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As we embark on a new year, I am struck by how much has changed in Paonia in the nine short years I’ve lived here. When I came to Paonia in 2011, the coal mines were still operating, downtown was sleepy, housing prices were low, and rent was affordable. At that time, several nonprofits like The Paradise Theatre and Elsewhere Studios were for-profit enterprises. There wasn’t much public art beyond the murals at Poulos Park and the mexican restaurant. The Blue Sage Center for the Arts and Glennie Coombe Gallery were the only places in town to display artwork. And, the North Fork Valley Creative Coalition was merely an informal, grassroots group of artists that met regularly to develop a Creative District that did not exist.

Now, in 2020, we have seen all but one of the coal mines close, housing prices skyrocket, Air B&Bs take the place of once affordable homes to rent long-term, and a state-certified Creative District operating for eight years. It’s hard not to make a correlation between the Creative District and gentrification. By definition, gentrification is “the process of renovating and improving a house or district so that it conforms to middle-class taste.” And, historically, when artists move into a community they bring the “cool” factor that attracts investments from the middle-class. So, Paonia, we’re caught in a catch-22 scenario. While many of us want to see a vibrant downtown with beautiful street-scapes, abundant public art, and bustling businesses, many of us do not want to see the conflicting dilemma of the rising cost of living. I’m poised to ask, “where do we go from here?”

The only way to control growth and change in our community is to actively participate in the process. The coalition is working with the Town of Paonia on several projects that will preserve our quality of life, revitalize our downtown, provide affordable housing, and ensure a prosperous future. In order for us to be successful, your participation is not only desired, it is required. In order to manifest a future that you want to see rather than one you do not desire, get involved. It’s your civic right! The Town of Paonia is currently undergoing a master planning process. Public Input meetings are being held and online surveys are being distributed. Please visit the Town of Paonia website to take the most recent online survey on the “Arts & Culture” chapter of the Town’s new master plan. For more information, contact Susie Lowe, Executive Director of North Fork Valley Creative Coalition, at