Let’s make bold investments in our cultural landscape 

word with dice on white background - culture

It seems that every generation or two, Boulderites have made significant strides to shape the town’s future, enhance the economy, and improve our collective quality of life. 

In the 1870s, for example, we put education and cultural improvement front and center when we started building CU. In the 1890s, forward-thinking citizens encouraged Chautauqua to put down roots at the base of the Flatirons, setting the stage for Boulder to become an intellectually progressive community. In the early 1900s, Boulder started acquiring the Flatirons, Flagstaff Mountain, and other lands in the mountain backdrop, laying the groundwork for Boulder to become a world leader in the outdoor industry. And, in the years after World War II, Boulder leaders raised the seed monies that influenced the federal government to site NOAA and the National Bureau of Standards in town. This step ensured Boulder would remain at the forefront of the nation’s innovative essence. 

The federal labs investment was a prominent reason Boulder became a leading hub for our vigorous tech industry. Another giant step forward took place in the late 1960s when Boulder citizens became the first in the nation to pass a sales tax to acquire open space, protect the environment, and shape the urban region for the better. Every time you hike or bike on open space land, you can thank those visionaries that Boulder Valley isn’t a sea of subdivisions extending from the Flatirons to Longmont and Denver.

Each of these advances occurred because our predecessors saw and took chances that would make this a better community. Every one of these steps created exceptional opportunities for the town that, over the years, made Boulder a place to cherish.  

We find ourselves at a similar crossroads of opportunity today. We’ve done great things for education, the economy, and the environment. But when I scan the town, I see only a fragmented and scattershot approach toward our town’s cultural vitality. Sure, many remarkable organizations have done truly amazing things, often with shoestring budgets, to improve our cultural life. Just scan through this edition ofBoulder Weekly and you will see so many wonderful options for enjoying the arts in this great city. Yet we have done precious little as a community to finance our cultural infrastructure. We certainly have not made the bold investments in our cultural landscape as our forerunners have for education, science, and the environment.

We have an opportunity to rectify how we fund cultural projects in Boulder by extending the existing 0.15% “Arts, Culture and Heritage Tax” measure appearing on this November’s ballot. What is unique about this tax extension is that it will annually distribute roughly $7.5 million in tax revenue equally between city-funded projects and cultural nonprofits within Boulder. As an extension, the tax is a continuance of something we are already used to. However, this money has the potential to dramatically improve how we support the construction and operation of cultural facilities within the city of Boulder. Moreover, it will add to the financial sustainability of our cultural organizations in ways that will benefit every person in town.

Arts organizations contribute to the cultural richness of a community by providing opportunities for people to engage with various art forms, such as the studio and visual arts, music, theater, and dance. Cultural organizations enrich the quality of life for our residents and guests. Children in low-income households who have regular access to arts programs are five times less likely to drop out of school and more than twice as likely to graduate from college.  Arts events and institutions attract tourists and visitors to boost local businesses such as restaurants, hotels and shops. Economists tell us that cultural tourists, on average, spend upwards of 67% more than other types of tourists that visit the city. Cultural organizations stimulate the local economy, enhance diversity, and create quality jobs. Arts organizations host events and workshops that unite people, fostering a sense of community. They offer safe, fun spaces for people to connect and share experiences. Every $1 invested in after-school art programs saves $9 in social service, crime, and other public costs for communities. Arts organizations help develop individuals’ creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills, which benefit businesses by producing a more innovative and adaptable workforce. And for those of us who are getting older, adults that participate in three or more art activities each week are 63% less likely to develop dementia. Vibrant art and music scenes make communities more attractive to tourists, contributing to a thriving tourism industry that bolsters local businesses. Moreover, psychologists have demonstrated that engaging with the arts positively improves mental health, improves well-being, lowers stress, and makes for happy residents.

Forward-thinking Boulderites took the steps necessary to make this town great. But the job is far from complete. We have before us a great opportunity to make this town even better.

Please join me in supporting the Arts, Culture, and Heritage Tax extension, as our cultural organizations and infrastructure play a multifaceted role in enhancing the cultural, economic, and social well-being of Boulder.  

Bob Crifasi is the president of the board of Studio Arts Boulder. A writer, photographer and ceramic artist, Crifasi is also the author of a book about Boulder’s history, A Land Made From Water, and also wrote Western Water A to Z, the Nature, History, and Culture of a Vanishing Resource released this past January.

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly. 

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