Reader: Arts & Venues merger diminishes Denver's arts efforts in name of efficiency

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In a recent post, Patricia Calhoun weighed in on critics of Arts & Venues, which merged Denver Office of Cultural Affairs and the Division of Theatres & Arenas. Taking issue is Anthony Radich, second chair of the Denver Commission on Cultural Affairs and executive director of the Western States Arts Federation.

Anthony Radich writes:

When I read the Westword, I usually find insights and information that move community dialogues forward. Unfortunately, your recent opinion piece on the merger that formed the new Arts and Venues Division of the city fell short of that standard.

In that piece, you imply that leaving the merger detail to two individuals who care deeply about the arts is appropriate and that we need to trust them. I disagree. While Erin Trapp and Jack Finlaw may have backgrounds in the arts, their crafting of the merger of the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs with the old Denver Division of Theatres and Arenas has left the city arts effort in a far weaker position. Consider the following:

*The two claim the merger saved $1.2 million. What the merger actually did was remove the city's core arts effort from the general fund and fund it through surplus Theatres and Arenas earnings. Those earnings were previously designated for repair and maintenance. So now the arts are dependent upon there being a surplus to survive, and maintenance will either be deferred or funded through the general fund. Where are the savings here?

*When the merger was devised, apparently no plan was made to ensure that the arts continued to have direct reporting access to the mayor. Currently, the leader of the arts segment of Arts and Venues connects to the Mayor's office through the head of Arts and Venues, who is a facilities manager.

*The hiring of the lead career service person in the arts part of Arts and Venues was accomplished through a process that resulted in the city's top career arts person being selected by a committee largely composed of facilities managers. These managers have little or no nonprofit arts or public-sector art experience. As a result, for the next 20 years, Denver has an arts leader cemented in place who is not a nationally competitive arts leader.

"Thus,under the guise of efficiency and money saving, Trapp and Finlaw have diminished Denver's arts effort. The Hancock administration needs to take a look at this downgrading and fix a system that was broken by two arts people who should have known better."

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