Cultural resources attract people, businesses and money
The Denver Art Museum recently put on a one-of-a-kind Van Gogh exhibit. It took more than 10 years to put the show together, with pieces from many collectors and museums. The exhibit was sold out for its entire showing.
People came from all over to see these great works of art. This exhibit brought money into the city of Denver — lots of money. People came to experience great art. They could neither buy it nor touch it — they just wanted to experience it. This in a city that was not so long ago considered a cow town.
Now 59, I was born and lived in Denver until 10 years ago, when we moved to Moab. In my lifetime, I have seen the big, black hole in downtown Denver that was once the Denver Auditorium Theater turned into the Ellie Caulkins Opera House (which now houses the opera and the ballet company).
Denver also has a performing arts complex that includes the Buell Theater and the symphony hall. Denver is now the premier arts and culture center between Chicago and the West Coast.
Denver supports arts and culture with the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District tax, voted in by the taxpayers in 1989. The SCFD has distributed funds from a 1/10 of 1 percent sales and use tax to cultural facilities throughout the seven-county Denver metropolitan area.
The funds support cultural facilities with a primary purpose of enlightening and entertaining the public through the production, presentation, exhibition, advancement and preservation of art, music, theater, dance, zoology, botany, natural history and cultural history. Every time the tax comes up for renewal, taxpayers vote it in. Denver values what these facilities bring to the community.
I bring all this up because I attended the Grand Junction City Council meeting Wednesday night concerning the future of the Avalon Theatre.
One of the reasons we moved to Grand Junction from Moab 18 months ago was that, while it had world-class outdoor experiences, Moab was bereft of cultural activities. Over the years, I came to Grand Junction many times for concerts and even had season tickets to the Cabaret. These trips usually included dinner and, most times, a hotel stay.
I have to say I was disappointed in the split decision by the council over the Avalon. The split decision was a preferred alternative to abandoning the project, however.
For disclosure purposes, I voted for Councilman Martin Chazen and Councilwoman Phyllis Norris, the naysayers to the project. I applaud them for wanting to be fiscally conservative, which is a big reason I voted for them. I think, however, they are being rather shortsighted about the future of Grand Junction.
Chazen kept wanting to have a payoff date for the city’s $3 million contribution to the Avalon. Cultural improvements almost never pay themselves off. They are investments in a community.
Some people enjoy sporting events or parks, and some enjoy the theater and symphony. If a facility pays its bills once it is built, it is considered a success.
You cannot put funding for the Avalon in the same basket as a new diesel dump truck. Cultural and artistic endeavors cannot be measured like a standardized test.
When people are looking to move somewhere (as my husband and I did) or a business is considering relocating to a community, they want clean air and water, good schools, parks and entertainment and the arts.
Norris thinks there are other ways to spend the money. There are always other places to spend money. Arts education is the first to go when schools cut budgets; arts funding is the first cut in any budget. However, you cannot have a vibrant community without the arts.
My husband and I do not have children, yet we have been paying property taxes for 38 years. Should I protest paying school taxes because I am not directly benefiting from those taxes?
I don’t use the parks. Should I have to pay for those? What is the return on investment in a park? It is immeasurable, in the same way that arts investment cannot be measured.
The bottom line is the Downtown Development Authority and the Avalon Foundation have the funds to which each committed to move forward on the project. The previous City Council approved the city’s funds, which are now in reserve.
If the civic leaders in Denver had dragged their feet like the current City Council, Denver would still be a cow town. Grand Junction has the ability to be a jewel for the communities on the Western Slope. It is time for the council to invest in Grand Junction’s future to make it the best city to live in by 2025.
Debra Hughes is a retired oil and gas accountant who lived in Denver and currently resides in Grand Junction.