Profiles of GIA Members

Scientific and Cultural Facilities District

Published in: GIA Newsletter, Vol 9, No 1 (Spring 1998)

Kathleen Cerveny

The Metropolitan Denver Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD) is a new member of GIA. It is a six-county regional public funding agency, formed ten years ago this coming November. It was created at a time when much public funding was being challenged, if not actively cut back. The formation of the district and its continuing success have been models for a number of other communities.

In 1982, a loss of line-item state funding for four major institutions (zoo, art museum, botanical gardens, and natural history museum) left the City of Denver struggling to fill the funding gap. Looking to examples of regional funding such as that in St. Louis, the four large institutions worked together to craft a legislative mechanism to generate funds for a broad geographic region. A bill was designed to create a multi-county taxing district to support scientific and cultural institutions. In addition to the four large institutions, numerous small and grass-roots groups were included in the bill, but larger performing arts organizations were not. This bill was introduced in the legislature in 1986 and failed. A later bill that included all important arts organizations was introduced in 1987, passed the legislature, and was approved overwhelmingly (three to one) by voters. SCFD made its case to the voters based on compelling economic and social impact studies. In 1994, during a serious recession in the region, the voters renewed support for SCFD for a period of ten years.

Funding of $27 million annually comes from a 1/10 of one per cent sales tax, and supports more than 200 cultural institutions. Beneficiaries are divided into three tiers, with the four founding scientific and cultural organizations comprising the first tier and receiving the majority of the funding (59%). The second tier is mostly performing arts organizations with budgets larger than $750,000. This group receives 28% of the total. The remaining funds are distributed to smaller groups throughout the region, with each county receiving a share of the balance indexed to the level of tax revenue collected. Appointed officials in each county make the funding decisions regarding qualifying institutions in Tier 3.

90% of the funds distributed in each tier are designated for operating support. The final 10% is discretionary support, granted through an application process. Decisions on these grants are based on regional impact of the institution, its accessibility , and the quality of its programs, in addition to need, collaboration, and innovation of the project.

In addition to providing public support, SCFD sees itself as a watchdog against the erosion of other stabilizing income streams for the arts at local and state levels. It is currently concerned with making sure content-related decision-making does not become a part of the District's grantmaking function. SCFD regularly updates the legislature, the public, and area cultural organizations on economic and social impact of arts and culture. It also maintains a strong network among the cultural councils it has established in each of the participating counties.