While Seattle and Washington state are cutting back on arts funding across a broad front, as I reported earlier, Denver and its suburbs are going in the other direction. A story in the Denver Post tallies up the multiple new arts projects under way. They involve major renovations of facilities such as the Mizel Center in Denver, artist collectives, and performing arts centers in outlying towns.
Denver is helped by having the nation's best approach to public funding, which will keep these new buildings filled with good producers. The region is also tapping developers, who underwrite these new centers as a way of attracting residents and businesses. It exemplifies the rising cities in the country, who are investing in arts just as Seattle did when it was a rising metropolitan region, eager to play catchup.
Now we are playing defense, and losing at that game. In part, it's because our state constitution forbids the kind of devices, such as tax-increment financing, that fuel the creation of amenities in cities such as Portland. Another reason for lagging is that Seattle has tended to keep the cultural facilities for itself, starving the booming suburbs. The Denver plan, which raises money from seven counties, not only taps the affluent suburban taxpayers, but it spreads the artistic and educational wealth out to the outlying towns.
The other local factor is the resistance of Olympia Democrats to voting for such things as the arts. The arts have three political strikes against such measures: they help Seattle, they can be described as "elitist," and they raise taxes. The Democratic coalition that Speaker Frank Chopp has craftily assembled into a majority got that way by winning in swing districts — just the kinds of places where inveighing against Seattle liberalism is the key to victory.
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