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STAGE THREE: ACTIVATE is focused on implementation. It’s about becoming operational, specifically legal structure, governance, partner synergies, programming, and planning.

Stage Three Checklist/Reminders:

  • Determine the best type of legal entity for your organization’s mission.

  • Aggregate and organize your community’s arts and culture programming.

  • Brainstorm future arts and culture activities for your community with your programming partners.

  • Develop an Action Plan that covers the current year and at least one more.

  • Complete and submit your CALL YOURSELF CREATIVE DIY Checklist


Research the type of legal entity you need to be

Up to this Stage, you may have been “operating” as a loosely organized band of creatives and community leaders—that’s okay!  Most grass-roots community organizing starts that way.

Now, however, as you begin to formalize your efforts and create systems and processes, you’ll need to select or set up the right type of legal entity for your future. Should you be a 501(c)3 or 501(c)6 nonprofit?  While more complex, you may decide that a Downtown Development Authority, a Business Improvement District, or other special districts allowable under state statutes is best for your group. A strong determinant is how you plan to fund your organization moving forward. This is no simple decision; it requires research and consideration—and maybe a little expert help along the way.

In some cases, you may already have an organization established or one that is already established by others . . . or you may organize as a program under another entity’s legal structure. And sometimes, creative districts are operated by a department of a local municipality.

All of these are viable options—but what’s the RIGHT one for your future? How do you decide? Don’t get stymied by this decision.  If you’re not already organized by your local municipality, follow these steps to guide your decision:

  • Read the resource included at the end of this Stage and those additional documents in Resources under the tiles labeled STAGE THREE: ACTIVATE and FUNDING.

  • Talk to existing creative districts and ask how they are organized. There are more than 20 state-certified district in Colorado. Here's a link to a PDF brochure that lists all the certified districts. Look through the list. Visit a website or two and pick a few that are similar to you. Then, reach out to that organization. Leaders of Creative Districts are busy folks, but if you can be flexible with scheduling, they are likely to be willing to have a call to share how they are organized.

  • After completing the above, speak with your local municipality and discuss options. Make an appointment to speak with your town or city manager. He or she will point you in the right direction for resources and support. If for some reason that's not a path you wish to follow, contact your town/city economic development manager to start a conversation about your goals.

In most circumstances, a 501(c)3 is the likely the best legal structure. While there are a number of steps to secure this tax-exempt status, it is not as difficult as it once was. In most cases, with a little diligence, you can navigate your way by reviewing a few online resources. A Form 1023 from the IRS is what grants 501c3 tax exempt status. There is a long form and a short form.  Review them both to see which best fits the scale of your organization. This type of tax-exempt entity will allow you to accept charitable contributions from individuals and businesses, set up a membership structure to collect dues, and apply for a broad array of public and private grants. 

If the 501c3 path is the one you choose--and you are an advanced DIYer--here are series of steps you could follow:

1) First go to Colorado Secretary of State website and form a Colorado Nonprofit.

2) Once that's formed, then apply for an Federal Employee Identification Number (FEIN) from the IRS (even if you don't plan to have employees any time soon). Having an FEIN, along with your nonprofit formation documents, will allow you to open a bank account when you are ready.

3) With your Colorado nonprofit formed and your FEIN in hand, you can then file for 501c3 status by completing one of the Form 1023 documents referenced earlier.  If this all sounds too complicated--seek out someone that's done it and ask for help.  You can always hire an attorney or a consultant, but it is definitely possible to do it yourself!

NOTE: This may not be the end of the conversation, however. Some districts set up more than one entity--such as a 501c3 and a Business Improvement District--so there are multiple revenue sources to support and sustain the creative district. If your local municipality or an existing partner entity does not commitment to ongoing (predictable) financial support, you may want to further explore this diversification strategy. This will likely require a discussion with a consultant with expertise in this area.


Create a list of existing and desired programming

While moving forward with the formation of your legal entity, continue creating momentum in your community with your Working Group and your stakeholders--particularly those who will be your programming partners: arts & culture organizations, galleries, studios, theaters, performance venues, dance troupes, and other cultural venues.

Programming is at the core of a creative district—it is what creative district’s do best . . . enrich their communities through arts and culture by deliver on their programming promises! While taking the steps to select or set-up your legal entity, begin to explore existing and desired future programming:

  • Make a list of current arts and culture programming in your district—and who provides it.

  • Make another list of desired future programming—and add thoughts on how it might be delivered.

This is an exercise to help you start thinking like a creative district. Programming is clearly only part of the overall planning process—but its central to the operation of a creative district. It’s likely your primary output; it’s core to your mission. Because this is how you serve your community, make sure a broad cross section of community stakeholders and programming partners participate in the programming planning process.  Clearly, your overall planning should be more holistic and strategic to create your organization’s Action Plan (Step C); however, your current and future programming will have a starring role in that plan.


Develop and share an Action Plan

Whether you call this an Action Plan or a Strategic Plan is just semantics. Both effectively serve the same purpose. For simplicity, let’s call it an Action Plan here. An Action Plan is an invaluable tool. It should be a living document that is developed by an organization’s board along with other key operational personnel (even if they are volunteers).

Action Plans come in many shapes and sizes, from a detailed narrative on every aspect of operations to a one-page outline highlighting the important goals for the coming year. Strategic planning is a solid first step in ensuring that an organization has an opportunity to achieve its goals for the coming year.

If you have been through this process before and have a road map that you know works—by all means, follow that path.  If not, here’s a simply five-step planning process:

  1. Reflect and document your successes and shortcomings from the last year (or if you are new, document your desired outcomes for the coming year or two). Whether you are an existing organization or new one, you can benefit from an honest assessment of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (often called a SWOT Analysis). Chances are you've been through this type of exercise before. If you need help, there are countless resources available online. Click here for an example of one that provides an overview.

  2. Develop and isolate a set of goals that address shortcomings or further desired outcomes for the next year or two.

  3. Develop and document specific programs or activities designed to help the organization achieve the desired outcomes and assign responsibility for each program/activity.

  4. Select an associated set of metrics (quantitative if possible) to measure performance of the programs/activities.

  5. Set dates on your calendar quarterly to revisit the plan and its metrics so you can make course corrections along the way.

As you work through this (or another) process, keep your organization’s vision in mind and think in terms of both financial and operational fronts, such as revenue, expenses, and personnel as well as programming, customer experience, footprint growth, and overall capacity.

The tools and resources included in Resources will help guide you, but don’t be afraid to adapt these tools to your specific circumstances.  Remember, the planning process should be an ongoing exercise, as you implement and evaluate progress to make course corrections based on changing circumstances.

NOTE: There are a variety of completed plans included in Resources under Strategic Planning.


Congratulations! Your nearly finished with the DIY Process!

Please click on your final step—the button bar below will link you to the DIY Checklist . 

Look over the form carefully and complete all the sections as requested.  We appreciate any feedback you provide.  When you’re finished with the form—Click Submit!  Then . . . be sure to take time to celebrate with all those who contributed to the process.

Once you complete and submit your DIY Process Checklist, Colorado Creative Industries will send a surprise your way in the next 30-45 days!

Thank you for participating in the Call Yourself Creative DIY Process!


What is a Creative District?

Testimonial: 40 West Arts District