ART MEANS BUSINESS -- more than $1.7 billion of business for Colorado in 2011, according to a study released Wednesday by the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts.

The study indicates that investing money in arts and cultural programs has brought the Denver-metro area more than just education, entertainment and expression over the past decade. It has sparked economy activity -- and helped the arts community rise above the recession, with across-the-board increases in employment, volunteerism, youth involvement, audience reach and programming.

Total economic activity was up 18.4 percent from 2009.

Boulder County arts and cultural groups contributed to this trend. Many of those groups report substantial growth in volunteers, donations and audience -- not to mention eTown's new $7 million concert hall, recording studio and community center that opened a few months ago in downtown Boulder.

"I wish I could tell you some dark tale about how the recession was really horrible for us and now it's better, but the reality is, it's been fairly stable," said Nick Forster, founder of eTown.

That's not to say it's been easy, Boulder County art organizations say; eTown had to raise money for a capital campaign during tough economic times. Other organizations say they've kept strong by keeping overhead costs skinny and by ramping up fundraising efforts.

It's more a reflection of the Front Range's values, Forster said.

"We're surrounded by people who have a history of exposure to culture. This is a well-traveled community, a well-educated community, a community that has maintained lifelong curiosity. So there's a desire, very widespread, to keep that going," he said. "It's about having culture be part of our, well, culture."

The numbers for the arts

The CBCA study, titled the "2012 Economic Activity Study of Metro Denver," tracked data provided by more than 300 arts and cultural organizations in a seven-county Denver-metro area that receive funding from the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD). This district includes Boulder County.

In the past decade, a voter-approved sales and use tax has brought in $424 million to the SCFD.

A significant portion of the Colorado Music Festival and Rocky Mountain Center for Musical Arts' budget -- about $150,000 -- comes from the district, according to executive director Catherine Underhill.

The funding allows the Lafayette-based center to provide tickets to isolated seniors involved with the Circle of Care. It contributes to the tuition-assistance program at the music school and helps the center stock its musical instrument bank, with 250 instruments to rent on a sliding scale for as little as $5 a month.

"It makes sure the entire community is able to benefit from our programming," Underhill said.

In fact, the Economic Activity Study reported that arts and cultural groups are reaching an increasingly wider audience.

Attendance at local art events was up -- by 30 percent since 2009, thanks in part to a variety of big-scale events, such as King Tut at the Denver Art Museum and new buildings, such as the Lone Tree Arts Center, according to the report, which listed eTown Hall as a significant project in the "construction phase" in 2011.

Attendance at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art (BMoCA) grew from about 18,000 in 2009 to more than 29,700 in 2011.

The Colorado Music Festival in Boulder said its audience has been growing 4 to 7 percent every year in the past decade, although this summer was a little off, because of weather; it was 103 degrees on opening night, according to Underhill.

"We've basically doubled our festival attendance over the last decade," she said.

The six-week summer festival now sells about 22,000 tickets.

Boulder's eTown's reach also has widened. The national nonprofit and syndicated radio program started in 1991 with 40 radio stations. Today, eTown boasts 300 stations. Tickets to live recordings regularly sell out, with about 20,000-30,000 attendees per year, Forster said.

However, he said, eTown's real, recent expansion was in scope.

The eTown facility will be open to many new groups. For example, in the past week the building has been home to one performer, a KUNC listener-appreciation event, a 24-hour film shoot-out and a University of Colorado opera students' recital.

eTown is now producing video, too. It recently launched a new iPhone app, featuring 300 short videos and multiple free podcasts.

The youngest generation

With growing social networks, Forster said, eTown is better poised to reach youth. It plans to soon launch a songwriting contest among area high schools.

The Colorado Music Festival and Rocky Mountain Center for Musical Arts also reports better connection to kids. A decade ago, the only children's programming was a youth concert at the beginning of the festival season. Today, the center serves 550-600 children of all ages every week, via a year-round music school, Family Fun Concerts and the Classically Kids program, to name a few of the programs.

The local scene also echoes the larger trend, according to the Economic Activity Study. The metro-area's arts scene has served more than 142 million people -- including twice as many children, in the past decade, the report shows.

This year, funding ($32,342) from the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District has also enabled BMoCA to expand an after-school and summer arts-education program for youth ages 5 to 14. The museum plans to expand services into Adams, Broomfield and Jefferson counties.

More Denver-area increases:

Visitors: The biggest increase between 2009 and 2011 was in "new money," or money that otherwise wouldn't be spent in the area, such as visitors. This surged 36 percent, to $527 million in 2011-- the biggest impact ever recorded, according to the study.

Similarly, BMoCA is attracting more tourists, officials say. In 2011, it drew 670 international visitors and more than 7,200 visitors from out of state.

Jobs: The report noted that employment increased by 7 percent between 2009 and 2011, with 9,354 new jobs in the arts, cultural and scientific scene. In the past decade, jobs are up 22 percent.

Some local organizations have been growing, too. Take BMoCA, which increased from one full-time employee and five part-time staffers in 2009 to six full-time employees and six part-time staffers in 2011.

Buildings: Capital spending rose by 25 percent, with the opening of multiple new arts, cultural and events centers. A dozen new arts and cultural facilities opened in the past decade. BmoCA also is wrapping up a significant renovation of its offices.

Volunteers: District-wide, the number of people volunteering at arts and cultural facilities (50,460 people) also rose by 19 percent in the past two years. Over the decade, that number has skyrocketed 75 percent.

Locally, BMoCA relies on more than 570 volunteers who donated 8,400 hours of work in 2011.

Businesses: District-wide, more than $100 million was donated by corporations in 2011. ___

(c)2012 the Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.)

Visit the Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.) at www.dailycamera.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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