Where To Next For Arts, Culture, And Creativity In Denver?

By the numbers, the Mile High City is home to roughly 400 arts and cultural venues – everything from small art galleries and bars with live music to the four-acre Denver Performing Arts Complex. For most of 2013, Denver Arts & Venues has asked people to think just as big about arts and culture. They wanted ideas bigger than the big blue Mustang at the Denver International Airport. More than just ideas, they wanted hopes and visions of the future as well. It’s all part of the public process that will be turned into the cities’ forthcoming cultural plan, Imagine Denver 2020.

“I would love to see a Denver that is confident and proud about what it is and who it is and is surprising not only Colorado but the world with its own unique sense of place,” said Charles Carpenter, co-owner of Wigwam Creative.

Since April, responses have been gathered from more than 5,000 people both within the creative community and the public at large. The idea is to establish a baseline of public perception of arts and culture.

According to a summary, there was positive and negative feedback. “Diverse” was the word most commonly used to describe Denver’s scene. Respondents also believe the scene is strengthened by the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District and fairs and festivals.

As for the negative, people reported a need for better communication of events, a lack of media coverage and criticism of the arts, as well as low support for individual artists.

The information gathered has been distilled into in seven “vision elements” and 53 proposed tactics for implementation.

“We are trying to imagine what the brand for Denver might be in terms of the cultural climate,” said Kent Rice, executive director of Denver Arts & Venues, the city agency spearheading the Imagine 2020 process. Rice said it is important the plan, the cities’ first in 25 years, reflect current perceptions and future community desires relative to arts and culture.

Denver resident Tara Hubner hopes Imagine Denver 2020 helps the city define its identity.

“I feel like as a city, we are somewhere between the ages of 16 and 18,” said Hubner, the Digital Marketing Manager for the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. She commented independent of her role at the museum.

“Denver needs to find out what makes it unique and focus on really pushing that,” said Hubner. “We do, more than a lot of other cities our size, have an extremely rich cultural scene. The variety is really kind of astounding for the size market this is.”

Numerous hours and about $90,000 has been invested by Arts & Venues and the Office of Economic Development in the forthcoming cultural plan. During the process, other communities with cultural plans were assessed. Among them, Chicago, Austin, Toronto and London.

Although cultural plans can “nudge” economic development, Williams College Economics Professor Stephen Sheppard said they tend to build support for existing initiatives.

“These kinds of plans are a way that advocates help to educate the community and educate policy makers about the role that the cultural sector can play, along with other sectors, in the process of economic development,” said Sheppard.

Where will the plan take Denver? It’s too early to tell, the full plan will be out in the spring of 2014, but it’s not too late to toss in your two cents. Public comment can be given online through Nov. 22, 2013.

 Carrie Saldo

Arts District is a collaboration of KUNC, Rocky Mountain PBS, and KUVO.

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