Colorado Culture: A 3,033% Return on Investment

Imagine, if you will, investing one penny of every $10 you spend. If you multiply that by 10%, which is the average stock market return, you get, what? $67* in a year?

Not if you are taxpayers in the seven-county metro area. Instead, they just got a 3,033% return on their investment in the SCFD according to the latest study by the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts.

But what investment, you may ask? In 1988, Colorado was experiencing a recession. Prices were poised to go up at many cultural facilities in the area. So taxpayers did the unthinkable. In the face of increasing costs, they overwhelmingly voted to tax themselves 1/10th of one percent to support culture in the seven-county metro area. And the SCFD was born.

Little did they know that 35 years later, their one penny on a $10 purchase would have such an outstanding return on their investment.

In its first year, the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District distributed $14MM to 135 organizations. Fast forward to 2022. The SCFD is now the second-largest cultural tax district in America distributing $83MM to more than 300 organizations as far north as Longmont’s Firehouse Art Center and as far south Sedalia’s Cherokee Ranch, from groups as far west as Evergreen Children’s Chorale and as far east as Brighton’s Bird Conservancy of the Rockies.

According to the CBCA’s newest bi-annual survey, SCFD-funded organizations had a total attendance of nearly 13 million in the past year…and that doesn’t include for-profit enterprises like Meow Wolf, state facilities like History Colorado, concert venues like Red Rocks or the many independent artists who fill galleries, entertain in parks or teach in studios.

While organizations are still recovering from mandatory closures during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rebound has been extraordinary. Consider these stats:

ECONOMIC ACTIVITY$1.9 Billion$1.5 Billion$2.6 Billion
ECONOMIC IMPACT$15 Million$8 Million$12.9 Million
EDUCATION OUTREACH4.3 Million2 Million3.8 Million
DONATIONS$182.6 Million$225 Million$294 Million

This growing success is due in very large part to citizen support of the SCFD. Consider that in its first year, the economic impact — or spending related to attendance by visitors who reside outside of the region — of the cultural sector was reported to be $7.1MM with a collective attendance of 5 million. Ten years later, in the 2010 CBCA report, the impact was $387MM with 11.2 million engagements. And in its 30th year in 2019, the economic impact was $860MM with 15 million engaging in arts and culture.

Since economic activity was reported in 1992, it has grown from $461 million to $2.6 billion. This is an aggregate measure of spending activity related to the cultural sector.

This tremendous growth has not only taken taxpayer approval, it also has taken active participation in events as far ranging as the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ recent staging of The Color Purple.

An extraordinary achievement by cultural visionaries, community activists and, most importantly, average citizens who understand the value, contributions and enrichment that culture brings to this Cultural Capitol of the West.

*Based on average annual consumer spending of $61,334/year.