An assessment by a private consultant describes the arts as a potential "economic engine" for Boulder, recommending the city discontinue many free concerts, movies and theater performances at the Boulder Public Library's Canyon Theater to make room for paid rentals and allow the library to recoup more costs.
Members of the Boulder Library Foundation, whose funds support those performances as an extension of the library's core mission, say they're "shocked" at the recommendation.
"I have a big issue with a public space that was built for public purposes being turned into a space that has as its priority rentals," Library Foundation President Barbara Kostanick said Wednesday night at a Boulder Arts Commission meeting where the assessment was presented.
"The notion that we would have programs that are free to the community pushed out in favor of potentially programs where various arts groups could charge admissions, I just find offensive," she said. "It's not at all consistent with what the public library means to me. It's not at all consistent with our goals as a foundation and I hope you will agree is not at all the way we want to go."
The Boulder Library Foundation contributes roughly $100,000 a year to numerous library programs, including adult literacy, children's storytellers and music, movie and theater performances.
Kostanick, in her brief comments, noted that the Canyon Theater is one of the few places in town that offers free concerts, movies and other programs. She feels those free offerings support city goals of making Boulder an inclusive community for people of all income levels.
Commission members were quick to point out that the assessment is simply a list of recommendations -- and that they are far from being enacted.
"I don't want you all to feel that somehow this is set in stone," Commissioner Anna Salim said. "These are recommendations from a third party, provided to us so we can look at the greater arts and culture of the entire city and try and make some decisions on how to make it better.
"It talks a lot in here about cultural master planning... and the Library Foundation will undoubtedly be an important player in that conversation as we move forward."
Hiring an arts manager
City officials noted that one recommendation that is sure to move forward is the eventual hiring of a full-time arts and cultural services manager, though no concrete timeframe has been established for that.
The 178-page report by Art Management and Planning Associates said Boulder's arts and culture industry contributes more than $20 million to the community and employs more than 500 people.
"The city of Boulder Arts Division in the Library and Arts Department can be the perfect catalyst for strengthening the arts and culture industry in Boulder, in turn enlivening the community at large socially, economically and aesthetically," the report said.
The city could increase its impact on the arts community by hiring a full-time arts manager, reworking its grants program, restructuring Boulder Arts Resource and folding Dance Bridge into the organization that replaces Boulder Arts Resource. The consultant recommends increasing resources to some of the performance programs, particularly the concert series, but it also recommends looking for more cost recovery.
Master planning process
Consultants Deana Miller and Barbara Neal were part of the team that compiled the assessment, and they summarized it in a presentation that took about 45 minutes during the commission's meeting. One recommendation they highlighted was that the arts division embrace Boulder's priority-based budgeting process by focusing on new performance indicators and measurements that will demonstrate the progress and success of its programs, and making sure those results are clearly reported.
"We think that it is going to be very important to start the cultural master planning process as soon as possible," Miller said. "The master plan will help you identify a vision for the arts division and arts and cultural programs for the city, and it will focus activities to achieve your goals."
The commissioners will next send along questions about the assessment to Boulder Library and Arts Director Valerie Maginnis, who will condense them and then work to provide answers before the group's March 20 meeting.