Denver Office of Cultural Affairs and Division of Theatres and Arenas to merge for art's sake?

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Denverites love the arts -- but the arts didn't officially become a part of the city structure until "1 percent for the arts," a program established under Mayor Federico Peña that earmarked one percent of any city construction project for art works.

Even as that project grew, so did the structure that oversaw the arts in this city.

An appointed commission of patrons to the Mayor's Office of Art Culture and Film evolved into the current Denver Office of Cultural Affairs. And now another change could be in the offing.

At a Denver City Council committee meeting today, councilmembers will hear about a plan to merge the Division of Theatres and Arenas (which is under the Department of General Services) with the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs, essentially putting together the presenting organization with the division that manages the buildings where art is presented. (A press release announcing the concept was in the works yesterday, but not yet available.)

Yes, the move is being considered as a cost-saving measure, but it also has the potential to help protect the arts, since culture is often one of the first things cut in tough economic times. Then again, there would be a very delicate dance involved in merging the two. After all, you can't award an art commission the way you might a vending contract. And passions can run high in the arts; there were some legendary fights back in the early '90s, when then-First Lady Wilma Webb headed the arts commission.

Still, the idea is worth discussing -- the role of the arts in creating a desirable place to live is always worth discussing. And celebrating.

For the record, here's the current description of the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs from its website:

The mission of the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs (DOCA) is to advance the arts and culture in the City and County of Denver. Denver is a culturally vibrant city with over 300 large and small arts and cultural organizations. DOCA builds on that vibrancy through working with other City offices, local businesses, nonprofit organizations and beyond to fulfill its mission.

DOCA provides a core service to the community through its various events and programs. Arts and culture are a part of the fiber of the City of Denver.

And here's the Theatres & Arenas description:

Theatres & Arenas is a division of the City & County of Denver's Department of General Services. Theatres & Arenas is responsible for the acquisition, construction, maintenance, repair, management and operation of the City's public assembly facilities. Theatres & Arenas oversees many of Denver's most sophisticated, high-profile facilities: Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre; the three largest venues in the Denver Performing Arts Complex: the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in the Newton Auditorium, the Buell Theatre and Boettcher Concert Hall, plus the historic Denver Coliseum, Colorado Convention Center and newly acquired Crossroads Theater.

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