Election season means a plethora of political ads, attack campaigns, debates, and social media pontificating. The constant bombardment is daunting to say the least. By this time every election, I, like many voters, just want it all to be over and done with. But while politics can bring out the worst in people, sometimes it can bring out the best like the twenty-eight year old Scientific & Cultural Facilities District (SCFD), a seven-county taxing district that uses one cent in taxes for every ten dollar purchase to support Denver metro-area arts and sciences organizations like the Denver Zoo, MCA Denver, Colorado Symphony and 20 dance organizations including Colorado Ballet, Wonderbound, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance and Fiesta Colorado. Passed in 1988 during a severe economic recession that imperiled many arts and cultural organizations, citizens banded together to create a metro-area taxing district that would provide much-needed general operating support and supplant the funding formerly provided by the city. Because of Colorado’s tax laws and sunset dates, the SCFD must be periodically reauthorized by the voters of the District, hence its inclusion on the 2016 ballot.
If you’re familiar with government support of the arts, you will know that the SCFD is perhaps the most envied regional governmental funding mechanism in the country due to its collaborative nature, emphasis on general operating support, and economic impact. SCFD-like organizations exist in other parts of the country, but they are limited geographically to a single city or county. Cross-county tax sharing is virtually unheard of anywhere else. Additionally, as nonprofit giving from the public and private sectors has shifted to funding specific programs, SCFD funding remains integral to keeping the lights on – its money that can be used to support salaries, pay rent, and keep the basic infrastructure of an organization going. The release of Colorado Business Committee for the Arts’ (CBCA’s) biennial Economic Activity Study proves the SCFD’s return on investment. From the $53.2 million in taxes collected, SCFD funded organizations generate $1.8 billion annually in economic activity for the metro-area economy.
That SCFD remains the single largest funding stream for metro-area organizations and is more than double individual donations, which came in at $25.6 million, according to CBCA. To say that SCFD is the lifeblood of the metro-area’s nonprofit arts and cultural community is an understatement. This is especially true for dance organizations, whose production costs can often outpace ticket sales.
As Dawn Fay, Producing Director and Vice President of Wonderbound, says, “To be frank, the SCFD means our survival.” For the Colorado Ballet, SCFD funds make up twenty-nine percent of its revenue each year. Colorado Ballet Artistic Director Gil Boggs says, “Without this funding, we would not be able to program the productions we currently do each season. The SCFD funds we receive allow us to program…on a scale that no other ballet company in Colorado is able to do.” Jim LaVita, Artistic Co-Director of 3rd Law Dance/Theatre calls SCFD “a stabilizing power in the arts environment.” He adds that “smaller, less visible organizations such as mine depend on public monies since they can’t afford a fundraising staff and infrastructure. [SCFD] funding provides incubation for those artistic ventures…”
Yet despite the data from CBCA’s study that backs up the return on investment, some claim funds should go to other causes; however, these naysayers do not understand the impact the arts can have nor their ability to help solve these pressing issues. Take, for example, Wonderbound’s rehearsal facility, which is located near one of Denver’s largest gathering of people experiencing homeless. “The homeless are actually our biggest audience,” Fay says. The company frequently leaves its garage doors open in nice weather and lets people linger as long as they want. Wonderbound has taken its commitment to the homeless population further by partnering with the St. Francis Center to create Pari Parsu. The name is taken from the legal term meaning of equal step, and the program works to show those experiencing homeless that they matter, that they are a source of inspiration and that they are relevant to the greater community through weekly dance and movement sessions.
Other organizations like the Colorado Ballet reach out to other specifically under-represented populations. The Ballet’s Be Beautiful Be Yourself Dance program provides ten weekly dance sessions to 25 students ages five to fourteen with Down syndrome. Working closely with Children’s Hospital Colorado, the program builds kinesthetic and cognitive skills through locomotor movements that incorporate shapes, rhythm and basic dance steps. Life/Art Dance Ensemble provides performances for low-income senior homes in the Denver area. Lemon Sponge Cake Contemporary Ballet recently put on White Fields, a free, public performance in Boulder that dealt with gun violence in a nuanced and poignant way. CM Dance teaches in Denver Head Start pre-schools and elementary schools to stop the increasing rate of childhood obesity. Hannah Kahn works with incarcerated teens and people with developmental disabilities. Colorado Ballet also partners with the Parkinson Association of the Rockies to help Parkinson’s patients explore movement and music. Wonderbound’s Project Generation helps those with early-stage Alzheimer’s or dementia to use movement to positively combat their disease. Several SCFD arts organizations such as Ballet Ariel, Kim Robards Dance, Zikr Dance and others also work with ArtReach to donate thousands of free performance tickets to families who could not otherwise afford to attend.
Additionally, SCFD Executive Director, Peg Long, says, “Several dance organizations provide cultural diversity that the SCFD could not otherwise offer its residents, for example Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, Fiesta Colorado, Mudra Dance Studio.” She describes SCFD’s 20-member organization dance community as “diverse and dynamic” and wants to see these groups expand their repertoires even more to reach underserved residents.
Clearly, SCFD organizations care deeply about the health and well-being of the citizens of the metro-area and are working to creatively help some of the most pressing issues the Denver metro-area faces. This election season, start at the bottom of the ballot with a measure that we can all feel good about supporting because of how much we get back – and remember to give your one cent.
Deanne Gertner: A Colorado native, Deanne Gertner is a graduate from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She works for Denver-based art consulting firm, NINE dot ARTS, where she helps companies tell their stories through art. She sits on the boards of Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop and CultureHaus, the Denver Art Museum’s young professionals’ group. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming from DailyServing and Quaint Magazine.