SCFD board entertains then rejects alternative public arts funding proposals

The plan for how tax dollars will be divvied up to pay for arts and culture organizations in Metro Denver isn’t going to change, the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District board voted at a packed meeting Thursday.

The decision comes as a disappointment — but not necessarily a surprise — for advocates with the Colorado Symphony Association and Friends of Arts and Cultural Equity. Both groups presented alternative proposals to the one the SCFD board approved in May and re-approved Thursday. Their plans were gently shot down.

SCFD allocates it’s money to three tiers: Tier I includes the five iconic cultural organizations: the Denver Zoo, the Denver Art Museum, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and the Denver Botanic Gardens. All Denver. Tier II includes 28 sizable organizations including the Butterfly Pavillon, the Children’s Museum of Denver and the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture. Tier III includes 304 smaller groups: the Buntport Theater Company, Su Teatro, and the Molly Brown House.

The Colorado Symphony Association argues the problem with the current proposal is that it doesn’t take into account the dilution of funds available to tier II groups. Under the current proposal, as new organizations become part of tier II, the total amount of money devoted to those groups will not grow proportionally. That means as more organizations join tier II, the percentage of money allocated to each group in the tier shrinks.

It’s unlikely there will be any new tier I organizations beyond the current five iconic Denver cultural institutions:  Dilution will not impact them.

Friends of Arts and Cultural Equity argues that the current proposal favors Denver County and leaves behind the growing suburbs. FACE consists largely of tier III groups, including a significant representation from Boulder County. Advocates say Boulder residents feel ripped off by the current allocation structure and they want to pull out of the regional tax district altogether and create their own county arts funding.

The way the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District is allocating money between big, medium and small cultural organizations in the Denver metro area is ignoring the “suburbanization of the poor,” Erin Rollman of the Buntport Theater told the SCFD board during a frenetic presentation about the tier III proposal.

Board members insisted the proposal they built after four years of public input doesn’t pit Denver vs. the suburbs, but rather marks a compromise between the interests of the various tiers.

One thing all the groups agree on: They don’t want to see SCFD funding go away. Some fear that Colorado’s anti-taxation libertarians will ultimately use division in the arts and culture community to convince voters to defund the entire tax district.

SCFD board chair Dan Hopkins told The Colorado Independent that because discussion is healthy, the board decided to listen to the alternative proposals, but that members wouldn’t change the current funding plan without “compelling information.” The board wasn’t moved by the proposed alternatives.

Sen. Pat Steadman and Rep. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst will be sponsoring the SCFD bill in the Statehouse. Both have already been lobbied by the various organizations and will have to decide whether to accept the SCFD’s proposal without alteration or add language addressing the concerns of FACE and the Colorado Symphony Association.


Photo credit: Todd Carpenter, Creative Commons, Flickr