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Colorado's arts on the grill 

As tempted as I was to write about the Pork Information Bureau's recent announcement: "A new survey by the National Pork Board reveals that home cooks are hip to creating backyard barbecue meals but creating them quickly and easily as solutions to today's dinner dilemma is a top priority."

I've got another kind of barbecue in mind.

Last week, the Joint Budget Committee of the Colorado State Legislature recommended that the entire budget for the Colorado Council for the Arts (CCA) be eliminated. Such a stab to the public arts jugular would effectively drain every last ounce of blood from the 36-year-old agency and cut nonprofit arts organizations off from the already paltry $1.5 million ($800,000 in state money; $600,000 in federal matching fund) that now sustains them.

Not only that but Colorado (already 50th in the arts!) would become the first state in the nation to eliminate arts funding altogether.

Based on the grants awarded to arts organizations in Southern Colorado last year, the Pikes Peak region alone would lose approximately $140,000 in funding. With arts dollars already in the guillotine at all levels of government, and private donors suffering the whims of the stock market, arts leaders are rightly concerned about the fate of their organizations and the message that Colorado is sending to its citizens and the nation.

"It's absolutely dreadful," said Karen Huff, President of the Board at the Business of Art Center. "We will be out $17,700. It's a major loss. And where are the funds to replace it?"

Gerry Riggs, director of the Gallery of Contemporary Art at UCCS, depends heavily on state and federal funds for the basic infrastructure of his operations. "If they get cut entirely, we're *&%$#!!," said Riggs. "The community helps, but does not pay for what we do. The community gives about one-fourth of what we need, so I don't know what we'll do." Riggs got an allotment of $7,000 this year, but the amount was cut to $5,800 when the CCA's budget was first cut last year. "Every other nation on earth understands the relationship between culture and national identity, but not us," he said. "They're not looking at the big picture."

The Fine Arts Center (FAC) and The Sangre de Cristo Arts Center (SCAC) -- two of the region's largest and most prestigious arts institutions -- are also deeply concerned about the message that the cuts send about the state of cultural affairs in Colorado.

"Any amount of funding cut not only hurts financially, it sends a direct message that culture in our community is not important," said Jina Pierce, curator of visual arts at the SCAC in Pueblo. "We would be affected by a funding cut, but all of the Colorado arts organizations are part of a whole; when one is affected, we all are affected. In this case we will all be affected at the same time."

SCAC Executive Director Maggie Divelbiss added, "The joint budget committee has made a conscious decision to send the message that the arts have no value in Colorado."

FAC Public Relations Director Erin Hannan -- echoing the sentiments of Pierce and Divelbiss -- said that while the FAC hasn't recently received much assistance from the CCA, the message of such cuts is disheartening.

Fran Holden, director of the CCA, seemed to have difficulty containing her frustration and rage at the news, even though she wasn't particularly surprised.

"It's devastating to the future of the arts and the state of Colorado," said Holden. "While we certainly appreciate how difficult the economic situation facing our Legislature is, we still believe that [denying] a small investment in a sector that provides so much benefit to the state is so shortsighted."

But, noted Holden, discussions about the CCA budget in the Legislature tend to "command a disproportionate amount of discussion whenever it comes up" because of the volatility of the issue, and the bill could languish for awhile before it's passed.

"It's a lengthy process that any bill goes through the Legislature," she said, noting that there is still time for people to rise up in opposition before it comes to a vote. "People had better be in touch with their state senator and state representative and let them know how important this small amount of public support is to the economy and quality of life in their community."

Yes, more than ever, it's time to fire up the barbecue for the arts and start grilling the pork pushers under the Golden Dome in Denver with e-mails and phone calls to let them know that a state of Colorado without arts funding is a state without a soul

And everyone had better do it pretty darn quick.

--nblack@csindy.com

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