As I consider the aspects of the district I represent, one thing that immediately stands out is art. Senate District 31 is home to many of the state’s most prominent art institutions and well known art districts. The Denver Art Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art are located in the district. The Denver Center for the Performing Arts is home to the symphony, opera, ballet and an incredible company of actors with several stages upon which they all perform. One of the Denver art scene’s somewhat hidden little gems, the Kirkland Museum, is located just a few blocks from my house. And the Santa Fe Drive, Golden Triangle, Lower Downtown and River North districts of artist studios and galleries are all in Senate District 31. Finally, some of the best known works of public art are located here as well, such as the big blue bear at the Convention Center and those dancing space aliens along Speer Blvd.
Art isn’t just a luxury item for those who can afford tickets to the show. It isn’t just pretty to look at (except of course for that terrifying blue horse at DIA). Art is a commodity, and its production and consumption drives a burgeoning industry in our state. The Colorado Council on the Arts commissioned a recent study that found over 186,000 people in Colorado are employed in “creative industries” that generate over $6 billion in economic activity each year.
That’s why we’ve introduced a number of bills this session that are designed to support the arts. One bill, SB 10-158, would create the Creative Industries Division within the Office of Economic Development, and organize several state programs and offices dealing with art under one division for better coordination and collaboration. Another bill, HB 10-1180, aims to attract more film and television work to Colorado by expanding the criteria for performance-based incentives.
One of the bill I’ve introduced is SB 10-094, which clarifies an existing state law requiring that all state building projects put at least one percent of their construction costs towards public art. I want to make sure the rule applies regardless of new, creative funding mechanisms that are currently employed. A recent Attorney General opinion concluded that projects constructed using certificates of participation were not subject to the 1 percent for art requirement. SB 94 closes that inadvertent loophole, and I’m pleased to report that the Senate passed the bill on Friday, March 12, 2010.
This means that new buildings on Colorado’s public university campuses built using “COPs” will include public art, just as other state buildings that were financed in older, more traditional ways. The first thing prospective students consider when visiting a campus is the way it looks and feels. Colorado’s campuses must be attractive and measure up to competing schools in other states so that we can recruit and retain great students. Most importantly, requiring that all new public buildings have places for art supports our state’s artists and helps create and support a thriving artistic community. One percent of construction costs is a small price to pay for a positive impact that lasts a long time.
I am also sponsoring HB 10-1273, which would add a high school art course as a statewide graduation requirement for students. I believe that every student should be exposed to visual and performing arts in school and have an opportunity to explore her or his interest in them. I believe that art has an intrinsic value, but there are also practical reasons why I think every student in Colorado’s public schools should take an art class. Art gives kids who may struggle with the academic curriculum an opportunity to express themselves more freely in one of their classes. Giving such students a connection to arts education has been shown to improve performance in all subjects. Exposure to art has also been proven to change the brain to increase attention span. Since art is not graded in terms of “correct” or “incorrect,” it gives all students the chance to create something of value to boost their confidence. Those are all reasons why, according to a 2008 study of arts education in Colorado public schools and a Dana Foundation summit, schools with art education enjoy higher academic achievement and lower dropout rates.
The purpose of public education is to expand opportunity for all students. It is vital that we give every student in our school system the chance to explore undiscovered talents in theater, fashion, dance, music, design, film or photography. It could give a student who might have otherwise dropped out a new reason to stay invested in school and go on to college. At the very least it may create a new generation of theatre patrons or volunteers. The benefits of supporting arts in public schools are shared by everyone.
Art is the glue that binds our culture together. It unites us, challenges us, and moves us forward. It gives us a sense of place in history as well as a legacy and most pertinent in these troubled economic times, it creates jobs. Art is vital to Senate District 31, and all of Colorado.