Imagine Durango without the arts. No music festivals, no dance, no theater, no art galleries, no children's programs, no singing, no film festivals, no sculpture, no debates in the newspaper about differing perspectives, and probably no opportunity to read this article, because without the arts, there's no need to cover them.
While the picture isn't that bleak, the current budget crunch at the state level on down will affect our local arts organizations. The state of Colorado is proposing a 50 percent cut to the budget of the Colorado Council on the Arts.
Not as dramatic as the cuts in 2002 that nearly did away with the Council entirely, but steep enough to severely damage the council's grants and services for artists, community organizations, schools, creative businesses and government agencies.
The program is currently suspended and Council Director Elaine Mariner is on a listening tour to gather public feedback about the critical areas in which state investment is essential to support our creative economy.
CCA funds last year supported 21 artists, businesses and organization in Archuleta, La Plata and Montezuma counties with grants ranging from $500 to $21,250. Many of those grants provide children's programming. Linda Mack with the Durango Choral Society said the funds paid for 77 kids to participate in a choir camp with guest clinicians this year.
"It's hard to speculate what we will do if the grant funds dry up," Mack said. "It would be much more difficult to provide this special camp."
Susan Lander, director of Music in the Mountains, explained that classical music festivals typically don't receive grant funding, but the grant funding they do receive goes to the educational program. Music in the Mountains reaches 7,000 school-aged children through Music in the Mountains Goes to School.
"All rural arts organizations had to cut back in 2002, and we are just now making it back," Lander said. "We all work on a shoestring, and it's time for us to explain that we need help."
But where will that help come from? Donors are giving less this year, corporate sponsors are struggling and foundations are eliminating the arts from their funding programs.
"We are all competing for the same dollars, yet we want to maintain our particular mission," Mack said.
Some organizations are trying to collaborate more closely. Lander said she recently met with Charles Leslie of the Community Concert Hall and Carson Jones, director of the Durango Arts Center.
Jones said that without the CCA support, scholarships may not be available for children to attend programs at low or no cost.
And every organization I spoke with is tightening its belts and cutting its already lean budgets.
Crista Munro, director of FolkWest in Pagosa Springs, has increased her organization in the last 14 years with funding from the CCA. The Four Corners Folk Festival is its premiere event, but FolkWest now offers two other festivals: the Pagosa Folk & Bluegrass Festival and the Mountain Chile Cha Cha.
"When you cut back on the cultural offerings, you cut back on the tourism," Munro said.
According to "An Economic Significance Assessment" completed in 2007 by j.r. porter and associates, The Four Corners Folk Festival provides nearly $2 million worth of economic impact to Archuleta County and Pagosa Springs.
And the state just released "Colorado: State-of-the-Art, Key Findings From the State of Colorado's Creative Economy," a research report conducted by Regional Technology Strategies and Mt. Auburn Associates, Inc., that finds creative industry is the fifth largest employment sector in the state providing 186,000 jobs.
Instead of cutting the budget of the CCA, perhaps the state should invest in this job-creating, tourism-boosting, economic development engine.
email@example.comLeanne Goebel is a freelance writer specializing in the arts. She served on the CCA grant evaluation panel in 2008 and has received a small step grant to start a writer's residency program in Pagosa Springs.