When stacked up against similar cities, Durango isn’t spending much on arts and culture.
STEAM Park, the group behind an effort to build a science theatre, education, arts and music park in Durango, took a hard look at funding models for the arts in other cities and found Durango lagging.
The city spends about .04 percent of its annual budget on arts and culture, which places it dead last among the 10 cities analyzed. Measured by per capita spending, the city also came in last, at about $1 a person.
“It’s pitiful compared to what other cities are doing,” said Terry Bacon, president of the STEAM Park board. While the city has many other major needs, he believes there should be a better balance.
Durango City Council had asked STEAM Park backers to find out how Durango compared to other cities in spending on the arts. The group picked cities that were comparable to Durango and reviewed municipal budgets for information. Standardized data on cultural budgets was not available.
The STEAM Park looked at smaller cities in Colorado, including Salida and Breckenridge, as well as comparable cities in other states, such as Olympia, Washington.
The study also included Fort Collins because 30 years ago the city was similar to Durango and it provides a good model on strategies that work, Bacon said.
“They have done a masterful job,” he said. Some communities in the study support arts and culture with funds from their general revenue or dedicated taxes, similar to the 2015 half-cent sales tax Durangoans approved to support the Parks and Recreation Department. Greater public funding in Durango for arts events and attractions could help draw more people to town and retain more millennials, those 18 to 34, said Sheri Rochford Figgs, project coordinator for STEAM Park.
“If we are going to keep the millennials here, we need to elevate the arts and culture scene,” she said.
There may be room for discussion about greater funding for arts and culture in Durango, but the city has many other priorities, said Durango City Councilor Sweetie Marbury.
The city did take a step by reinstituting support for arts and culture in the form of a $10,000 block grant in the 2016 budget. The city had cut funding for arts and culture nonprofits during the recession.
“I think the city is trying to help organizations in small ways but not ignoring the big needs of the city,” she said.
To help develop arts and culture in Durango, STEAM Park supporters would like to see the town start a cultural master planning process. This process could help make sure the planned park would meet community needs and desires. It would also help identify what events and attractions residents and visitors would like to see to help downtown thrive through expanded arts and culture, Rochford Figs said.
“We’ve ignored it too long and we need to focus on it ... We realize there are all these other pressing issues, but there is always going to be pressing issues,” she said.