After bracing for the worst in 2020, the Scientific & Cultural Facilities District has reason to celebrate at the top of 2021, despite the gauntlet of challenges.
The good news: the organization’s wildly popular Free Days calendar will return as signs point to earlier-than-expected openings among the museums, parks and other institutions that program covers.
Officials expect to post the full calendar online on Jan. 31, but told The Denver Post that cultural leaders such as Denver Zoo and Denver Museum of Nature & Science — both of which have city-approved variances that allow them to operate at higher capacity — are offering free-admission dates as early as February.
The bad news, of course, is the ongoing uncertainty around the safe return of audiences to indoor spaces. SCFD officials have been worried about that all along.
“We made a conscious decision when stay-at-home orders went into place in March to amend our budget and ratchet back our projected revenue,” said Deborah Jordy, executive director of SCFD, the seven-country metro area’s tax district that in 2019 redirected $65 million to nearly 300 arts-and-culture nonprofits.
The voter-approved SCFD, which gets one penny from every $10 spent in the metro area, has brought in a surprisingly robust $59 million through November 2020, according to its most recent revenue report. That’s a decrease of only 2.79% percent over year-to-date totals from last year — far less than some predicted at the pandemic’s start.
Also surprising (and heartening): None of the arts and culture nonprofits that SCFD services — from Tier 1 organizations such as Denver Zoo and Denver Center for the Performing Arts to Tier 3s such as Wonderbound — have closed their doors over the past 10 months. In fact, many of Denver’s vulnerable arts organizations have been able to avoid layoffs and furloughs entirely thanks to consistent funding.
That’s an incredible win for the metro area, given the dozens of venues, clubs and restaurants that closed in Denver’s commercial sector last year, or the fact that performing artists have been barred from their normal revenue streams (indoor shows, mostly) amid state health mandates. Still, 94% of SCFD organization reported “moderately severe or very severe” circumstances due to COVID-19, according to a recent member survey.
“You actually have to dial back your expectations as a performing arts organization,” said Dawn Fay, president of Wonderbound, Denver’s largest ballet company behind Colorado Ballet. “We plan our seasons two and three years in advance, and so everything had to shift.”
Due to SCFD’s budget constraints, Wonderbound lost about $66,000 in SCFD funding for general operations that it normally has been granted by the tax district. Like many smaller organizations (Wonderbound is SCFD’s “biggest Tier 3” org, Fay said) it was a core, but not central, part of the nonprofit’s financial structure.
“It’s been transformative not just for us but for the whole region,” said Tony Garcia, executive director of Su Teatro, whose theater has been shuttered in the Art District on Santa Fe for the better part of a year. “You’ve seen other towns and cities copying it.”
Thanks to its pre-pandemic production of “Northside,” which brought in $300,000 for Su Teatro, Garcia has not been forced to enact furloughs or layoffs for his 14 employees, either. While SCFD’s contribution to Su Teatro is significant — $100,000, or about one-tenth of its annual $1,000,000 operating budget — Garcia has diversified his company’s funding to remain stable, no matter the shocks.
“We were really lucky on the timing of ‘Northside,’ ” Garcia said. “But it’s important to remember we’ve been really fortunate with funding from the Mellon and Duke Foundations, and the National Performance Network, too. We also created the Peso Fund, which gets distributed periodically to actors to help them out, and which raised $27,000.”
Staying in the public eye during the shutdown has been difficult for many organizations, especially ones without a strong, pre-existing digital strategy. But SCFD Free Days, one of the most popular things it presents, are also helping some organizations see visitors (and potential revenue) until vaccines are more widely distributed.
“The Tier 1s really take seriously their free days, and throughout the pandemic have stepped up to offer virtual programming in its place,” SCFD’s Jordy said. “But I can report that the Denver Museum of Nature & Science has a series of free days starting in February, as does the Denver Zoo. Denver Art Museum already had free days for kids (18 and under) every day. And then we have Denver Botanic Gardens doing more virtual programming — and looking at a plan for free days later in the year.”
Some organizations, such as Denver Center for the Performing Arts, can only (and necessarily) offer virtual programming at the moment. But for the thousands who are served by the free days, in-person offerings may be an encouraging sign of public-culture’s spring trajectory.
“Some of these free days are happening earlier than anticipated and we’re very, very excited about that,” Jordy said.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter, In The Know, to get entertainment news sent straight to your inbox.
Source: Read Full Article