Denver launches ambitious culture plan with IMAGINE 2020

PHOTO: Culture Plan mayor
Mayor Michael Hancock unveiling Denver's new cultural plan.

The city of Denver launched an ambitious cultural plan on Tuesday with IMAGINE 2020, the city's first comprehensive cultural plan in 25 years.

“Now that we have this plan it is time to get to it,” Mayor Michael Hancock says. “This is not just some document that we expect to sit on a shelf.

The last cultural plan, launched in 1989, was the impetus behind some of the biggest cultural advances in Denver.

These include the city’s “1 percent for art” public art program and the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD) program which oversees the tax funding of many of Denver major arts organizations, from the Denver Art Museum and the Denver Botanic Gardens all the way to smaller galleries such as RedLine.

The new plan

This new cultural plan, spearheaded by Denver Arts & Venues, a city agency which oversees many public venues and arts activities, is the outcome of months of consultations with thousands of Denver residents.

Denver Arts & Venues conducted an online survey and invited Denverites to open houses and town hall-style meetings. Researchers asked participants to imagine what the future for arts and culture in Denver might look like.

The results are as revealing of Denver’s cultural life today as they are of its aspirations for the future.

IMAGINE 2020 identifies seven major elements and 50 goals for developing the city’s arts landscape going forwards, while also taking a hard look at what obstacles Denver faces if it wants to hit these targets.

For example, researchers working on the cultural plan found that Denver residents do not participate in the arts as much as they would like. Sixty percent of respondents say they would like to participate more. Researchers found this is especially true among Hispanic and African American residents.

Take art to the people

PHOTO: culture Plan GalleriaDancer
Galleria Dancer at The Denver Center for the Performing Arts

Mayor Michael Hancock says the best way to include more Hispanic and African-Americans is to move the arts away from mainly downtown Denver and disperse it across Denver’s many neighborhoods.

“We want to take the arts to where [the people] are,” Mayor Hancock says.

This issue of better, more equal access to culture was a dominant theme in the plan. IMAGINE 2020 found that while more than 90 percent of survey respondents reported that it is easy to find arts and culture in Denver, only 56 percent reported that it would be just as easy to find arts in their own neighborhoods.

The mayor believes all Denverites stand to benefit if arts and culture are more equally distributed across Denver at the neighborhood level.

“It would be nice to just walk down the street and see theatre or a community show,” the mayor says.

Looking for Leadership

Leadership is perhaps one of the most complex issues tackled in the cultural plan.

Researchers found leadership, particularly around policy and vision, to be lacking from Denver’s cultural landscape. Denver residents who work in the arts report that no one single entity has the job of strategically advancing public policy for arts and culture in Denver.

“If we only focus on the mayor as the only one who can lead that is the wrong focus,” Mayor Hancock says. “This has to be a community-generated effort.”

Ten of the 50 goals identified in IMAGINE 2020 have been identified as priorities for the city:

  • Increase visibility of local artistic and creative talent;
  • Launch a public/private partnership with a focus on building the infrastructure necessary for 21st-century cultural development and promotion;
  • Identify, inventory and rank availability of arts, culture and creativity in every neighborhood, noting cultural deserts;
  • Address barriers that limit participation such as affordability, transportation and other factors;
  • Increase availability of affordable and accessible live/work spaces for creative sector workers;
  • Launch an alliance of organizations committed to inclusiveness and engagement in arts and culture;
  • Inventory all arts, cultural, and creative enterprises for policy and messaging purposes;
  • Offer a “Culture Cash” gift card, with proceeds benefiting IMAGINE 2020 initiatives;
  • Support Denver Public Schools’ arts education strategic plan; and
  • Maximize website for residents and visitors.

For a full description of all the goals, visit IMAGINE 2020: Denver’s cultural plan.