If the pandemic taught Kari Palazzari anything, it’s just how important the arts are in a community.
“People are really aching for social programming and creative programming and just all the mental, physical and social benefits of doing a community art program,” the executive director of Studio Arts Boulder said.
For that reason, Palazzari and many others in Boulder’s arts community urged the Boulder City Council to prioritize the arts and add $500,000 to use largely for staffing and rental assistance programs for workspace into the city’s 2022 budget for arts and culture.
Doing so would help the city fulfill the goals outlined in its 2015 community cultural plan, which stated the Office of Arts and Culture should have a budget of more than $2 million and six employees, advocates argued. According to data presented Tuesday, about $1.6 million is allocated for arts and culture in 2022.
On Tuesday the Council approved a $462.5 million spending plan for the upcoming year and did so without making any changes.
Tuesday marked the second hearing on the budget. By the time the city’s spending plan hits second reading, it becomes challenging for staff members to make significant changes. Doing so would require pushing the approval timeline and scheduling a third reading, according to city finance staff.
And despite concerns from the arts community, the city was generally grateful to be presenting what it often calls a “restoration budget,” more than $100 million higher than what was approved for the current year.
Thanks to a bond in the utilities department and higher-than-expected revenues, Boulder is in a better place than it thought it would be after the coronavirus pandemic last year forced the city to lay off staff, furlough employees and forgo merit-based increases and raises for most.
The City Council was supportive of the budget Tuesday, and there wasn’t too much discussion since councilmembers had another hearing earlier in October.
In addition to restoring a variety of services that had been cut, the city intends to allocate about $3 million to support its staff and to bring back merit increases for municipal union and nonunion employees. It also will bring back nearly 60 full-time employees and will extend 18 contract positions.
While Boulder’s 2022 budget will allow Boulder Fire-Rescue to hire much needed staff, there was some discussion Tuesday about a $30,000 cut that will eliminate funding used for overtime pay to train the department’s subsurface dive team, thus requiring it to use the volunteer-based Boulder Emergency Squad for water rescues in which a dive team is necessary.
“We would still be going. We go to all hazards,” Fire Chief Michael Calderazzo said. “But we would not be the ones actually in this case getting in the water with dive technicians.”
The Council ultimately decided against micromanaging and did not rearrange the budget to restore funding for the program. Calderazzo said there would be reassessment in the next budgeting cycle.
While the City Council did not make changes to the upcoming year’s budget on Tuesday, there was a general recognition that it would like to be doing more to support Boulder’s arts and culture community.
“We certainly recognize that it is a flat budget,” Senior Budget Manager Mark Woulf said of the arts and culture budget. “It does not strive towards where we want to be in funding towards our community cultural plan.”
Woulf noted the city is considering allocating some of its American Rescue Plan Act funding toward this, and it hopes to reconsider funding when the community cultural plan is up for renewal in 2024.
Councilmember Mary Young asked what the Office of Arts and Culture might consider as it works to create a new plan or renew the current one in a few years.
“A lot has changed since 2015, especially around the affordability issues and support for artists as small business owners,” Boulder’s Office of Arts and Culture Manager Matt Chasansky said during the meeting. “Those issues were pointed out but have been a growing concern over the years.”
Palazzari’s ask is fairly simple: Prioritize the arts.
“Often, in the language around priorities, when there’s a list of bullet points … arts and culture is listed as one of the things the city’s proud of, one of the things the city prioritizes, one of the city’s key goals,” she said. “But I don’t think that is always showing up in where the investment is actually put.”
As a nonprofit, Studio Arts Boulder isn’t directly tied to Boulder’s budget. However, it’s one of many arts organizations vying for the city’s limited grant funding. As a large organization, Studio Arts receives $20,000 a year to go toward general operating expenses, Palazzari said, and it will soon be reapplying for that multiyear grant.
It’s a competitive process, one that often pits organizations against each other, she noted.
“It’s unfortunate that we have these funding ‘Hunger Games’ within our ecosystem because ultimately our desire is to be collaborative,” Palazzari said.
At the end of the day, however, members of Boulder’s arts community said they understand the city’s need to proceed with caution given the financial strain of the pandemic.
And Palazzari acknowledged the budgeting process has been far more collaborative in recent history. She said she’s hopeful that will continue moving forward.
Deborah Malden, a founding board member of Create Boulder who serves as the arts liaison for the Boulder Chamber, agreed, arguing “even a modest incremental investment by the city would pay off significantly.”
“Sometimes it’s not even just the money. It’s the vote of confidence,” she said. “Giving our artists hope, making them feel valued, making our organizations feel that they’re valued — that’s priceless.”
(this story/news/article has not been edited by PostX News staff and is published from a syndicated feed)