Last week, the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts revealed its new economic activity study pertaining to data gathered in 2017 on the impact the arts have in our state. The major “wow” was the economic activity in the arts and cultural sectors: $1.9 billion. That’s an 8% increase over the data collected in 2015.
Today, though, I’m celebrating the 30-year anniversary of a game-changer voters first approved on November 8, 1988: the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District, or SCFD. The district collects sales and use taxes of 1/10 of 1% — or a penny on a $10 dollar retail sale.
Since 1989, the SCFD has collected and distributed $1.03 billion to a district that now comprises seven counties in the metro Denver area and supports about 300 organizations. The first vote and subsequent reauthorizations have allowed the district to help organizations grow and thrive, with some dips and some booms (like today).
In 1988, nothing really was thriving in Denver or Colorado, except maybe moving trucks hauling households out of here. The energy boom had gone bust, and arts groups were hurting. A former director of the Denver Art Museum told me back then that the DAM couldn’t afford to replace light bulbs, and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science shed employees when a giant exhibition fell off the radar to follow a blockbuster show on famous pharaoh Ramses.
There had been earlier attempts to get the culture tax concept approved by the legislature, but a final version did the trick, by dividing the distribution into three tiers. Over the years, there have been changes and new members, and wrangling by arts groups to adjust the percentages. But at the end of the day, with an election looming, the wrangling stops. Voters have approved the measure every time.
I covered that first election in 1988 and was floored by a big win during bad times. It affirmed what I had learned about people in Colorado, in terms of volunteering and donating to make their cities and state better and stronger. That first vote won with something like a 4-1 margin – the sign of generosity, intelligence and looking beyond a shriveling economy. (The first photo in this post shows Gov. Roy Romer signing the legislation, while Popsicle the polar bear mascot seems really happy.)
The SCFD board and our current governor are throwing a big party on Nov. 28 at the McNichols Civic Center Building; it’s open to the public, but they ask for an RSVP. The district will be honoring people who were there to support the plan at the beginning, and those who are still deeply involved. (The flyer is above.)
I’ve included two links below. The first is a history on how the SCFD came to be. It’s a great story, and features people who worked hard to make this happen. The second link leads to the Rocky Mountain PBS’ Arts District page, which features several YouTube videos that address the way arts funding works in this state.