Balance, not betrayal

Unpacking 2A and what its advocates get wrong

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BMoCA, pictured here, is one of multiple arts organizations housed on city property. Credit: Tricia Rubio

By Nicole Speer and Mark Wallach

Last month, the Boulder Weekly published a lengthy recitation of grievances and claims of betrayal by the city from some in Boulder’s arts community (“Compromise and consequence,” April 25). 

At the heart of that argument was the following complaint: Last November, Boulder voters approved initiative 2A, which provides approximately $3.6 million annually in dedicated arts and culture funding beginning in 2025. The city budgeted $1.8 million for the arts from our general fund in 2024, and the arts community believes it should be entitled to both this $1.8 million and the approximately $3.6 million from 2A in perpetuity. Because staff wouldn’t guarantee this total of $5.4 million of arts funding for 2025, the city had betrayed 2A’s backers. 

That’s a lot to unpack, but let’s give it a whirl. 

First, city departments and programs aren’t entitled to general funds, where the $1.8 million we currently spend on the Office of Arts and Culture originated, which includes the budget for arts grants. Every year, staff and council evaluate the city’s needs holistically and allocate general fund money to departments and programs to meet as many needs as possible. As a result of 2A, $3.6 million in arts funding is no longer beholden to that holistic process; the $1.8 million from the general fund is.

Regarding the expectation that the last council could mandate future councils allocate general fund money in a particular way, we stated explicitly in our public discussions that we did not have this power. Suggesting city leaders betrayed the community is unnecessarily inflammatory and quite misleading. No such commitment was made; in fact, it was specifically anticipated at that time that the $3.6 million in guaranteed new funding would supersede the funds provided from the general fund.

Unfortunately, this is not the only point from the article that was inflammatory and misleading. 

You were told that half of the city’s $1.8 million arts budget went to “internal expenditures,” leaving only $900,000 available for grants. This is false. Administrative costs were around $400,000 in 2023; the $3.6 million will represent a doubling of arts funding, not arts administration.

You were told that the $3.6 million 2A directed toward the arts would represent the entirety of the city’s arts funding. This is false. 2A is one of many sources of arts funding in the city. The Capital Improvement Program will direct over $1 million to artists to produce public art projects for the community in the next few years. Arts nonprofits are getting $74,000 in the Community Culture, Resilience and Safety tax grants’ first round. In addition, the city provides rent subsidies to BMoCA, the Dairy and Chautauqua, which are worth millions of dollars yearly. 

Departments such as Parks and Recreation, Open Space and Mountain Parks, and Housing and Human Services have separate budgets for arts programming, including the Human Services grants program and Parks and Recreation’s contracts for the Pottery Lab, among many others. Later this year, our Facilities and Fleet department will spend $250,000 to have artists from Tajikistan repaint the Teahouse. None of these expenses are included in the arts budget referenced in the article. 

You were told that $600,000 of 2A funding will be put into an emergency fund each year, substantially reducing the funds available for the arts. This is false. In the first year (2025), 16.7% (roughly $600,000) will be set aside as an emergency fund, considered sound financial management practice. However, this is not an annual deduction but a one-time transfer which each following year is only adjusted for growth. It is only replenished after it is used for an emergency. 

You were told we spend less money on the arts than other communities. This is false. Data collected by city staff shows that the City of Boulder’s 2023 allocation for grants was higher per capita than many other government grant funders, including Denver Arts and Venues, Colorado Creative Industries and the National Endowment for the Arts. Also, the arts budget in comparable cities often includes the significant costs for maintaining and operating venues such as city-run museums and theaters. 

We’ll say it once again for the folks in the back: Boulder’s current $1.8 million arts budget does not account for the millions of dollars in free rent we give yearly to venues like Chautauqua and Dairy Arts Center. 

Last fall, 2A’s supporters told you that doubling arts funding by diverting $3.6 million from the general fund would not impact other city programs. This was false. Many social services programs implemented in the last few years to offset the lingering economic impacts of COVID-19 on our nonprofits, households and businesses are at risk of being cut or eliminated due to the sunsetting of ARPA funding.

Here is what is true: Our city’s budget of approximately $514 million — less than $5,000 per resident — is not large enough to meet our community’s growing needs and offset the local impacts of regional and national problems such as homelessness, unaffordable housing, climate-related disasters, energy and food monopolies, migration, mental illness and drug addiction. 

Here is what is also true: Municipal budgeting is a zero-sum game. Adding dollars to one program requires cutting them from another. In a climate where painful cuts are inevitable and our community’s needs far outweigh our budget, every other department in the city would gladly change places with the arts community and “settle” for doubling their budgets. 

None of us should be comfortable pitting arts funding against food for families, services for people experiencing homelessness or prevention of the next wildfire. In a community, we all matter and should have what we need. But it is not fair to direct this discomfort at city staff and accuse them of betraying our community because they cannot magically meet everyone’s needs. 

It is the city council — not staff — that has ultimate responsibility for the budget. The buck stops with us.

More public funding for the arts or any other city-funded program will require us to consider which sacrifices we are willing to make. We’ll have some complex discussions as we create a long-term strategic financial plan for the city in the next two years. 

We welcome suggestions on where to spend more money as we plan for our 2025 budget. Just make sure to also tell us what you want to cut, because failure to do so indicates a lack of seriousness. 

And please, let’s have enough respect for each other to keep our disagreements grounded in facts. That way we can work together to build a future where we can meet all our community’s needs.

Current Boulder Mayor Pro Tem Nicole Speer and former Boulder Mayor Pro Tem, current council member Mark Wallach are writing in their individual capacities. Their views do not necessarily reflect the views of Council or the City of Boulder.

This opinion does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly


Editor’s note: Wallach and Speer are correct: We got some things wrong in our article. The necessary corrections have been made online, and we’ll run corrections in print as well. We apologize for the errors and lack of clarity.

We hate getting stuff wrong, but we insist upon fixing it when we do. If you’ve spotted something inaccurate in our paper, please email us: editorial@boulderweekly.com

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