DENVER— The arts are a major factor in what can make Colorado a distinctive and desirable place to live, work and play. Colorado Business Committee for the Arts (CBCA) originated with this in mind. This year, CBCA celebrates 35 years of advocating for the arts through education, access to resources, and stewardship of arts and business partnerships across the state.
In 1985, CBCA emerged with the recognition that much more could be done to improve the arts ecosystem of Colorado.
“Colorado was at the bottom in terms of their support for the arts,” said Cleo Parker Robinson, Founder and Artistic Director of Denver’s Cleo Parker Robinson Dance. “We knew we had to change that perception.”
CBCA Reflects on 35 Years of Arts and Business Partnerships
Arts and business partnerships have long been recognized as a strengthening economic force
Vicki Sterling, CBCA’s first Executive Director (1985-1994), said the arts scene was still in development in the 1970s. “By the early 1980s, people realized there really wasn’t enough business support for the arts,” Sterling said, “and out of that generated the idea of starting a Business Committee for the Arts in Colorado.”
Denver developer John Madden, Jr. brought together a forward-thinking group of Colorado business leaders who believed in the importance and value of arts and culture, Sterling said. The group was inspired by David Rockefeller’s national Business Committee for the Arts, formed in 1967 by business leaders with a commitment to demonstrating corporate social responsibility through arts support. CBCA followed suit with a mission to educate, motivate, and recognize businesses and individuals making strides to uplift the arts in Colorado.
CBCA’s founding board members hailed from all over the state.
“In addition to Madden, there were bankers from First Interstate Bank and United Bank,” said Sterling. “There was also American Television and Communications, a large cable corporation. There was Hensel Phelps, a construction manager from Greeley, and Dusty Loo from the Current catalog operation in Colorado Springs. There was Morley Ballentine, who was head of the Durango Herald, and a handful of others who knew that this was something very important, and that they had to get other business leaders involved.”
“The basis was that if you had a leadership group carrying the message, it was going to help transform the landscape,” said Sterling. “It was not just philanthropy. We were really educating the business community to the fact that arts was good for business.”
CBCA was set up as a membership organization, with 13 original partnering businesses. By 1994, there were around 90 companies who were members. Today, CBCA has 200 partner organizations. CBCA grew to serve the mutually beneficial intersection of arts and business through programming, resources, and events to build capacity for arts and cultural organizations and working artists.
“Through the events that we did, we were able to educate the business community about how to use the arts,” said Sterling. “We had the language to translate back and forth between the arts and business communities.”
Chris Ross, Vice President of Commercial Banking of U.S. Bank and current CBCA Board Chair, said CBCA continues to leverage the expertise of business professionals and attorneys. “CBCA provides critical resources and services, including business development, training, and legal council to grow and sustain creative businesses and arts cultural nonprofits throughout the state.”
“And thank God, you know?” said Parker Robinson, “because becoming a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization in those early days was quite a challenge for us. We were one of few companies of color, or organizations of color. We were breaking through for not only our company, but for others — and also for dance.” Parker Robinson said CBCA was always interested in working to showcase the company. “We were really blessed,” Parker said. “That doesn’t exist in a lot of communities.”
Marc Servoss, head of Servoss Public Relations, was asked by Madden to succeed him as the second board chairman. “In those first years, CBCA’s biggest accomplishment was the influence we had on the creation of Denver’s Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD),” said Servoss. The publicly approved SCFD sales tax has funded hundreds of arts organizations of all sizes for over thirty years.
“That was very progressive,” said Parker Robinson, “and came out of CBCA’s leadership as well.”
“SCFD moved the whole cultural community to a a different level,” said Sterling. “Having an organization like CBCA really helped to spread the word with respect to SCFD.”
“If you’re thinking about the whole health of community, if that comes first, then you really think about how cross-sector collaboration and partnership happens in a better way,” said Malik Robinson, Executive Director of Cleo Parker Robinson Dance. “CBCA brings leaders of nonprofits and arts organizations into closer proximity with the corporate world.”
“And it’s bringing us together in a way that’s really meaningful,” said Parker Robinson. “It has allowed us to understand the power of art with business; that the two together can make a tremendous statement. And it’s really about improving our community, and the quality of life that we believe everyone should have.”
“It is just amazing to see what transpired,” Sterling said, “not only over my time, but over the 35 years that CBCA has been in existence.”
“As we grew, it became apparent that creating an economic activity study would be essential to our continued growth and ability to raise money for the arts,” said Sterling. Conducted every two years, the study has validated the economic impact of the arts and culture sector on the metro Denver region. In the first study in 1992, one finding revealed that more people attended arts events than Colorado’s NHL, NBA and NFL teams’ home games combined.
“Year after year, we’ve seen CBCA’s value and contributions play out in advancing Colorado’s quality of life, community vitality, cultural capital, economy, and the health of the business community and overall society,” said Christin Crampton Day, CBCA’s current Executive Director.
CBCA’s marquee event each year is its Business for the Arts Awards, honoring over 180 businesses and individuals over the years. The awards celebrate innovative partnerships, generous philanthropy, creative businesses, and stellar leadership across the state. It’s the only statewide event honoring companies and individuals for their outstanding partnerships and engagement with the arts. The awards event is known for its entertainment, showcasing Colorado’s diverse artists and performers including a variety of dance, theater, music, and more. “In the early years of the awards luncheon, it was all about getting the business community to participate and engage directly with artists — which included business attendees playing kazoos and creating art at their tables,” said Sterling.
After 35 years on the ground, CBCA continues to evolve.
“Arts and culture are essential to Colorado’s social fabric and economic recovery, and it’s undeniable that the sector needs support now more than ever as a result of COVID-19,” said Crampton Day. “What we’ve come to realize since the pandemic started is that our mission at the intersection of arts and business is more relevant than ever.”
“Everyone is adapting and changing through COVID,” said Ross, “and CBCA is no different. I see the organization stepping up and taking on more advocacy roles for artists and our cultural institutions across the state. We have a phenomenal staff on board that is ready to take on the challenges that lie ahead.”
“In a time of COVID and also tremendous racism and economic challenges, we’re going to have to really work even closer together, and use our best minds and spirits to get to the next place,” said Parker Robinson. “And I know we’ll do it.”
“In terms of everything that’s going on with social justice, the arts have been there, and will be there,” agreed Sterling.
“The arts help us to better understand how we move forward as a society,” said Robinson.
“I feel so proud of what CBCA has become today,” said Sterling. “I think the arts transform us, and when somebody has an experience with the arts, they never forget it.”
“And I think that CBCA becomes a role model in the country and in the world in terms of the kinds of progressive movement that we’ve been able to do together,” said Parker Robinson, “and the potential of what we can do.”
“CBCA plays a critical role in our community,” said Ross. “And we are so fortunate in Colorado to have such a vibrant arts and cultural community. CBCA has been a fixture in Colorado now for 35 years. I’m excited for this organization, and honored to be the Chair of the Board. And I am excited for our future.”
Additional images courtesy of:
Amanda Tipton Photography CBCA Custom Creations Photography Deborah Radman Diane Bullock, Merchants of Vision Jerry Metellus Ligature Creative Moxtopia Peak Creative Peter Iskyan RMPBS S. Regenbogen SCFD Steve Peterson, TerraChroma Vicki Sterling