Carbondale Arts’ Executive Director, Amy Kimberly, and I were in a spacious storage room at The Launchpad—a community ‘Space for the Arts’—talking about her years as a local leader in small towns throughout Colorado. We discussed her early beginnings in Telluride, CO, where she was steeped in the community, helping to produce the Telluride Bluegrass Festival for 21 years, taking part in the arts council, buying and running a night club, and starting the Nightgrass Festival—among other activities.
Intending not to live in Telluride indefinitely, in 2001, Kimberly relocated to Carbondale, where she could be closer to her daughter.
She became the Executive Director of Carbondale Arts in 2004 where she quickly became a pillar in the community. Not only does she use art to influence her town and express experiences across space and time, Kimberly is an outspoken advocate of affordable housing and sustainable community planning.
Sierra Jeter: Why would somebody [like yourself] who’s working in the arts be one of the top advocates for social equity and housing affordability?
Amy Kimberly: I think that in the 21st century, things are being done a little differently, and people are looking at different ways to maneuver the challenges having to do with planning, life, everything. And as we progress in that way, creativity is considered one of the key elements people are looking into as a means of problem solving.
I feel when it comes to social equity, as well as day to day planning, we [creatives] are able to look at things and bring a different perspective. Having creatives at the table in many different aspects that [we] weren’t normally invited to be a part of, such as community planning, affordable housing, zoning, etc. That cross section has created much more vibrancy in communities and has helped problem solve many of these issues that in the past people have tried to solve inside-of-the-box, but now more and more people are looking for solutions outside-of-the-box.
SJ: What is your vision, if you have one, for the future of your community?
AK: My art is creating experience and opportunity for people, and I had done the same thing in Telluride. It’s just my nature—I see these pathways to bring people together and to create community. So when I moved here, I saw that there was a good community already, but there had been some fracturing of the community over [various] issues. So, yes, it was a fairly fractured community, but it was a caring community.
I think that you always have to leave room for new vision, because change is the one constant. I feel that my vision really stemmed out of the fact that Carbondale was a community that was very good at saying no to things. We knew what we didn’t want, but we’d never come together around what we did want. So when the state started the Creative District Program, my original goal was, “Wow what a great concept to bring people together to have a conversation about what we may want in this community,” so that’s how that started, and its been an incredibly positive experience. There’s been very little push-back—people have been really able to express what they feel and what they want.
SJ: What advice do you have for other local leaders, or aspiring local leaders, who want to make an impact in their community?
AK: You just have to give a lot of time to get to know your community and let your community engage with you. Don’t mistake clarity of view for a short distance—you might know where you want to get to and where you think you should be, but sometimes it can take years and you have to be really patient. Just because you have that vision doesn’t mean everyone is going to buy in.
Many times you have to be willing to change your vision because of community input, and it’s important to hear what people have to say and be open to it, and have those conversations.
We get many calls from people asking, “How can we be like Carbondale?” And I’m always like, you can’t be like Carbondale—but you could be like yourself.
Overall, people are attracted to great places, and authenticity has a lot to do with that.
When small communities like Carbondale revitalize their town through art and creative placemaking, their true character, that already exists within the community, is sustained for current and future generations. As for Carbondale, the creatives were already there long before the Creative District Program. All the community needed was one (or twenty) passionate leaders to come together in establishing a vision for the future. And, according to Kimberly, that’s exactly what they did.