Elaine Brett, Paonia Space To Create

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Elaine Brett is a social architect in the small mountain town of Paonia, Colorado. She works with the arts community in Paonia via the North Fork Valley Creative Coalition and the town of Paonia toward creating a new vision of a local and steady economy.

CultureBank Questions

Where – in what community – do you primarily do your work?

I live in Paonia Colorado, a small rural town on the Western Slope nestled between the West Elk Wilderness and the Grand Mesa. Paonia is the largest of three small towns that make up the North Fork Valley. We are blessed with a beautiful mountain landscape, dark night skies and small organic farms that surround an eclectic community of farmers, ranchers, coal miners, retirees, and artists.

There is something about the area that is hard to explain–it grabs you. The Utes said that “the Valley chooses you.” Today, as the local economy is transitioning away from coal and ranching, the Valley is “choosing”” artists, entrepreneurs, healers, shamans, and outdoor activists. We are experiencing young families and young retirees looking for ways to not just make a living, they are desiring to make a life here.

Our issue is to create a steady economy without changing the essential things that make this place special, and avoid being overtaken by excessive growth.

What gets you going each day and inspires your current work?

I look out my window and see the North face of Lamborn Mountain and the West Elk range. This formation unites our community and is a focal point for many conversations. It is the source of our water and our food and is the inspiration of many artistic pieces.

When you work in your community, what are the most valuable assets of the community that you experience aside from real estate and money?

The former Mayor of Paonia said, “the things that are most important to our community have nothing to do with money.” Our greatest asset is our community – the way people work together and play together, how they support each other and take care of each other.

How is artistic practice integrated into your enterprise?

I don’t consider myself an artist, rather a social architect. I make connections that are meaningful contributions to the future by convening community members to ask the hard questions, initiate the right conversations, support local choice, and act on what matters most.

In our Space to Create project we are bridging the government sector (Town of Paonia) with the arts sector (Creative Coalition) and working with public-private partnerships with the goal of establishing affordable housing for those working in creative industries. The end-game is a steady, sustainable economy that supports this community now and in the future.

What is the impact of your work on your community? Today? Over a long period of time?

The towns of the West have been plagued with boom & bust economies driven by the mining industry. We hope to establish a “steady” economy based on establishing creative industries. We are not seeking uncontrolled growth. We will maintain a great quality of life that honors our land, our heritage and our community.

The Nitty Gritty

When was your project founded?

The Town was founded in 1902, the North Fork Valley Creative Coalition in 2012, and the Space to Create Project in 2017.

What is your staffing situation like?

We are mostly volunteers along with help from the Town Staff.

How does your revenue break down?

The Creative Coalition’s annual budget is approximately $50,000. In our first year of Space to Create we spent about $70,000 in consulting fees for ArtSpace Feasibility and Market studies. Funding was provided by the State and a private foundation. As Space to Create moves into pre-development and development phases with ArtSpace, the combined budget of the Town and Creative Coalition will grow to accommodate the design and development work.

Learn more about this project:

North Fork Valley Creative Coalition website
North Fork Heart & Soul website
What Matters Most, A video by Jordan Shevene
From the Ground Up, A video by Teya Cranson