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We must do more to value regional art 

Voice of Reason

Close your eyes for just a moment. That music floating in the background or blasting into your earbuds? That’s art.

Now take a moment to really look around. The print on the office wall, the sculpture in the atrium, the mural on the side of the building or the kid’s chalk scrawls on the sidewalk? All art.
Did you go to a play or other stage production, or watch a movie or documentary recently that really made you think? If so, thank the artists onstage, behind the scenes, in technical and directing roles.

Their art surrounds us. They challenge us. They make us think about ourselves in different ways, and add vibrant, multi-sensory beauty to our world. And yet, during this Arts Month, we note that the incomes of those who create that beauty, who challenge our perceptions and who help shape our perspective barely cover the costs of living here.

Consider this. According to a 2017 study by Americans for the Arts, the most recent year for which numbers are available, the arts in the Pikes Peak region account for:
  • $153 million in total annual economic activity;
  • $100.8 million in household income;
  • $15.9 million in local and state tax revenue; and
  • 5,070 full-time-equivalent jobs.

Yet a quick survey of employment indices shows it’s a labor of love making a living as a creative in the Springs, because it’s nowhere near lucrative.
According to employment and income research site PayScale.com, the average salary for an artistic director (one of the arts’ more consistent and higher-paying jobs) in Colorado Springs is $51,393, per year. In Denver, the same director could expect to earn $55,000, while the national average for an arts director is $55,393. The same holds true for those creating art. ZipRecruiter shows an average annual “fine arts salary” of $41,878 in Colorado Springs, compared to $45,160 per year in Denver and $44,826 nationwide.

Now consider what it actually costs to live in Colorado Springs. A few weeks ago, the Virginia-based Council for Community and Economic Research released a study showing that, between April and June of this year, the local cost of living bested the national average for the first time in nearly two decades. The Indy’s sister publication, the Colorado Springs Business Journal, reported this summer that Colorado Springs’ median home costs were nearly $60,000 more than the national average (though still cheaper than the state average).

It’s also no secret that the local real estate market has been increasingly pricing low-income earners out of a home. In fact, residents throughout the county, but especially in comparatively lower-cost Southeast Colorado Springs, were shocked this year to learn that their property values had jumped anywhere from 11 to 37 percent over prior assessments. When property values go up, so do the costs to buy, rent and pay taxes on a home.

This may explain why so many who do so much to enrich our community, our culture, our economy, our lives, must take time from their gifts and work multiple jobs just to get by.
So when you find yourself drawn in by a local artist’s work, don’t just admire it; invest in it.
If you employ local makers, pay them a livable wage.

The arts play a critical role in our region; it’s past time for us to financially support the creatives who make this magic happen.

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