Denver Arts Scene Packs an Economic Punch

The Buell Theater in Denver (Photo by Jeffrey Beall via Flickr)

The next time someone asks how you’re going to make a living in the arts, you can point them to Colorado, where Denver is banking on the arts just fine. According to a study released Wednesday, Denver metro arts, cultural and scientific organizations generated $1.8 billion in economic activity in 2015, $512.8 million of which represented new money injected into Denver’s economy. The total includes $894 million in audience spending, $860 million in operating expenditures and $55 million in capital expenditures.

The survey, conducted every two years by the Colorado Committee for the Arts (CBCA), actually found that the $1.8 billion total is a 2.2 percent decline from the most recent study in 2013. CBCA Executive Director Deborah Jordy attributed the decline to less capital investment than in previous years, but also pointed out that jobs in the arts, cultural and scientific organizations have bounced back to pre-recession levels. Tourists also spent an unprecedented $367 million at cultural institutions, the highest level recorded to date.

“Coloradans understand that tourism is a key driver for our economy. And cultural tourism’s contributions to that effort are important factors in our state’s overall success,” said Tom Clark, CEO of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, in a statement. “Couple those contributions with the total economic activity and jobs created and you begin to understand what key, long-term contributors our cultural organizations are to the overall economic health of our state.”

The report also found that since 2013, total payroll for cultural organizations was up more than 9 percent, total volunteer hours were up 15 percent, and corporate sponsorships in the arts were up more than 10 percent. Educational outreach and partnerships resulted in an average of more than seven annual arts experiences for Denver metro students, and attendance of free events increased by 3 percent.

The biennial study compiles data from all nonprofit organizations that receive funding from the taxpayer supported Scientific and Cultural Facilities District, which has funded cultural institutions in the Denver metro area through a sales and use tax since 1989. The support of that district is one of the reasons the National Endowment for the Arts ranks Colorado third in the nation for per capita attendance of live dance, music and theater events.

Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at

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Tags: jobsarts and culturedenver