QUICK LINKS: What Colorado Creative Industries does with the money | Labor union updates (Big Green must rehire 10 laid-off workers) | Winter Park’s employee housing opens | Take the reader poll
There is an oft-cited statistic that Colorado ranks #1 in the country for per capita participation in the arts. But there is a less-often-cited statistic that Colorado ranks 46th in per capita funding for the arts.
Every state has a designated arts agency that distributes state and federal funding to creative communities. In Colorado, that agency is Colorado Creative Industries, or CCI, which operates under the Office of Economic Development and International Trade.
What 46th place translates to is a $2 million budget for CCI’s programs in a state of 5.8 million people. Compare this with Colorado’s neighbor, Utah, which has about 3.3 million people and allocates $9.5 million per year to its arts agency. Without any additional funding, Colorado is on track to drop a spot in the 2024-25 fiscal year, swapping places with Texas and trailing behind Kentucky and Louisiana. Of the Western states, Colorado is in last place.
But there’s a chance to change that. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ proposed budget — which is sure to be picked apart and reassembled during the current legislative session — includes a one-time $16 million tax credit for creative workforce housing, an additional $2.5 million for CCI’s annual budget and a $540,000 cash fund for Colorado Creative Districts, which are supported by CCI.
The infusion of extra cash would be incredible, said Josh Blanchard, director of CCI. But even without it, CCI is “grateful that Gov. Polis recognizes the role creative industries play,” he said diplomatically.
Since 2010, when CCI was officially formed, the agency has received its funding from the state’s gaming revenue tax. It started at 5% of any tax revenue collected above $19.2 million, which was automatically distributed into the state’s general fund. That amount was changed to a flat rate of $2 million in 2014 and has remained there ever since, except for a post-pandemic dip in 2021.
Through a recession, through the pandemic, amid inflation and changing audience habits, CCI’s budget hasn’t budged in a decade. If it had been adjusted for inflation since 2014, it would be hovering around $2.7 million. According to the National Assembly of States Arts Agencies, that amount is worth about 18% less than it was 10 years ago.
What does CCI do with that money?
CCI is responsible for 16 statewide grant programs and partnerships that range in scale from developing entire creative communities to providing individual artist grants.
If your community has converted an old feed and grain complex into a community space, or a former hardware store into a food hall, or a historic firehouse into a restaurant, then you’ve encountered some of CCI’s funding.
Their community revitalization grants and Space to Create program dole out anywhere from $35,000 to $3 million to develop affordable workforce housing and creative community spaces. It is worth noting that over the past three years, the agency has received influxes of money from nonprofits and pandemic-era legislation.
All 29 of Colorado’s designated Creative Districts are supported by CCI, which provides districts with $10,000 upfront, plus access to more funding opportunities. CCI also supports individual artists and arts organizations through a variety of grants, like the newly added Folk and Traditional Arts grant, and the solutions-focused Arts in Society grants.
Keeping an eye on urban artists
The largest portion of the governor’s proposed budget that CCI could see is the $16 million tax credit for Space to Create and community revitalization grants. The Space to Create program began in 2015 to develop affordable housing solutions for creative industry workers in rural areas. Community revitalization grants also skew rural, with 57% of projects funded in rural areas. And the wording in the budget proposal says it will support housing projects in “non-urban communities.”
During a legislative session kickoff event Monday, hosted by the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts, Rep. Leslie Herod raised concerns about constraining the proposed tax credit to rural areas.
“The vast majority of our Black artists live in our urban corridors,” Herod said. “If we exclude urban corridors, we’re explicitly excluding our Black artists. So while I know we’re making good by bringing some opportunities to rural Colorado, just remember that a lot of our Black artists live in Denver, Aurora, Colorado Springs and other urban corridors that desperately need support like this.”
So who stands to gain the most?
If the governor’s proposed budget miraculously makes its way through the legislative session unscathed, then the Colorado Creative Districts program could have an injection of funds as early as the summer.
A proposed $540,000 cash fund is earmarked for “modifications and funding” in Creative Districts, according to the budget document. This means CCI could end its freeze on certifying projects due to the lack of funds, and grant five to eight communities their Creative District designation, Blanchard said. Another 25 communities are in various phases of developing a creative district strategy.
Blanchard also said the agency has over $100 million worth of “shovel ready” community revitalization projects that they haven’t been able to fund over the past four years. Some of those projects could finally get their go-ahead thanks to either the $16 million proposed tax credit, or the $2.5 million additional funds for CCI’s operations.
>> Stay up to date on year-round arts legislation by signing up for the Colorado Arts Advocacy Network. They’ll send updates as the budget evolves, as well as opportunities to contact representatives.
Parker Yamasaki reports on Colorado’s arts and culture for The Colorado Sun. You can reach her at [email protected].
➔ ICYMI: Creative districts designed to boost rural Colorado’s economy creatively tackle other problems, too
DAM, Big Green and other labor union news
There’s still worker discontent going on in Denver and elsewhere in Colorado, including workers at the local Alamo Drafthouse movie theaters earlier this month. The latest is over at the Denver Art Museum.
“Higher wages, more transparency and better safety procedures,” are the top issues for nearly 250 employees who are seeking voluntary recognition by the museum of their union, according to a story by Denverite.
DAM appears to be OK with that, according to spokeswoman Andy Sinclair, who told Denverite, “If unionization is the path they choose, the museum will work within that system.”
That wasn’t the case with Big Green, a Broomfield nonprofit founded by Kimbal Musk (Elon’s brother) to create “learning gardens” in schools to teach kids about gardening and healthy food choices. In 2021, Big Green laid off 10 people, which happened to be “the entire 10-person bargaining unit,” The Counter reported in September 2021.
Those workers fought back and U.S. District Judge Gordon P. Gallagher issued an injunction on Jan. 5 requiring Big Green to end unfair labor practices and reinstate workers after finding the company retaliated less than three months after workers requested union recognition. Big Green’s response, according to the complaint, was that the workers were supervisors or managers and exempt from protection. We’ve reached out to Big Green for a comment.
“Workers have a right to take collective action free from employer retaliation. The work by Region 27 staff to obtain this injunction exemplifies their diligence and dedication to employee rights and justice,” said Matthew S. Lomax, regional director for the National Labor Relations Board for Region 27 in Denver, in a statement.
➔ News of news staff unionizing. High Country News, Fox 31 and Channel 2 (KDVR/KWGN) are forming unions, according to local media writer Corey Hutchins, who rounds up recent journalism labor activity in his weekly “Inside the News in Colorado” newsletter. For HCN, it’s about staff retention in order to get away from “the industry norm of underpaying staff as par for the course,” an adviser told Hutchins. As for the Nexstar-owned TV operation in Denver, the union effort is supported by 75 staffers, the station reported. >> Read
ICYMI: Let the law making begin!
‘Twas opening day for Colorado’s 2024 legislative session this week and Sun politics reporters captured the mood, annotated Gov. Polis’ sixth State of the State address and began examining some of the upcoming bills.
Stories not to miss:
➔ Check out the proposed bills: 2024 Regular Session
Sun economy stories you may have missed
➔ $81 million available to help Colorado homeowners hurt by COVID. That’s one takeaway from Jesse Paul’s story on the results of the federal Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program. It also helped owners pay off unpaid HOA assessments, fines and attorneys fees. >> Story
➔ Local Meals on Wheels gets emergency funding. But it’s just temporary, reports Jennifer Brown. Nearly 550 people are in jeopardy of losing services in Adams County after COVID funding ran out and the senior population grew. >> Story
➔ Property manager to pay $1 million. Four Star Realty, which manages 4,600 rentals from Denver to Greeley, denied it improperly withheld security deposits but didn’t want to spend years litigating with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office over unnecessary fees. Reporter Tatiana Flowers has the details. >> Story
➔ A battle between ranchers and a Colorado bike race worth $4.5 million. The 3,000 gravel riders who do SBT GRVL love how the route takes them through bucolic ranchland. Ranchers want them out. Tracy Ross checks on the survival — of both sides. >> Story
➔ Why artists are moving to the San Luis Valley. She started the story in last week’s What’s Working. Now, Tracy Ross wraps it up and dives deep in this more affordable part of Colorado. >> Story
Take the poll: How did 2023 go?
Inflation nationwide was up 3.4% in December from a year earlier, largely blamed on higher housing costs and electricity, though there was continued relief at the gas pump with gasoline prices down 14.7% from a year ago. But those are national numbers.
The local numbers are still trickling in so we’ll post a What’s Working look at the data when December results are updated. But how did it go for you? Take the poll (at cosun.co/WW2023):
Other working bits
➔ Winter Park adds employee housing. It’s been a long time coming but Conifer Commons, the new 330-bed complex to house ski-resort workers officially opened this week. The subsidized housing, available to seasonal and year-round workers of Winter Park Resort, is $800 a month for an individual unit in a college-dorm-like facility (ie: shared kitchens and living spaces) and $1,200 a month for a private studio. Rooms are still available, according to a resort spokeswoman. Comparably, a studio apartment in Winter Park rents for $2,200, according to the one available location at ApartmentGuide. Employees interested in renting should contact the Winter Park Resort’s housing department. >> Read the earlier Sun story
➔ More layoffs at Dish Network. The Douglas County satellite TV service notified the state’s labor department this week that it’s cutting another 157 jobs at its headquarters at 9601 S. Meridian Blvd. It coincided with the company, now called EchoStar Corp., transferring wireless spectrum to a newly formed subsidiary, called EchoStar Wireless Holding. The move confused financial analysts following the company but no additional explanation was provided, reported Fierce Wireless. Dish previously told the state in November that it was cutting 499 employees by January. The new round of layoffs will be completed in March, according to the letter. >> Layoff notice
➔ New paid family leave already paid out $2.7 million. The state’s Family and Medical Leave Insurance, which allowed paid leaves to start Jan. 1, has sent out $2,746,250 to 3,208 approved claims, as of Jan. 10, according to the Department of Labor and Employment. The paid leave available to certain Colorado workers, provides 12 to 16 weeks of up to $1,100 for workers to take care of newborns, sick friends and family or themselves. >> FAMLI
Thanks for sticking with me for this week’s report. Remember to check out The Sun’s daily coverage online. As always, share your 2 cents on how the economy is keeping you down or helping you up at cosun.co/heyww. Stay warm this weekend! ~ tamara
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