Some cities have an identity crisis, but Boulder, Colorado is not one of those cities.
Boulder’s idiosyncratic nature becomes immediately apparent walking down its main commercial shopping district, Pearl Street Mall. The cobblestone street showcases street performers, visually interesting storefronts and equally interesting people. You might see someone dressed as Luke Skywalker or Jack Sparrow, hippies with their trademark dreadlocks or same-gender couples walking arm and arm.
Perhaps that’s why, on some days, I’m drawn to drive 50 miles to downtown Boulder to write in one of its 17 coffee shops. I started wondering if Boulder was more conducive to creativity than other places.
In 2012, the online news site The Daily Beast named Boulder the number one creative city in the United States crediting it with three essential characteristics: technology, talent and tolerance.
Many other cities might have the technology and talent but lacking tolerance, they don’t seem to carry the same creative vibe. The online magazine described tolerance as “the nonjudgmental environment that attracts open-minded and new-thinking kinds of people across the board.”
According to scientists who study creativity, open-minded thinking is a major ally to creative thinking. In Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book, “Creativity – Flow And The Psychology of Discovery And Invention,” the author wrote, “Perhaps the most important duality that creative persons are able to integrate is being open and receptive on the one hand, and focused and hard-driving on the other.”
A couple of artists living in Boulder talk of “place” and creativity, but also other factors for inspiration.
Betsy Gill, a painter and found-art artist grew up in Boulder but has lived in other places as well. She officially moved back in 1990.
“What I love about Boulder is a sense of openness to ideas, the value of education and the many cultural opportunities one can engage in,” Gill said.
She also mentioned a book edited by Sharon Louden, “Living and Sustaining a Creative Life – Essays by 40 Working Artists.”
“I’ve been struck by how many of the artists write about a sense of community with other artists and how important that is for them.” So, Gill added, inspiration could be found almost anywhere and come in surprising ways.
Jim Ringel released his first novel “Wolf” published by Curiosity Quills press this month. He has lived in Boulder since the early 1990s, moving from Boston because he saw the town as having the same energetic vibe. “Big city flare in a small town environment.”
Ringel describes this vibe as energy, and Boston had all kinds of energy: music, poetry, literature, museums, intellectual barroom conversations about philosophy, politics and sports. “Boston was the kind of place where it seemed everyone had something insightful to say about something.”
Ringel said Boulder had this vibe as well but things have changed – or maybe he has changed. He believes a lot of the art scene has left and has been taken over by for-profit enterprises.
“I’m a practicing Buddhist. I meditate in an effort not to bring my preconceived notions to an environment, or to an event or to a character I’m writing. I try to understand each as it or he or she is without my stamping myself onto them. I think creativity is just as much about sitting with painful and ugly as it is about being with the beauty,” Ringel said.
Which, to me, sounds as if Ringel is practicing mindfulness – what some would say leads to open-minded thinking.
Betsy Gill does, in the end, believe that Boulder provides a stimulating environment for artists. And there isn’t anything in Boulder that inhibits her creativity. Yet for many years she’s had “fantasies of living on the Mediterranean coast.”
Perhaps I drive to Boulder to get out of my everyday surroundings and find inspiration in a place that welcomes everyone and all ideas and has people meditating on that form of acceptance. I am grateful for being able to go to such a place when my creativity needs refueling.