These Lawmakers Believe Investing In Rural Colorado Artists Will Help Boost Those Local Economies

Stephanie Wolf/CPR News
A mural by Armando Silva on the side of L.A Eatery in Granby.

An effort to boost Colorado's rural economies through funding and programming for arts and culture has earned bipartisan support at the state Capitol.

The bill HB20-1223 proposes grants for artists who live and work in rural areas.

Republican state Sen. Dennis Hisey, a co-sponsor of the bill, said Colorado’s rural economies haven’t seen the same kind of prosperity that other parts of the state have. He thinks artists might have the right kind of sensibility to help turn things around in those areas.

“It seems like a lot of the folks that do want to make a home out of rural Colorado, they are the artistic type,” Hisey said. “They're a kind of pioneers. They're willing to do things a little bit different ... and we just want to encourage them.”

To qualify for a grant, artists must live and work outside of the seven Denver metro counties that receive funding from the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District, or SCFD. They’ll also be required to work with a “qualified organization that will serve as the artist’s sponsor in submitting a grant application,” as stated in the bill’s summary.

The legislation would reallocate $50,000 from the general fund to cover administrative costs and grants starting this summer, and again each subsequent year. Grants would range from $2,500 to $10,000, according to the bill’s fiscal note.

Hisey said that’s “not a huge amount,” but it’s enough for him to anticipate a bit of a fight as it goes before the House Appropriations Committee Friday. His colleagues will be “looking at every dollar this year and want to make sure that money is well-spent, as they should be.”

“But we really believe that this seed money is going to generate really great benefits,” he said. “It'll help solidify the arts community that in turn attracts visitors from around the state as well as out-of-state.”

The arts and culture sector contributed more than $804 billion to the country’s GDP in 2016, according to a study from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The report also states that the average yearly growth rate for the arts and culture industry was nearly twice the growth rate for the entire nation’s economy from 2014 to 2016.

“I think it's important to understand that communities outside of Metro Denver are home to many artists,” said bill co-sponsor and state House Rep. Daneya Esgar. “I think there's a lot of communities that are really trying to embrace their artists and really celebrate the art industry.”

Esgar said these grants would foster “cultural prosperity,” not just economic prosperity.

“As a society, arts and culture is just important,” she said. “It's a creative mechanism that helps people express themselves and express their histories and express their cultural independence.”

And as school districts have had to tighten the purse strings on arts education, Esgar feels it’s more important than ever to “find a way to keep arts as a part of our everyday culture in communities across Colorado.”