By Jan Burton
“Fraught. Fragile. Dire. Endangered. Grim.” Words John Moore used in his recent Colorado Politics article describing the state of the arts.
Many of Boulder’s performing arts organizations and venues have lost up to 90 percent of their operating revenues due to cancellation of shows, seasons, openings, or closure of facilities. To make matters worse, many regular donors have less to donate or are concentrating their giving on the upcoming election, so contributions are down greatly.
The downstream impact on artists, musicians, performers, and other employees has been catastrophic. And as Moore pointed out, the ripple effect on restaurants, food suppliers, brewers, and others could point to even more closures than we’ve already experienced with our recent restaurant closures.
The City of Boulder Office of Arts+Culture, led by Matt Chasansky, has been incredibly responsive to the crisis. With matching dollars provided by Create Boulder, a nonprofit arts advocacy and service organization, it quickly established “Creative Neighborhoods: Work Projects,” leveraging the talent of artists and musicians to unite and vitalize our neighborhoods during the pandemic and get needed cash in artists’ pockets.
This summer, the Office of Arts+Culture and Create Boulder partnered with the Denver-based Bonfils-Stanton Foundation and The Denver Foundation, which were launching a $1.5 million regional arts relief fund. Funding of $20,000 from each organization to the COVID-19 Arts & Culture Relief Fund returned $165,000 in grants to Boulder cultural nonprofits.
However, while there is cause for celebration with the much-needed grants, the funding was limited and only eight Boulder organizations were recipients. The City of Boulder has made great strides in supporting the arts since the adoption of the Community Cultural Plan in 2015, investing $1.5 million in arts and culture in the 2020 budget. And it’s good for the local economy because every dollar invested generates multiple dollars back into the community.
The 2015 Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 survey shows that Boulder’s nonprofit arts organizations generated more than $69.8 million in industry expenditures, 1,832 full-time equivalent jobs, and $4.6 million in local and state government revenues. But faced with revenue shortfalls, our local government is struggling with financial cutbacks, having to make difficult decisions about which people and programs to cut and how much to spend vs. reserve for the future.
The City of Boulder’s 2021 budget proposal calls for a 6 percent cut in its overall operating budget, but a 17 percent decrease in the funding of the Office of Arts+Culture programs and grants. This, at a time when our cherished arts organizations and their employees need our support more than ever.
For me, the arts are personal. After losing my husband, music helped me heal. A chance encounter of a live eTown taping at Chautauqua Auditorium resonated with my love of music, the desire for community, and my commitment to the environment. The healing began.
I have since grown through the abundance of music offerings in Boulder from nonprofits and the University of Colorado Boulder’s College of Music. Live music and the outdoors are still my lifeblood and my source of mental resilience.
Music discovery led to theater, film, dance, and more. The Local Theater Company’s productions bring culturally relevant stories that have inspired me, challenged my own prejudices and assumptions, and taught me about racism and other societal issues. The Boulder International Film Festival has featured educational and life-changing independent films about history, music, the environment, and society. Boulder’s dance companies, such as 3rd Law, push the boundaries among media, visual art, theater, and music and tickle my brain.
But our arts organizations not only inspire, educate, and heal. Many of our musical and dance organizations offer youth education programs and senior support, free to those who need it, as well as extensive instrument loaner banks.
2021 may prove to be the most crucial year in the funding of Boulder’s cultural institutions and artists. This is not the time to cut back, when those dollars are needed the most.
Cultural organizations and their employees are critical to Boulder’s economy. The city should not cut the arts by more than the average operating expense cuts of 6 percent.
On Oct. 6, the Boulder City Council will be reviewing the budget, with a final decision scheduled for Oct. 20. If you care about the arts, as I do, please contact council members with your feedback at [email protected]
As Nick and Helen Forster and Joan Baez were a lifeline to me on that summer Chautauqua evening in 2008, let’s throw that line to our artists in their time of
need. It may save us all.
Jan Burton is a former Boulder City Council member. She is also a board member of Create Boulder. Email her at [email protected]