Denver is currently undergoing a planning process to develop a new cultural plan for the city.
The last time this was done in Denver on a significant scale was in 1989, when strategies that have made a lasting impact on the city's cultural landscape -- such as the decision to allocated 1% of all public building project budgets to the commissioning, creation and installation of public art -- came into being.
On Monday evening, city cultural policy officials held a town hall meeting to summarize the progress of the plan development so far and get further input from members of the public. I don't know how many regular citizens were in attendance at the meeting. There were about 100 people present in total and I recognized many of them as arts and culture industry workers of one kind or another.
When Ginger White, the deputy director of Denver Arts & Venues, the city's cultural body, talked about the results of the survey in Monday's meeting, it was particularly interesting to see that respondents consider Denver to be very nearly as much of an arts town (84%) as they think of it as a sports town (94%).
Sports come out on top, which isn't a surprise in a place where Peyton Manning and John Elway are regarded as near-deities and traffic on the freeways comes to a standstill when the local teams are playing (which is to say that it comes to a standstill almost on a daily basis.)
But the arts came in a close second, which is very heartening. If this question had been asked in the 1989 survey -- which it wasn't according to Daniel Rowland, a spokesperson for Denver Arts & Venues -- would the answer have been the same? Somehow, I doubt it.
There were more than 800 people who responded to the poll. But in a city of more than 600,000 people, that's a very small sample. So it's hard to be too optimistic about the survey results. Also, the biggest challenge for the city in terms of developing this cultural plan as far as I can see, is reaching beyond this core group of mostly white, middle-class, public-radio-listening folks who work in cultural fields.
The administrators in charge of developing Denver's "Imagine2020" culture plan are well aware of this issue. In their phone survey, they weighted the sample towards African-American and Latino homes. Still. I think much more work needs to be done to get a true assessment of how Denverites feel about their city's cultural output.
Daniel Rowland disagrees. "We painstakingly made sure that the 800 respondents were a representative sample of both the city’s demographics and geography," Rowland said. "It’s a statistically valid sample of the city’s 600,000 residents." This last comment may in fact stand up to reason: Denver is an extremely white city. I should also add that although the phone survey questioned 800 or so people, Denver Arts & Venues talked to more than 5,000 people in drafting the plan, including more than 4,200 that provided input online or in person at the Imagine2020 public meetings that have been held in recent months.