An op-ed by COBRT President Jeff Wasden
Voters in November have an opportunity to continue one of metro Denver’s economic and cultural success stories with a Yes on 4B, a vote for the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District reauthorization. Voters in 1988 approved the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD) that provides funding for 300 cultural facilities across seven metro counties. For one penny on every $10 purchase, residents are supporting arts, culture, and even scientific organizations regionally and locally. Twice before, voters have overwhelmingly substantiated the SCFD’s mission to enlighten and entertain the public through the production, presentation, exhibition, advancement and preservation of art, music, theatre, dance, zoology, botany, natural history, and cultural history.
Business owners are constantly evaluating initiatives, capital expenditures, and the return on investment (ROI). As President of the Colorado Business Roundtable, I feel that same benchmark is just as important to this reauthorization vote as it is to any new technology, capital purchase, potential new employee, or acquisition. We should look at what SCFD has contributed to the Denver metro area and local communities. What value-added investments has SCFD made that warrant our strong support and endorsement urging reauthorization? Last year alone, nearly 15 million visitors attended the 300 organizations and facilities supported by SCFD funding, often at a free or reduced rate (an increase of 95% since the district’s inception in 1988). More than 4.25 million students are able to experience both the educational and cultural programming for free throughout the year. The economic benefits alone pump nearly 1.85 billion dollars per year in the metro Denver economy through job creation, tourism, and audience spending, while employing over 10,000 Coloradans each year.
This year, positive changes to the funding formula are proposed that increase funding to small and mid-sized organizations, driving significant benefits to local economies through educational and cultural experiences right at home. SCFD has maintained accountability and transparency to the public, supporting this investment with no increase to the existing tax rate.
In their study, “The Metropolitan Revolution,” authors Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley look at how cities and metropolitan areas have found success in fixing broken policies and fragile economies. The creation and passage of the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District is cited as one of four major initiatives that gave rebirth to the metro Denver economy following the early 1980’s energy bust.
Another study, “How the Arts Impact Communities: An introduction to the literature on arts impact studies,” was conducted by Joshua Guetzkow. In his study, Guetzkow dives into not only the types of impact (whether economic, cultural, or social), but also the impact to the community and individuals. Guetzkow found that the arts industry is an ‘export’ industry that attracts visitors, and visitors’ direct and indirect spending creates a multiplier effect on the local economy. An indirect multiplier is based on the idea that a portion of each dollar spent on some good or service is then used by the recipient to pay for more goods and services. To the extent that the money circulates within a community (e.g., a city), it ‘multiplies’ within that community.
The study also found that the arts industry builds interpersonal ties and promotes volunteering, which improves health while increasing opportunities for self-expression and enjoyment. Guetzkow also found that when youth are exposed to the arts, it can reduce delinquency in high-risk youth while providing an increased sense of individual efficacy and self-esteem. Guetzkow maintains the arts industry improves individuals’ sense of belonging or attachment to a community while improving human capital: skills and creative abilities. Wages to paid employees increase spending in local restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. Residents spend money on attending the arts and in local businesses.
The very presence of artists and arts and science increases attractiveness of area to tourists, businesses, and investors. Guetzkow found in his study that art fosters a ‘creative milieu’ that spurs economic growth in creative industries, and there is a greater likelihood of revitalization and investment. The arts attract residents and businesses. Businesses, especially those that employ highly trained mobile personnel, may consider the presence of art venues when making (re)location decisions (Cwi 1980b: 18-19). High concentrations of artists and/or high-skilled workers may produce agglomeration effects, where businesses, especially those in the fast-growing ‘creative industries’ (Walesh 2001), are drawn to an area because of the availability of creative talent and/or high-skilled workers, and vice versa.
These studies and our research certainly give powerful, empirical data on why we strongly urge a Yes on 4B vote. SCFD has had a positive impact upon our communities, with our students, and on local economies. Please join us in making a strong statement on the type of community you want for your kids, neighborhoods, schools, businesses, and the thriving arts scene. A Yes vote on 4B is a vote for continuing the strong economic and cultural prosperity metro Denver is enjoying and moving that forward for decades to come.