DENVER (CBS4)– Next year voters in the Denver metro area will be asked to continue funding the arts but where the $55 million in tax dollars will go is up for debate.
The Scientific and Cultural Facilities District, or the SCFD, includes Denver and the following counties: Douglas, Boulder, Jefferson, Adams, Arapahoe and Broomfield.
The Denver metro area is an arts mecca, a place where Broadway shows open and world class art exhibits are featured. Much of that is due to the SCFD.
The SCFD helps fund hundreds of arts organizations through a regional sales tax. That tax is up for renewal next year and some claim Denver is greedy about sharing those dollars.
The Denver Zoo, Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the Denver Art Museum and the Denver Center for Performing Arts receive 65 percent of the tax money raised by the district.
“These are custodians of paintings that are 2,000 years old, they feed thousands of animals, they preserve the state’s paleontology, they’re expensive to operate,” said SCFD Chairman Dan Hopkins.
Hopkins said the district was founded to preserve the five flagships but a lot has changed since 1989.
The big five are bigger than ever and more than 200 small organizations, like Arts Street in Denver, have opened. Arts Street helps at-risk kids pursue careers in the arts and they say they need help too.
“If funding is not there, it’s not so much the few people who work there that’s losing but it’s all the lives that we touch,” said Arts Street founder Stella Yu.
Arts Street is one of more than 300 organizations that share the other 35 percent of the money generated by the tax.
Their numbers have doubled since the SCFD was founded while their share of the pie has remained the same.
“We feel it is time to take a look at how the funding is distributed to reflect what has happened and what we think will happen in the upcoming 12 years,” said Susan Honstein.
Honstein heads up a group of about 80 organizations asking the board to shift funding so the big five get 50 percent and smaller, regional organizations like the Colorado Symphony get 30 percent and the local organizations, like Arts Street, receive 20 percent.
“Fifty, 30, 20 is a great button but it’s not a plan,” said Hopkins.
The plan supported by the SCFD has been vetted by a task force working on the plan over the past four years. That plan shifts $37 million from the big five to the smaller players over the next 12 years but the big five still get 60 percent. Arts Street will continue to split the rest with 300 other non-profits.
“The name Denver may be in their title but these are in fact regional organizations, they serve regional audiences, 77 percent of the audiences of these Denver institutions come from outside Denver County,” said Hopkins.
“We simply don’t give up because the going is tough but at a certain point we do get tired and say, ‘Hey, I still need to put food on the table,'” said Yu.
The final formula will need to be approved by the state Legislature before it goes before voters in the seven county region in November 2016.