Armed with the conviction that the arts improve the economy, Susan Fries is the tireless Executive Director of thePueblo Performing Arts Guild (PPAG). Fries is part community organizer, part business theory wonk and part arts advocate. She has combined these talents to aid in the development of great projects like the First Friday Artwalk, which has successfully infused energy, new businesses and jobs into the Union Avenue Historic District and Downtown.

The First Friday Artwalk, under PPAG’s leadership, is responsible for the opening of eight new creative-industry businesses in the past 18 months. During that same time period, 14 additional businesses have opened in the Creative Arts District. And, PPAG estimates that 25 new jobs have been created by these small businesses.

Yet, Fries would be the first to remind you that she does not work alone. As fiercely as she advocates for the arts, Fries is zealous about including multiple voices and employing collective problem solving. For example, PPAG, under Fries’ direction, hosted an interactive public forum on identifying Pueblo’s Creative Arts District. The event was designed to garner ideas from a diverse group of people – artists, leaders, business owners, and interested citizens.

And, this public forum on the Creative Arts District – with over 80 people in attendance – was a success. In mid-March, Pueblo received state designation of the community-defined Creative Arts District. This designation, as a Prospective Creative Arts District, comes with $8000 in funding and strategically formulated technical assistance (because of a grant written by Fries) to aid Pueblo in further developing our Creative Arts District, which includes parts of Downtown Pueblo, the Union Avenue Historic District and Mesa Junction.

Fries is one of the co-founders of the Pueblo Performing Arts Guild, which was created with the idea that art is smart economic development. PPAG was founded on theories like Richard Florida’s work on the Creative Class, which demonstrates the direct connection between thriving communities and creative industries. PPAG’s vision is based on the understanding that the U.S. is on the cusp of a creative economy, in which 40 million people nationwide already work in creative industry. And, PPAG works from a mission that sees Pueblo evolving from its productive industrial past into a new, thriving creative-based community – already rich in resources of people, diversity, authenticity, historic flavor and great weather.

With this in mind, Fries is leading PPAG on another important project: art work/live space. Art work/live space is affordable artist housing that doubles as studio space, possibly also including shared spaces like a collective music studio or meeting room. This kind of work/live space is positive for community and economic development for a number of reasons, including that it enhances wobbly urban environments by encouraging 24-hour people traffic. When urban areas are populated around the clock, economic opportunity increases and crime decreases. Plus, artist work/live space would fuel Pueblo’s creative industry, where many artists already infuse outside dollars into our local economy. (This is the definition of primary jobs: jobs that create goods that can be sold outside of the local economy.)

The daughter of a professor and a potter, Fries grew up in the worlds of academia and the arts. She has an MBA, has traveled around the world, and has lived in places as far-flung as Poland and New Zealand. Her life experience coupled with her business savvy gives Fries a perspective different from the sometimes status quo-loving Pueblo. While she occasionally bumps against old paradigms of turf battles and paternalism, Fries cheerfully continues to organize and empower artists and entrepreneurs to forge ahead into the creative economy.

By Dawn DiPrince