Colorado Representative Leslie Herod Advocates for the Arts in General Assembly

Posted by Mr. Jay H. Dick, Nov 03, 2022 0 comments

Representative Leslie Herod (HD-8) was elected in 2016 as the first LGBTQ African American in the Colorado General Assembly, while receiving the highest number of votes of any candidate running in a contested election. Since then, she has passed over 150 bills, addressing criminal justice reform, mental health, addiction, youth homelessness, business and the arts, and civil rights protections. Her legislative agenda underscores her commitment to improving the lives of all Coloradans, especially those caught in the cycle of poverty or mired in the criminal justice system.

Smiling African American woman with long, wavy dark hair falling below her shoulders, wearing a brown animal-print dress and string of pearls, standing in front of an outdoor mural of a woman with upturned face and closed eyes. The word breathe is in large capital letters and cursive text reads: Parallel Pandemics COVID & Racism, Representative Leslie Herod, Boldly Forward.
Representative Leslie Herod, photo by James C Gardner III (@thejamescreative)

Rep. Herod’s district, House District 8 in Denver, encompasses economic and cultural diversity within its neighborhoods, and there are many examples of where her work in and out of the General Assembly has made Colorado a richer cultural experience for those who live, work, and visit the state. She has chaired the Arts Caucus, the Colorado Democratic Black Caucus, and is a member of the Colorado LGBTQ Caucus.

Americans for the Arts, in partnership with the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), presented Rep. Herod with the 2021 Public Leadership in the Arts Award for her work in advancing arts and culture, especially during the pandemic to help artists and arts organizations survive. 

As Chair of the Colorado House Appropriations Committee, she has used her influence to ensure that arts and culture are not only seen as economic engines but are treated with the respect they deserve. Rep. Herod is fond of comparing the economic impact of the state’s arts and culture sector to its ski industry. Aware that everyone in Colorado knows that the ski industry is huge in the state—supporting jobs and bringing in tax revenue—she notes that the ski industry is $4.8 billion dollars, while arts and culture is a $14.4 billion dollar industry, generating about three times more than the ski industry. She lets that sink in for the audience and then drives it home by emphasizing that this is why everyone should support arts and culture, as it is BIG business and deserves the respect that comes with that.  

Over the last few years, she has secured funding for individuals, businesses, and organizations working in the creative industries. Rep. Herod was the primary champion of House Bill 20B-001, the General Assembly’s major small business recovery bill passed during a special session that she ensured included much-need financial support for artists, arts businesses, organizations, and venues. One of the four components of the bill provided $7.5 million in relief for arts entities. 

Rep. Herod was also the primary champion of House Bill 21-1285, which included $23 million for the creative industries disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Before and during the pandemic, Rep. Herod has always vocally supported more funding and fiercely defended existing funding for the arts via her positions on the Joint Budget Committee and Business Committee in particular.

Rep. Herod has partnered with the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) on many legislative efforts, including on at least six arts and/or small business-related bills in the past year, with a total of $31.5 million going specifically to the arts. She has also helped OEDIT ensure that her office is engaged with diverse communities and reaching BIPOC-owned businesses with resources, including those in the creative industries. As part of this work, she served on OEDIT’s Colorado Tourism Office Inclusivity in Travel Advisory Group, which convened to help create a cohesive strategy to increase the state’s appeal to diverse travelers and advance a more inclusive culture within Colorado.  

Rep. Herod believes that the arts bring diverse groups of people together to inspire connections, create change, and support economic vibrancy. She believes that the shortest distance between people are their stories, and the arts open doors to conversations that define us as a community and address complex issues to create greater understanding. 

The arts play a vital role in Colorado's economic growth and in providing cultural and educational benefits. The arts and culture industry provides almost 100,000 jobs in the state. In her own district, organizations like Cleo Parker Robinson Dance and the Museum of Nature and Science offer opportunities for people to connect with each other. These organizations not only enhance quality of life, but they also provide good jobs and attract tourists.

In Colorado, every budget year is difficult. Rep. Herod is committed to continuing her work with her colleagues to grow the Arts Caucus to push for the needs of the arts community. Colorado has a vibrant arts scene thanks to public investment in the arts, which has helped establish an atmosphere and culture where people want to live and work. The pandemic highlighted the importance of the arts in ensuring communities stay connected and resilient during trying times. It also highlighted the need for continued funding for Colorado’s creative community. 

The arts are Colorado’s cultural life and a driving force in the economy, and Rep. Herod will continue to fight hard for programs that invest in the arts and support artists. Because investing in the arts is an investment in Colorado’s future.

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