The Scientific and Cultural Facilities District has been part of my life for almost all of it. I was born in Colorado in 1980; voters in the six-country metro area approved the SCFD tax — one penny on every ten dollars — in 1988. Denver is a better city for the SCFD, and I'm a better person for it. I'm also lucky to have parents who took full advantage of what this town had to offer; visiting galleries and other cultural institutions big and small was a bi-monthly occurrence in our house. Today, I frequent even more arts and culture organizations.
The SCFD tax is up for renewal this year. Maybe you're like me and haven't opened your ballot yet because the presidential election has made you lose faith in humanity or you're just lazy. (I plead guilty to both.) There's a laundry list of choices this year, with the SCFD line item at the very bottom — which is where you should start filling out your ballot. A penny might seem like a small amount, but this is a big deal. Through this tiny tax, the SCFD amassed close to $55 million that served 300 arts organizations in metro Denver and beyond — and this was just the funding gained from the tax last year. (Read my editor's more in-depth look at how SCFD came to be and how it positively impacts the Mile High City's role in elevating and celebrating arts and culture.)
Because of the SCFD, the biggest players in the city's arts and culture scene — the Denver Botanic Gardens, the Denver Zoo, the Denver Art Museum, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science — are able to offer free admission days, among other benefits. But the big five are just some of the beneficiaries of our tax dollars for the greater good. Here are five more arts- and culture-driven organizations worthy of our support through a vote for the SCFD:
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Jewish history and culture are a rich part of Colorado's ongoing story, and the Mizel Museum showcases this integral piece to the puzzle of who we are as a state. More than a museum, the Mizel is "dedicated to fostering cross-cultural understanding, combatting racism and promoting social justice," and there couldn't be a more relevant mission in 2016. Its core exhibition, 4,000 Year Road Trip: Gathering Sparks, is an interactive collection of artifacts, personal belongings, photographs and stories woven together to tell a familiar story of Jewish life.
The Mizel Museum also hosts the Miryam Brand Holocaust Film Project and organizes the Denver Jewish Film Festival, puts on the annual Jewish Klezmer music celebration, Klezfest, and provides programming for local schools on teaching tolerance through performances highlighting the American Civil Rights Movement and more. At the Mizel Museum, Judaism is the connection but not the requirement. Everyone is welcome to celebrate, learn and grow together, regardless of religious beliefs. See the museum's website for more on its fantastic, year-round programming.
Denver Film Society
Colorado may not immediately come to mind when you're thinking about the film industry, but we've got lots to celebrate when it comes to cinema. The Denver Film Society is the key factor in it all, as the nonprofit behind the Denver Film Festival, which is now celebrating its 39th year of hosting hundreds of award-winning screen gems right here in Denver. Since 1978, DFS has brought filmmakers, actors, directors and writers together with film critics and fans for more than just movies and popcorn; conversation and education are a crucial part of its mission. DFS has an art house to call its own: the Sie FilmCenter on East Colfax, where fresh films, cult classics and daring programming come together for a movie experience like none other in the city.
Black American West Museum & Heritage Center
Built from founder Paul W. Stewart's personal collection of more than 20,000 items and artifacts, the Black American West Museum & Heritage Center began as a personal passion project in 1971. Housed in the onetime home and office of Justina Ford, the first licensed black woman doctor in Colorado, the space as well as the assemblage are a tribute and a necessary historic documentation of the contributions of African Americans in the West. Stewart's drive to share the stories of "black cowboys" changed what was once thought to be our state's only (mostly white) history. Through the Black American West Museum, a bigger, more complete picture of how the West came to be through the work and experiences of black pioneers lives on.
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Since it was created more than a decade ago, Cafe Cultura has become a staple in the open-mic scene. Inviting poets of all ages to share their stories and words with the world, this nonprofit is both the work of and a celebration of Denver-proud people, focusing on elevating the voices of Chicano, Mexicano, Latino, Native American and other indigenous community members. With an emphasis on families and young people, Cafe Cultura teaches poetry and writing workshops, publishes youth poetry and provides a safe space for everyone to share their experiences and create art. Most events and classes put on by the organization are free or donation-based, so SCFD funding helps Cafe Cultura reach out to everyone in the community. Check out everything this unique organization has to offer through its website and calendar.
Buntport Theater Company
The small but powerful Buntport Theater Company does it all. Each member of the troupe is simultaneously an actor, playwright, director, producer, technician and set designer. Like other organizations on this list, Buntport strives to offer thought-provoking, conversation-sparking and educational entertainment at an affordable price, and SCFD is an essential part of the equation. More than a creative entity, Buntport also acts as a theater space for the community, hosting events throughout the month — like the Best of Denver-winning storytelling night The Narrators. To see what Buntport Theater Company is up to at the moment, visit the troupe's website.
These are just five of the dozens of Tier II and Tier III organizations across the metro area that benefit from SCFD. For a full list of groups, museums, galleries, studios, nonprofits and more that help make Colorado a great place to live and visit, see SCFD's website. But first, fill out your ballot — and vote yes on renewing the SCFD.