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Meredith Badler, deputy director of the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts, explains employment and education data from the committee’s latest economic activity study Nov. 2, 2023, at the Denver Art Museum. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

An economic study released by the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts shows that cultural nonprofits in metro Denver generated $2.6 billion in economic activity, bolstered by one-time, pandemic relief funds. 

The CBCA started publishing the biennial study in 1993. At the time, the organization, which was formed in 1985, identified a lack of understanding around the arts as an industry and workforce driver. They started the study as a way to make sure that legislators were armed with data to make decisions about the creative economy in Colorado.  

During the pandemic, 99% of nonprofit arts and culture organizations shut down programming, resulting in a loss of 557 million ticketed admissions and close to $18 billion in economic activity nationally. At the same time, the federal and state governments were doling out one-time pandemic relief grants

Though advocacy had always been a part of CBCA’s mission, in past years it took the form of research and education. But with so much at stake — including massive amounts of federal and state funding — CBCA in 2020 shifted its focus to actively advocate for legislative action.

Meredith Badler, deputy director of CBCA, saw this as a turning point for the organization. 

Between 2020 and 2022, CBCA advocated for four bills in the Colorado legislature. In 2020, this work included Senate Bill 001, which provided $7.5 million in direct funds to creative industries. The next year, House Bill 1285 allocated an additional $15.5 million to creative professionals, and Senate Bill 252 sent $65 million to revitalization projects that leveraged creative industries. In 2022, House Bill 1409 made an additional $20 million available in revitalization funds. 

In metro Denver, direct government investments in nonprofit arts and culture tripled to $75 million in 2022 from $25 million in 2019. But those funds were a temporary solution.

“I’m not sure we’d be here today if it weren’t for that federal infusion,” Philip Sneed, president and CEO of the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, said during a panel discussion about the economic study. The Arvada Center received about $6.2 million in government funding over the past three years in the form of two Paycheck Protection Program loans, the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant and an employer retention tax credit. 

“So it was huge for us. But as we’ve mentioned — it’s gone,” Sneed said of the federal money. 

Big Takeaways

  • Total economic activity generated by nonprofit arts and culture organizations in metro Denver was $2.6 billion, a 13.6% increase over 2019. 
  • Unprecedented amounts of federal and state funding bolstered economic activity during the past three years, but these one-time funds are no longer offered.
  • The arts and culture workforce has increased by about 1.2% since before the pandemic, and personnel expenses like wages have increased 15.3%. 
  • In-person attendance is still below pre-pandemic levels, with 12.9 million attendees in 2022 compared to 15 million in 2019. 
  • Close to 200,000 fewer students were reached this year compared to pre-pandemic educational outreach. 

Take the CBCA’s statewide community input survey to voice what arts and culture issues are important to you, and should be considered in their forthcoming policy platform.

What did we learn from this year’s study? 

Data is self-reported to the CBCA and its research partner, BBC Research and Consulting, by 285 nonprofit arts and culture organizations that receive funding from the tax-collecting Scientific and Cultural Facilities District. The nonprofits in the district made up of seven metro Denver counties reported their visitation, employment, operating expenses, capital expenses, funding sources, diversity and equity efforts, volunteer numbers and educational outreach.

CBCA calculated that the total economic activity — comprising operating expenditures, facility renovations and audience spending — was $2.6 billion in 2022. The number includes both direct spending on cultural events, like operating costs, and indirect spending, like the dinner bill before a show and the bar tab after. 

The $2.6 billion generated is a 13.6% increase over 2019, indicating that the arts and culture sector has not only recovered from the pandemic low of $1.5 billion in economic activity, but has reached a new high.

Spending in the “cultural tourism” category, by people who reside outside of the study area, increased 15% between 2022 and 2019. Payroll spending also increased by about 15% since 2019. 

In-person attendance and educational outreach, however, showed increases since 2020, but still have not returned to pre-pandemic levels. The 12.9 million people reported to have attended cultural events in 2022 is down 15.6% from 2019, and the 3.8 million students reached through educational outreach programs represent an 11.2% decrease from 2019. 

“I think a lot of us are interested in getting back into larger crowds, but there are also a lot of people who just aren’t there yet,” said James Holmes, executive director of Cherokee Ranch & Castle Foundation, during the panel discussion.

Holmes also noted the impact that social unrest in 2020 had on arts organizations. “Organizations that have really embraced the DEIA initiatives, not just on a level of getting through 2020 as something you’ve got to do as a trend, but that are really embedding it into organizations operationally, and really working with their staffs and volunteer corps and programming, are going to benefit for many, many, many years to come,” he said.

About 55% of organizations run by or tailored to people of color reported they lacked the financial resources to return to in-person programming, compared with 38% of non-BIPOC organizations, a study by Americans for the Arts reported.

What’s next? 

This year marks the first year time CBCA contracted directly with a lobbyist, Megan Wagner of Brandeberry McKenna Public Affairs. She is their “eyes and ears on the ground” at the Capitol, according to Badler of CBCA.


“(We’re) navigating a system that is messy and complicated. It’s not easy, but it’s incredibly important. It’s big dollars and big systems,” Badler said. The organization’s “superpower,” she added, is that it is “advocating for things that are beautiful and emotional and passionate.”

CBCA has already established a grassroots advocacy platform, the Colorado Arts Action Network, which keeps creative industry folks up to date on state and federal policies that affect the arts. They are currently collecting community input to inform their official policy platform, which they aim to reveal at the Colorado Creative Industries Summit in May. The platform will help them prioritize legislation and policy initiatives in the years to come. 

“Again, a lot of this work coming out of the pandemic was very reactionary, and there were one-time federal dollars or state surplus dollars that we had to jump on,” Badler said. “Now that era is behind us, and it’s time to be proactive.”

Parker Yamasaki covers arts and culture at The Colorado Sun as a Poynter-Koch Media and Journalism Fellow and former Dow Jones News Fund intern. She has freelanced for the Chicago Reader, Newcity Chicago, and DARIA, among other publications,...