Art News

Denver Arts Economy Grows, Foundation Funding Drops

The Denver Art Museum is one of the institutions funded by the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District.
The Denver Art Museum is one of the institutions funded by the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District. Markus Byron
No surprise: Metro Denver's arts economy is booming.

On November 1, the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts — a nonprofit advocating for the state's creative economy — released its report looking at the financial impact of approximately 300 Scientific and Cultural Facilities District sales-tax funded cultural groups, from small music organizations like the Alpine Chorale to behemoth institutions such as the Denver Art Museum and the Denver Botanic Gardens.

These organizations are located in the seven-county area covered by the tax district: Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas and Jefferson counties.

The CBCA's report, the latest of many the group has released since 1992, is largely glowing. Since the first report came out 25 years ago, four years after the SCFD was approved by metro voters, attendance at cultural events has increased at two times the pace of the rising Denver metro-area population. From 2015 to 2017 alone, the area saw an 8 percent growth in cultural economic activity, to $1.9 billion; 12 percent growth in economic impact, to $573 million; and 10 percent growth in arts and culture jobs, to 11,820.

Despite those upticks, nonprofit and corporate foundation funding for arts and culture has dropped — at least when it comes to groups supported by the SCFD. Still, overall giving to the arts is up 3.5 percent, to $182.6 million, thanks largely to an increase in donations from individuals.

The CBCA report attributes much of the region's growth to cultural tourism: people visiting town for big-time Broadway shows and major exhibitions at museums. And a considerable amount of the economic activity surrounding cultural endeavors comes from ancillary purchases beyond ticket sales. The report notes: "On average, a cultural participant spends $22.50 on non-ticket items per arts experience," such as beer, parking, dinner and shopping.

All of this is good news for proponents of the SCFD, who argue that the sales tax is not just a cultural boon, but also a benefit to the broader economy.

Yet this glut of good news comes at a time when countless Denver-area artists — particularly those who work as solo practitioners and in DIY spaces — are worried that between gentrification, municipal-code regulations and skyrocketing housing prices, they are being pushed out of the region.

The CBCA study didn't tackle those artists and arts groups; the project focused entirely on organizations already supported by the SCFD. Smaller, less-established projects that fell outside of the nonprofit sector and underground artists were not included.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris