ARTS & CULTURE
Making Boulder an Open, Welcoming Place for Creative People
For a city as highly educated, and creative as Boulder, there is remarkably little public investment in the arts and culture. Per capita funding for the arts comes in at a paltry $6.93 in our town, which is a fraction of what is committed in our peer cities. Ft. Collins and Loveland both devote over $30 per capita, as do many of our peer cities nationally, notably Eugene, OR and Madison, WI. And Boulder voters are inclined to support such public investments. In 2014, the city approved by a nearly 2:1 margin referendum 2A, which will generate $9 million a year and dedicate it to capital improvements of existing arts facilities. But it expires at the end of 2017 and does little to address the many needs of arts organizations beyond facilities upgrades, and nothing to expand the spectrum of state of the art performance spaces. Clearly, the time is ripe to make a dramatic change in how we view arts and culture in the city.
Arts and culture nurture people and improve the quality of life in any city. Equally as important is the economic impact of the arts. Each year, according to city statistics, arts and culture organizations and their audiences in Boulder spend over $20 million directly for events and performances. National statistics suggest those audiences on average spend another $22-25 per person per event on other expenses, like meals. A vibrant arts scene attracts people who use their creativity in other ways, such as starting companies and employing people. It also draws people who volunteer and participate in the community (including voting) at higher rates than average. Finally, a vibrant arts and culture scene allows people to age healthier and happier, a major concern in a demographically changing population like Boulder’s.
The arts are a critical part of the good life, and a thriving arts scene usually means that a dynamic city is behind it. Our city today spends an almost symbolic amount of money directly on arts grants and public art: $353,000, which is barely more than $1 out of every $1,000 dollars in the general fund. It is more generous on capital outlays, especially with 2A but also in its funding of the Dairy Center, which is owned by the city. Nevertheless funding for arts organizations, artists, and facilities is far too low. We envision a city that, in one bold step, multiplies that funding number by an order of magnitude, competing directly with its peer cities at around $30-35 per capita.
We support another ballot referendum to continue a portion of the 2A tax increment indefinitely. We also support city assistance in establishing a community arts foundation that would match public funds with private gifts. Such a revenue stream could make Boulder an arts destination as well as a nature, food, and academic destination. And we support a public art program for the city. Finally, we envision thriving creative industries, and world class cultural opportunities for residents both new and old.
Creating a thriving arts scene is about more than public dollars, however. Open Boulder’s five issue priorities reinforce each other in many subtle ways, but this is one of the most direct: Unless we make progress on our attainable housing crisis, we will not be able to nurture and sustain a strong arts community in the city. The two go hand in hand because the majority of artists are not high income earners. Without progress on both fronts, we lose creative people, especially young ones. With even modest progress, however, we can take advantage of our existing economic and other strengths to produce a truly remarkable city for the next generation of Boulderites to enjoy.
Little a city can do with its tax dollars returns as much to the people it serves.