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Denver arts and culture survived the pandemic. Now it needs new investment to thrive.


by Christin Crampton Day, Colorado Newsline
January 29, 2024

The Denver metro region’s arts and business community is poised for renewal in 2024. Amidst the current economic and political uncertainties, including ongoing wars, political divisions, inflation, climate impacts, and technological advancements, there is a dual challenge and opportunity.

The arts and cultural sector faces the task of dreaming big and setting bold goals for the future while simultaneously navigating the complexities of a dynamic global landscape. Despite the challenges, optimism prevails, grounded in the proven value of investing in the arts as a driver for economic growth and community well-being.

In late 2023, the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts unveiled its latest research report based on 2022 data, showcasing the record-breaking recovery of the metro Denver region’s nonprofit arts and cultural sector. This recovery, largely supported by critical federal funding relief following the pandemic, now faces the challenge of identifying new funding partners and resources for sustained growth.

The Economic Activity Study of Metro Denver Culture by CBCA revealed a remarkable 2,754.2% increase in the economic impact of federal funding over 2019 figures. These funds, including Shuttered Venues Operators Grants, Paycheck Protection Program loans, CARES Act, and Colorado Artist Relief Fund, played a crucial role in ensuring the survival of many arts, cultural, and scientific organizations in the region.

The influx of funding enabled nonprofit arts, cultural and scientific organizations in the seven-county metro Denver area to achieve a record-breaking $2.6 billion impact in total economic activity, with more than 13,500 jobs in the sector and over 12.9 million individuals attending events in person. The ripple effect of total economic activity generated by these organizations has a significant impact on the economy of the entire region.

While federal funds reached new highs in 2022, contributions to arts, cultural, and scientific organizations also broke records, including individual giving and Scientific and Cultural Facilities District funding. However, challenges persist, with audience attendance still 15% below pre-pandemic levels, and personnel costs for nonprofit organizations rising by the same margin.

To fill the gap left by pandemic-related relief funds, support from local and state elected officials, business leaders, community foundations, and individuals is crucial to maintaining a vibrant arts and cultural sector.

SCFD was the largest single funding source for arts, cultural, and scientific organizations in the metro region, consistently providing stability and momentum. However, we can’t rely on SCFD alone to sustain and grow the economic and social impacts of the nonprofit arts and cultural sector in the Denver metro region. There are disproportionate funding needs for the creative sector in other parts of the state, such as the Front Range, rural, and mountain communities, which have been critically underfunded for decades.

Colorado ranks 46 out of 50 states in per capita spending on arts and culture, and the state’s arts agency funding is the lowest among Western states. We need all sectors — particularly leaders within our business community — to take action and advocate for the arts, both during this year’s legislative session and through partnerships and philanthropy.

Sustained recovery following the pandemic is about more than just dollars — it’s about the revival of cultural experiences, community engagement and the resiliency of a vibrant, creative ecosystem in Denver. It takes all of us to make this happen and we all benefit.

Join the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts in advocating for increased funding for the arts and cultural sector by joining the Colorado Arts Action Network. We need the support of Colorado’s elected officials, business leaders and foundations to step up to ensure that arts and culture continue to thrive.

This story is republished from CO Newsline under a Creative Commons license. Read the original story.