DCPA CEO Scott Shiller: Making Cents of Arts Funding

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Scott Shiller NEA

Scott Shiller welcomed patrons to the Hard Rock Cafe last month for the DCPA Holiday Cabaret – a night of holiday hits, rock songs and showtunes featuring cast members from  four DCPA productions: Disney’s “The Lion King,” “A Christmas Carol,” “Murder for Two” and “The SantaLand Diaries.”

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the National Endowment for the Arts. Signed into law by Lyndon B. Johnson (coincidentally, the central character of our upcoming Theatre Company production of All the Way), the NEA supports the arts in all 50 states through grants and fellowships. Since its inception, the NEA has awarded $5 billion to American creativity. It’s a huge accomplishment that you can celebrate at www.arts.gov/50th. But it’s not nearly enough. 

Scott ShillerThe NEA’s 2015 budget was $146 million — a mere 0.004 percent of the federal budget. That equates to each American paying 46 cents per year to support the NEA. Contrast that with the metro Denver area, where we’ve been investing in arts, science and culture for more than 27 years, through the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District and its one-cent sales tax on every $10 spent in a seven-county region. The SCFD distributes nearly $52 million per year throughout the taxing district.

This means that just seven counties in a state that barely cracks the nation’s Top 25 by population contribute the equivalent of one-third the amount the federal government allocates to the arts in the entire country. It bears repeating: Seven Colorado counties fund the arts at a third of the strength of a national arts organization. Amazing and enviable. Be sure to show your support of our nationally recognized arts district at www.UnitedForScfd.com.

So, what can our Congressional representatives learn from the citizens of the Denver metro community? First and foremost, we value arts and culture in ways many other states can’t begin to understand. Colorado ranks No. 1 in per-capita trips to theatres, concert halls and museums. Additionally, the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts reports that our cultural sector generates more than $1.85 billion in economic activity, entertains 14.2 million people (of which more than one-third attend for free), employs 10,200 residents and educates 4.25 million students. Truly admirable.

This is not to say that the NEA has not done wonderful things. To see a great example, watch In Performance at the White House: A Celebration of American Creativity scheduled this January on PBS. Some national funding is better than none, but Colorado has created an arts ecosystem that supports large regional cultural institutions like the DCPA; mid-size arts organizations like the Colorado Ballet and more than 200 small neighborhood art-makers. We have every reason to be proud — and every reason to expect that this level of cultural investment should be the rule, not the exception.

Imagine what our national arts scene would look like if every major metropolitan area had its own version of the SCFD. What advice would you give to other cities and government officials about the effectiveness of the SCFD? Should funding the arts be left solely to regional districts, or should the federal government allocate more to the NEA to bolster the national arts landscape? Let us know by leaving your comments at the end of this story.

Talk to us: What are your thoughts on arts funding?
Let’s keep the conversation going. Your feedback is important. Please leave your comments at the end of this story. Follow Scott Shiller on Twitter @ScottShiller and the DCPA @denvercenter.

About our Guest Columnist:
Scott Shiller, a nationally recognized Producer, Presenter and Entertainment Executive, was named President and Chief Executive Officer of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts in February, 2015. As President & CEO, Shiller has overall responsibility for the DCPA’s programmatic, operating, revenue, marketing, development and administrative functions. He comes to the DCPA from the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, where he served as Executive Vice President from 2007 to 2015. With direct oversight of programming and marketing initiatives, Shiller’s first season at the Center resulted in a $3.3 million turnaround, more than 100 sold-out performances, and a 76 percent increase in attendance. Shiller began his career working with Tony Award-winning producer Jon B. Platt on productions including Wicked (Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth, Joel Grey), Man of La Mancha (Brian Stokes Mitchell), Sly Fox (Richard Dreyfuss), The Graduate (Kathleen Turner, Alicia Silverstone, Jason Biggs), Blue Man Group: Tubes, Cabaret (Teri Hatcher, Norbert Leo Butz), Master Class (Faye Dunaway), Wait Until Dark (Quentin Tarantino, Marisa Tomei), Taller than a Dwarf (Matthew Broderick, Parker Posey), Macbeth (Kelsey Grammer), The Diary of Anne Frank (Natalie Portman), and The Vagina Monologues (Eve Ensler).

Previous conversations with Scott Shiller:
Previously, Scott Shiller posed these questions for NewsCenter readers:

*Declining arts coverage: How to respond to declining arts coverage? To read his essay – and reader responses, please visit our NewsCenter here

*Social media in the theatre: How will we, as theatre professionals and audiences, find common ground for mobile devices in theatres? To read his essay – and reader responses, please visit our NewsCenter here

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