SCFD moves forward with united front

Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

The citywide effort to reauthorize the metro area’s signature art tax moved forward today after the House Finance Committee unanimously sent the measure one step closer to the November ballot.

And it is moving forward with a significantly more unified front.

The Scientific and Cultural Facilities District, first approved by voters in 1988, is a penny-per-$10 sales tax that now generates about $55 million a year for 278 arts organizations throughout the seven-county metro area. It must be reauthorized at least every 12 years.

On Wednesday, the House Finance Committee hearing approved the referendum language that voters will consider in November if it next clears the full state house, as expected.

The way for its passage on an 11-0 vote Wednesday was likely made easier by a recent compromise forged between SCFD officials and local arts leaders that is expected to generate an additional $9 million for the area’s smallest arts organizations over the next 12 years.

“This is a great victory for arts organizations, and it is a great victory for Colorado,” said Colorado House Majority Leader Crisanta Duran, who negotiated the compromise.

Duran was joined by SCFD and local arts leaders at a press gathering on the steps of the state capitol just before the the House Finance Committee hearing.

“Today is a new dawn in the creative orbit of our community,” said Stella Yu, Executive Director of Arts Street.

SCFD funds are distributed according to three tiers determined by each organization’s operating budget. But the metro arts landscape has radically changed since the SCFD was introduced in 1988, with the tier made up of the area’s smallest organizations now consisting of 246 qualifying organizations.

A year ago, the five largest arts organizations (Tier I) agreed to a new funding formula that will take an estimated $2.2 million a year away from its pie and redistribute it to the smallest organizations. But some saw the effort as not going far enough.

Wednesday’s press event celebrated the creation of a new fund aimed at helping small SCFD organizations expand access to their offerings for traditionally underserved communities throughout the state. Each of the area’s Tier I organizations – The Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver Art Museum, Denver Center for the Performing Arts and Denver Zoo – will pay $150,000 a year from their own general operating budgets into this new fund that will be independently administered by a local foundation.

“This is a very meaningful step forward,” said Duran. But while the SCFD has unanimously approved the compromise, the plan remains pending until approval by each of the five organizations’ boards of directors.

Grants from the new fund will be made available only to Tier III organizations that have operated for at least 10 years and provide programs and services for traditionally underserved communities including racial and ethnic minorities, people with mental and physical disabilities, the elderly, veterans, the GLBTQ community, low-income communities and geographically underserved areas.

“This fund will provide additional support for our smallest organizations as they strive to provide even broader access to everyone throughout the district,” said SCFD Board chairman Dan Hopkins. “The grants from this new fund will be in addition to the financial support traditionally provided by SCFD. This program will provide needed resources for these organizations to grow and thrive. The support from the Tier I organizations for this fund is a great example of the partnerships that have made SCFD successful for three decades.” 

Duran congratulated the SCFD “for its willingness to look at these hard issues. I just want to say how thankful I am to everybody for coming to the table to really try and come up with something that can work.”

Tony Garcia, longtime Artistic Director of the Su Teatro Performing Arts Center (pictured right), has been among the biggest proponents of creating this new “capacity-building” funding for smaller arts organizations. With the creation of the new funding, he said he will now fully support the reauthorization of the SCFD in November, even though the original proposal called for Tier I’s to pay $26 million over the next 12 years.

“I think we should get the capacity-building funds – and in order to get the capacity-building funds, you have to pass the SCFD,” Garcia said.

“This conversation about cultural equity is a foundation for us to build other things on. Think of it like this: This is our union. We didn’t get the raise that we were asking for, but we are going to go back to work.”  

The SCFD was renewed by regional voters in 1994 and 2004. Counties comprising the SCFD include Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas (except for Castle Rock and Larkspur) and Jefferson.The SCFD currently provides the non-profit Denver Center for the Performing Arts with $5.5 million each year.

Additional NewsCenter coverage of SCFD reauthorization:

Largest metro arts organizations offer major concession
SCFD board: Unanimous decision to stay the course
Ritchie resigns to focus on SCFD reauthorization

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