Denver’s Cultural FACE-Off

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August 31st, 2015; Denver Post

The battle over cultural funding in the Denver area continues. As reported by NPQ, a taskforce has made recommendations about how to allocate funds generated for the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD). The problem? Many of Denver and the surrounding area’s arts, cultural, and scientific organizations are unhappy with those recommendations, which are criticized for being inequitable and irrelevant.

The SCFD fund is predicted to reach $87 million in 2016 and will be split among three tiers. The taskforce endorsed a plan that would see Denver’s five largest cultural institutions, which make up Tier I, receive 57 percent of SCDF funding. Tier II, which is made up of 27 organizations, would receive 26 percent, and the remaining 17 percent would be given to the nearly 300 organizations classified as Tier III. The taskforce, made up of 11 members, took nearly four years to develop this proposal, making use of a volunteer base of 350 people who donated “more than 2,500 hours to identify and evaluate options,” according to Denver Post Fine Arts Critic Ray Mark Rinaldi.

However, many stakeholders from Tier II and III organizations say that they were not consulted and that the whole process was biased towards Denver’s largest cultural institutions. These individuals have now banded together to form the Friends of Arts & Culture Equity, or FACE, with the goal of reopening the discussion with the SCFD board and taskforce. A lobbyist has been hired to ensure that elected officials are aware of the implications of the SCFD proposed funding model.

FACE has strong allies in their quest for economic justice. Mayor Christine Berg of Lafayette, Colorado, asked all other Boulder County mayors to oppose the SCFD’s proposal. It is important to note that although Boulder contributes $4.5 million annually to the SCFD, Boulder’s cultural organizations only see $995,000 in SCFD funding. Berg says the proposed funding model will “exacerbate the imbalanced SCFD funding as growth occurs.”

Echoing previous critics of the plan, Tier III member Stella Yu, executive director of Arts Street, noted that “only…Tier IIIs have organizations owned and operated by minorities…taking risks in programs that increase diversity.” Indeed, while the SCFD was lauded as innovative when the program began in the 1980s, many detractors are now characterizing it as outdated. As in NPQ’s previous newswire on the subject, questions of accessibility are being raised. While the SCFD may have been a fitting solution in 1988, the cultural landscape has since shifted; organizations are popping up in suburbs throughout the region, rather than in Denver, and the Denver area now boasts a much more ethnically diverse population.

If there’s one thing that SCFD and FACE can agree on, it’s that neither wants to alienate voters, who will go to the polls in 2016. Because voters must approve the SCFD funding, both sides are interested in dealing with this dispute as quietly as possible. However, if the escalating use of lobbyists, news stories, and media releases is any indication, this conversation will be anything but quiet.—Maggie Hodge Kwan