Remember way back in early 2009 when Americans for the Arts (including Bob Lynch, Robert Redford, John Legend and others) and countless other brave souls in congress successfully lobbied to include a paltry $50 million in the stimulus for the National Endowment for the Arts? (In case you're curious, that $50 million represents barely even a droplet in the $787 billion stimulus package)
Well, that $50 million has now been distributed, and it's trickling down to our own local arts community. There are some extremely misinformed comments on the story in today's Gazette about the $30,000 awarded to three organizations. It appears that despite our best efforts to educate the public that arts jobs are real jobs, there is still much work to be done.
In accordance with federal stimulus policy, these funds are specifically earmarked for retaining jobs in the arts. These are real jobs held by real American people. They are artists, musicians, filmmakers, cultural managers, stagehands, gallery staff, technicians, costume designers, marketing directors, IT staff--the list goes on and on. They are part of the economy. They earn paychecks, they pay sales taxes, they enter into mortgages. They work hard to support their families.
The stimulus money was designated by the NEA to the more than 4,000 local and state arts agencies throughout the nation. The reason for this? These agencies have nearly 50 years of proven history as good stewards of tax dollars and can ensure speedy disbursement to local projects. In Colorado that meant the Colorado Council on the Arts (CCA), the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs (DOCA), and the Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF) awarded 47 Colorado non-profit arts organizations with $568,040 in federal recovery funds to preserve or restore 313 salaried and contract positions.
DOCA alone announced $225,000 in stimulus grants to 15 Denver arts organizations. A few people have been contacted me, concerned about a perceived inequity between Denver and the Springs. It's important to note the distinctions between our communities. There's more going on here than immediately seems apparent. As I pointed out to the Gazette reporter, we have fewer arts organizations with paid staff in the Pikes Peak region, and these grants are specifically for preserving jobs, not creating programming.
Second, we don't have a mechanism for delivering the funds to arts organizations in the Pikes Peak region. While COPPeR is in many ways a parallel organization to DOCA, we are a private nonprofit, and we are not set up as re-granting organization at this point in time. Similarly, the Department of Cultural Services within Colorado Springs City government also does not operate as a re-granting agent. In fact, Cultural Services was not even eligible beacause they had not received a CCA grant in the designated time. Furthermore, if Cultural Services had been eligible, they would have most likely applied to save the jobs that are hemorrhaging from the 2010 budget. To read more about proposed City budget cuts, which include closing the Pioneers Museum,click here.
Our arts community has grown immensely in the past five years. I truly believe that momentum is not slowing. But we face new challenges, and we must accept that we are growing incrementally. Like many, I wish that more than $30,000 had made its way to the Pikes Peak region (and indeed, I know many worthy organizations that did apply), but at this time, we simply don't have the infrastructure of Denver to offer the kind of support they can.