnerships between creative and other businesses.

“We want to create an ecosystem for economic development specifically to promote and grow arts and culture,” Roth said.

So, what does all this really mean for Edmonds?

According to Edmonds City Economic Development Director Patrick Doherty, the city will be focusing resources starting in January.

“We’re very interested in attracting creative businesses. It’s not about the big 100- to 200-employee businesses, because there’s really no place to put them. We want to attract the little ‘boutique’ creative businesses — those with eight to 10 employees,” Doherty said.

Currently, a small matching grant is available from the state, which will also provide technical assistance as needed, and signage on state roads and highways will be furnished by the commission. 

Each Creative District will have goals specific to its community, but in order to maintain the designation, the city will provide annual reporting subject to state review of progress made on benchmarks set in each five-year plan.

Edmonds Cultural Services Manager Frances Chapin pointed out that although the creative district itself is generally a walkable boundary around the downtown core, they envision partnerships with Edmonds Community College, the Edmonds School District, and other art-related organizations outside of the district’s actual geographic borders. (See map.)

 “People need to know this is not just about the arts,” she said. “This will include a lot of creative endeavors outside of our well-established fine arts core. We’ll be leveraging what we have, and encouraging economic growth that is compatible with our arts community.”

Graphic design businesses, architects and designers, artisans and craft fabricators, even the liquid arts such as distillers and artisan brewers, were some of the examples being discussed among the crowd.

In many respects, what the Edmonds Creative District is — or becomes — is up to us. If nothing comes of it, we will have only ourselves to blame. 

Growth is inevitable. Planning for and tailoring that growth is optional, but it’s an option I think we’d be wise to pursue.

Let’s look upon this as a challenge and an opportunity to develop a more vibrant creative community, cross pollinating and networking together to enrich the lives of us all.

— By James Spangler

When not actively scheming about ways to promote the arts in Edmonds, James Spangler can be found (highly caffeinated) behind the counter of his bookstore on 4th Avenue.

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