Annual cultural celebration highlights creative pros

Denver’s explosive growth is no secret. According to the Brookings Institution, Denver’s population has grown as much since 2010 as it did during the previous decade. While that swelling has been stealing headlines, the changing dynamics of business and cultural arts in the city spins a unique tale as well.

At the epicenter of these shifts is the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts (CBCA), an organization that has been dedicated to creating and fostering partnerships between art-centric entities and business since 1985.

“When we originally started, there was very limited business support of the arts in Colorado,” said founder and former Executive Director Vicki Sterling. The original goal of the organization was to broaden the base of business support for the arts throughout the state, prompting Sterling to quip, “If we were really successful, the group wouldn’t need to exist anymore 30 years later.”

CBCA and the organizations it has supported, such as the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD), continue to thrive along with the cultural arts and creative industry communities.

“I think people are starting to feel more comfortable with things that are not just westerns or landscapes,” says Molly Casey, co-founder of NINE dot ARTS, an arts consultancy in the River North (RiNo) neighborhood and CBCA member.

Some of those pushed boundaries include engagement and participation. Increasingly, traditional philanthropy models are evolving, attributed largely to the growing number of millenials and young professionals flocking to the state.

“They’re engaged in their community in ways that transcend just the financial and just the donation,” says Shari Regenbogen, CBCA’s membership and development manager. “It’s important not only in terms of method, but also in age group and who they are. So their giving might look different in dollars, but it might be much bigger in terms of the number of people they’re touching.”

Cultural Count

But how does collaboration and community-driven engagement translate when looking at hard numbers? Bill Marino, who spearheaded the creation of the 40 West Arts District in Lakewood, has seen the number of creative enterprises in his district double in the last two years with the EDGE Theater expanding its audience by 90 percent in the last year alone.

That rise in committed participation extends throughout the state with unique business and cultural partnerships developing in Greeley, Pueblo, Breckenridge and Salida. And the impact of these partnerships resonates beyond state lines, as the arts continue to drive an increasing volume of tourism. According to a 2014 economic activity study, the total number of tourists from outside of Colorado participating in regional arts and culture programs was up 17 percent over 2011.

So what does the future hold? For Vicki Sterling, it is a matter of perspective. “We can never as a community forget that even as we celebrate all the new and young people coming in, it’s a great multi-generational and multifaceted community that’s so open to new people.” Shari Regenbogen shares that sentiment in her vision for CBCA and the state’s creative and cultural economy as a whole. “We are looking forward with a very solid footing and deep roots,” Regenbogen said. 

Boost for Greeley’s music scene

Over the past seven years, one man has been laying the foundation for Colorado’s next great music scene in the most unlikely of places: Greeley. Amidst the cowboy stereotypes and notorious pungent smells, Ely Corliss has created a small musical empire.

There was the promotions company that he developed to host live music events at bars and clubs in the area. Then there was the monthly music magazine (Bandwagon) now going into its fifth year, which he started to spread awareness of Northern Colorado’s musicians and happenings. When Corliss opened The Moxie Theater in April of 2013 in Greeley’s historic creative district, owning a venue was a natural progression, giving the music community a home.

“On top of bringing in national acts, he’s also giving great experiences to local artists who are launching their careers out of the Greeley area,” says Pam Bricker, executive director of Greeley’s Downtown Development Authority.  “That, I’ve never seen before. They just never really had a place where they could show off their talents.”

The addition of a high quality, dedicated entertainment venue to the mix of restaurants and bars downtown has yielded significant economic impact as well with double digit sales tax increases in the last year.

“We have all the right pieces here in our community,” says Corliss, adding, “I think there’s a lot of potential still to be had.”