DENVER (AP) – Colorado’s largest cultural institutions are offering financial help to grassroots groups, uniting big and small arts organizations as they ask taxpayers to continue supporting a pioneering funding program.

The board of the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District has agreed to create a new $750,000 annual grant fund for small organizations, many formed by and serving neighborhoods and ethnic groups. The core recipients of SCFD money — Denver’s main art and natural history museums, botanic gardens, performing arts center and zoo — each kicked in $150,000 for the “cultural inclusivity fund.”

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Dan Hopkins, who chairs the SCFD board, said in an interview Friday that the funding proposal adopted unanimously at a meeting last week underlines his board’s commitment to ensuring “all — and I emphasize all — are served.”

He added: “I don’t know that voters are paying attention yet, but it will be an important message when we get closer to the vote.”

Voters will be asked in November to reauthorize the SCFD, under which a penny sales tax on every $10 spent in the seven counties goes to arts and culture. Voters reauthorized SCFD in 1994 and 2004 after first approving it in 1988. SCFD has over the decades distributed hundreds of millions of dollars to organizations in Denver and six surrounding counties, the state’s population center.

By law, two-thirds of SCFD funds go to the five Denver institutions seen as serving the broadest audience. In the lead-up to this year’s vote, tensions had emerged between the big five and smaller groups that argued they are doing more to serve diverse audiences in a region where, as in the United States as a whole, minorities are a growing part of the population.

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In an email to The Associated Press Friday, Jane Potts, who had helped organize lobbying aimed at getting a larger share of funding for smaller organizations, called the new grant program a “major step forward.” She also strongly endorsed the reauthorization ballot initiative the board had proposed earlier. Potts’s group, Friends of Arts & Cultural Equity 2016, had earlier criticized the SCFD’s ballot proposal, which had shifted some funding from the largest groups to small and medium institutions. The new grants for the smallest groups would be in addition to the funds earmarked for them in the ballot proposal.

Brian Vogt, chief executive officer of the Denver Botanic Gardens, said the new fund promoted unity within the arts and culture community and diversity for audiences. He said that while discussions in recent months had exposed divisions, “this whole process has opened up all kinds of lines of communication.”

With diversity and inclusion part of the arts discussion across the country, the debate has drawn national attention to Denver, whose SCFD helped inspire similar programs in places like Utah and Minnesota.

By DONNA BRYSON, Associated Press

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