A New Umbrella for Denver's Cultural Assets

Posted by Jan Brennan, Dec 08, 2011 0 comments

Jan Brennan

The Denver Office of Cultural Affairs is no more. But don’t panic. In this case, it represents a positive development that helps ensure cultural programming and staffing remains strong in Denver.

This summer, the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs and the City Division of Theatres and Arenas combined forces to form a new, merged agency called Arts & Venues Denver.

The merger brings cultural programs and venues into an umbrella agency that brings together all of the City of Denver arts and entertainment assets. Arts & Venues Denver has adopted a new mission: To enhance Denver’s quality of life and economic vitality through premier public venues, artwork, and entertainment opportunities.

The former Office of Cultural Affairs has moved over as a department of the new agency, joining Facilities and Event Services Departments, and served jointly by Communications & Marketing and Finance sections.

We retained all of our staff, programs and budget in the transition, continuing to oversee public art, community events, arts education and creative sector initiatives.

We expect Arts & Venues Denver to benefit the city, residents, and visitors in several ways. There is wonderful synergy between city cultural programs and venues that we will be better able to leverage -- in arts education, partnerships, and community arts opportunities.

The City of Denver has great city-owned venues, from our famous Red Rocks Amphitheater to the Colorado Convention Center, Denver Performing Arts Complex, and Denver Coliseum. We are excited to expand opportunities for community programming and local arts organizations in these city venues.

I think this is also consistent with a national trend in the arts to break down barriers between the community/nonprofit side of the arts and the creative business side of the arts. Arts & Venues Denver serves the entire arts and creative community, supporting free community programs, as well as commercial arts and entertainment.

We are uniquely positioned to partner with civic and community entities, nonprofit cultural and science organizations, and creative and entertainment businesses.

The fact that Arts & Venues Denver brings together community and commercial aspects lays the groundwork for an important financial aspect of the merger. As part of the transition, Cultural Programs is being provided dedicated funding outside of the City of Denver general fund.

While we have been extremely fortunate to have had amazing support from the former Hickenlooper administration and the current administration of Mayor Michael Hancock, there are no city agencies that have not been affected by budget cutbacks in recent years.

The commercial side of venue rentals, parking, and food and beverage revenues will now directly support our Cultural Program staff, free community programs, and creative sector projects, insulating us from budget cuts necessitated by reduced general fund tax revenue. I feel very fortunate in these challenging economic circumstances, not to have to make any cuts to our arts budget, programs, and opportunities for 2012.

Already, new opportunities afforded by the Arts & Venues Denver are coming to fruition.

In the last few months, Denver was able to be a presenter of an Independence Eve concert by the Colorado Symphony Orchestra in our wonderful Civic Center Park, attended by over 70,000 people; expand our annual recognition of arts organizations and leaders through a large public event celebrating the Mayor’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts; and for the first time in many years, bring local nonprofit arts organizations into the Denver Performing Arts Complex for a free community festival during Denver Arts Week.

Can this type of local arts agency model work in your community? Why or why not?

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