We were so delighted last week to have Washington State Arts Commission (ArtsWA) Executive Director Karen Hanan stop by Vancouver for a visit. She had a whirlwind tour with local leaders, catching up on arts initiatives here and also sharing her vision for the certified creative district program now passed into law. (On May 8, Governor Inslee signed the bill that authorizes ArtsWA to develop and administer a certified creative districts program.)

On a sunny Monday morning in beautiful downtown Camas, Hanan described the creative districts program to attendees at a Main Street Program quarterly meeting. A few of us with Arts of Clark County sat in to listen. This is a really smart program, modeled after the successful creative districts program in Colorado. ArtsWA also intends to have built-in protections against the fate that some arts communities have met in becoming gentrified victims of their own success.

The idea of creative districts, certified by the state, is to provide incentives for communities to create hubs of economic activity around cultural activities and other supporting non-arts businesses. Hanan pointed to data showing how creative district certification in Colorado has had a direct positive impact on job growth and the economic vitality of communities. While criteria for Washington’s program are yet to be developed, there are a few key ingredients that make for a successful certified creative district.

Walkability is key. Ideally we need contiguous areas where people can explore a variety of arts and culture amenities on foot. There should be a synergy between art and non-art businesses. A creative district is best built on existing successes. Affordable housing ought to be included in the district and, finally, good collaboration with city government is essential, according to Hanan. She said that ArtsWA hopes to partner with ArtSpace on every new creative district, ensuring affordable live-work spaces as a component.

This new program is in its infancy. By fiscal year end, July 2018, ArtsWA expects to have a Creative Districts program manager in place and be ready to roll. Hanan envisions developing a “creative district readiness score” for prospective applicants.

What will be Vancouver’s readiness score?