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Publish Date: 9/25/2005

Lawmakers hear plea to support arts

DENVER — The state should feature its arts and cultural attractions as part of efforts to lure businesses and tourists to Colorado, a panel of state lawmakers was told Friday.

Deborah Jordy, executive director of the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts, also recommended that the Legislature restore annual funding for the Colorado Council on the Arts to the $1.9 million level it was at in 2001.

State general fund support of the arts council was reduced to $200,000 in 2004 and is now $700,000 for the current budget year, Jordy said, the minimum required to get federal matching funds from the National Endowment of the Arts.

Jordy said Colorado is 49th in the nation in per capita government support of the arts, with only California ranking lower.

Denver Democratic Rep. Alice Borodkin, chairwoman of the Legislature’s Interim Committee on Economic Development, said she agreed with the recommendations of Jordy and other arts advocates, but unavailability of state budget money has made funding a problem.

A study by Americans for the Arts identified at least 12,087 arts-related businesses and organizations in Colorado employing a total of 50,852 people as of January 2004, lawmakers were told.

While there has not been a formal statewide survey on the economic impact of performing and visual arts organizations and businesses in Colorado, Jordy told lawmakers the impact probably is substantial.

She said Colorado should be touting such attractions to companies to attract them to the state, since those are features that appeal to highly educated and professional employees and executives.

Ginger White, a senior economic development specialist with Denver’s Office of Cultural Affairs, said economists and social scientists “are awakening to the opportunities that the arts provide” and that state and local governments can reap the benefits of supporting private and nonprofit arts organizations.

Cities and states once engaged in “smoke-stack chasing” in competition for manufacturing plants and jobs, White said, but governments now vie for aerospace, software and biotechnology firms.

Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, agreed that arts can be an economic-development attraction that “falls under the purview of what’s called ‘quality of life.’ ”

Another benefit of a more active state promotion of the arts, Jordy said, would be to increase awareness of Colorado as a destination for “cultural tourists.”

“A lot of baby boomers are traveling a lot” after they retire, she said. “They’re looking for experiential travel.”

Borodkin said there appears to be a disconnect between what Colorado is promoting in its economic-development efforts and the criteria being used by business site-selection specialists when they rate one state against another.

Borodkin said the state needs not only a long-term plan for economic development but also a strategy for marketing Colorado’s arts and cultural offerings.

Anthony Radich of the Western States Arts Foundation said a number of other states are looking at or have adopted tax incentives and other mechanisms to enhance the “creative economy.”

“Colorado has a start but is, in my opinion, behind other states,” White said. “If you’re not going after a sector of the creative economy, someone else is, right now.”

John Fryar can be reached by e-mail at jfryar@times-call.com.

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