Boulder looks to launch $250K grant for arts, culture facilities

Photo by Micha Parzuchowski on Unsplash

The city is creating a pilot grant program for the places that host arts and cultural events in Boulder. A chunk of change ($250,000) was set aside for that purpose during the 2019 budget discussions, at the suggestion of council member Bob Yates.

During a Tuesday night discussion, Yates acknowledged the inverted process.

“We’re doing this backward,” he said. “Normally we’d (propose this) in our budget process and say, ‘Let’s see what arts commission thinks.'”

Instead, Boulder’s Arts Commission will now get their chance to shape the one-year pilot program. Their primary suggestion is that the funds be flexible, able to be applied to programming or specific events or operational costs of the facilities themselves — so long as the changes “improve the public use of the venue.”

Unlike festivals and annual events, facilities have recurring costs. Nick Forster, co-founder of eTown Hall, said the venue spends upward of $60,000 a month on payroll. There are utility bills to be paid, a mortgage owed. Existing funding mechanisms, he said, don’t address those unique needs.

Forster was one of a handful of representatives from area facilities that spoke at Tuesday night’s meeting in support of the grant program. Leaders of BMoCa, Chautauqua and the Museum of Boulder thanked council for recognizing the importance of arts in the community.

A 2016 Arts and Economic Prosperity study examined 65 organizations dedicated to arts and culture in Boulder. Together, they generate $70 million for the local economy, employing 968 full-time workers and contributing $2.2 million in tax revenue.

About 1.3 million people visited Boulder’s arts and cultural facilities in 2016, one million of whom were locals. Boulderites participate in 10 such events each year, on average, spending $22 per person. The roughly 300,000 annual arts visitors have deeper pockets, with a $45 average per-person spend that jumps to $174 per person with a hotel stay.

“Without theaters, without galleries, without cinemas, without music halls, all of this can’t be provided to Boulder,” said David Gross, treasurer of the board at the Dairy Arts Center. “We take money and we turn it into art.”

In the recently released 2018 Boulder Community Survey, 87% of respondents rated the city’s arts and cultural offerings favorably.

The application for grant funding is being developed now. It should be completed this month, staff said, and will be released in April. There are four main components winning proposals must have. Per notes to council, they should:

Deepen the connection to the community. This includes ideas to bolster or expand the ways the facility is a benefit to the residents of Boulder, build our sense of community or introduce the venue to new audiences in Boulder.

Encourage collaboration. This includes ideas to leverage the venue through collaborations with other nonprofits for programs, performances or exhibitions. Or projects that cooperate with local presenters, experts and artists for new programs sourced from creative people and groups in our community. Or, collaborations with organizations and cultural leaders outside of Boulder to benefit from fresh ideas and innovative experiences.

Improve access. This includes ideas that lower barriers to entry, provide outreach and marketing to underserved communities, keep admission costs low, or other ideas for accessibility.

Contribute to the experience of participants. This includes ideas for new performances or exhibitions, minor capital needs such as new or renovated equipment, temporary needs for visitor experience staff or contracted support of a program, startup costs for new experiences or other operational or programmatic improvements.

Facilities must also own or have a long-term lease in place. Applicants have until July to submit proposals. A preliminary report will be made to council in September.

Author’s note: This article was updated to include comments from Tuesday’s discussion.

— Shay Castle,, @shayshinecastle

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