Colorado Artists, as Assembly Line Workers, Part Four

Read Part One

As I mentioned in Part Three, I spent a little time doing Google searches, trying to find a copy of the “Mission Statement” for the Colorado Council on the Arts (CCA), a agency that has now been absorbed into the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, and labeled “Colorado Creative Industries.” I was lucky enough to find a PDF file, titled, Colorado Council on the Arts Annual Report, Fiscal Year July 1, 2004 through June 30, 2005. You can click here to download that report.

At some point during the previous year, CCA had revised its Mission Statement, to reflect what many were seeing, in 2005, as a “new reality.”


The mission of the Colorado Council on the Arts is to promote the cultural, educational and economic growth of Colorado through development of its arts and cultural heritage.

— CCA Annual Report, FY2005

CCA’s funding for FY2005 — $500,000 — was only a quarter of the $1.9 million previously allocated by Colorado legislators for FY2002.  Indeed, all across America, legislators were cutting arts council budgets, reflecting a decade of political attacks on the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) by congressional leaders in Washington DC.

The NEA had been part of President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” program in 1965; its first federal appropriation in 1966 had been $2.8 million.  The creation of the NEA and its sister organization, the National Endowment for the Humanities — tools to insure America’s global dominance in art and culture, we were told — corresponded closely with the entrance of the Ford Foundation into the realm of “arts grants.”

The corporate sponsors of the Ford Foundation, and other foundations, wanted a way to support and promote American arts and culture in a manner that would be tax deductible as a “charitable donation.”  The federal government — and in particular, the IRS — promptly accommodated those wishes by declaring that “arts councils” could be treated as “charitable organizations.” And suddenly, without anyone really noticing that it was happening, art production — painting, sculpture, theater, opera, ballet, photography, ceramics — became a charitable activity worthy of tax-deductible donations.


But the IRS and the foundations didn’t like the idea of giving money directly to the artists who made the art.  (That would never do; the artists would just spend the money.)  So between 1966 and 2000, America saw a tremendous growth in the number of regional, state and local “arts councils” and “arts non-profits”.  The primary job of these organizations was to accept “matching grants” from NEA and various foundations and corporations, raise money locally to “match” those grants, and then use the funds to “promote arts and culture” in their region or city. In a businesslike manner. (Not the way artists themselves would spend it…)

It didn’t take long before the arts council staff members were being paid much larger salaries than the artists who were doing the actual work of creating America’s stories — visual, written, performed.  Nearly 50 years after the creation of the NEA, artists generally work for less than minimum wage.  Painters still spend $60 on paint and canvas and $200 for framing, and then sell the resulting artwork for $280.  Musicians still spend weeks practicing for a three-hour bar gig that will pay $100.

But I’m getting off the subject.  The subject is Colorado Creative Industries (CCI), which has absorbed, (and perverted?) the funding agency formerly existing as the Colorado Council on the Arts (CCA).

In the mid-1990s, as Washington politicians became increasingly focused on cutting government support for the NEA, funding for that agency dropped from a high of $176 million in 1992 down to $97 million in 2000.  Those cuts naturally affected the amount of money filtering down to the Colorado Council on the Arts.  The writing was on the wall: Washington couldn’t be counted on to support the non-profit “arts bureaucracy” that had grown up in America since 1965.

In August 2003, CCA convened a blue ribbon task force whose goal was to “describe a new vision, a new purpose and a new structure for the Colorado Council on the Arts.”  Membership of the task force was diverse, with representation by artists, arts organizations, business and tourism organizations, higher education, foundations, and legislators. The task force met seven times from August through December 2003. Task force members received extensive background reading and research materials and several outside speakers made presentations throughout the process. The resulting report, A New Day, A New Way, focused on “a vision for the future in which the arts are a part of everyday life in Colorado.”

And where, we might cynically propose, arts bureaucracies are also a part of everyday life in Colorado.

A new CCA Mission Statement resulted from that report. I quoted it above, but we might want to carefully consider the language of that Mission Statement.

… to promote the cultural, educational and economic growth of Colorado through development of its arts and cultural heritage.

As we can see, the goal of CCA was no longer to encourage new works of art.  The essential goal was to utilize the labor of Colorado’s artists to promote “economic growth.” Sure, we would make a passing reference to culture and education, but it’s been pretty obvious which type of “growth” has been driving this bus.

In a valiant effort to secure continued funding for “the arts” — in a world where “jobs creation” is the end goal of human existence — the CCA sold out, and reduced painting, sculpture, theater, opera and creative writing to just another “jobs program” run by government bureaucrats. As of 2005, the artists of Colorado had become — in the eyes of their state’s lead arts agency — cogs on the wheel of financial and commercial progress.  Our job, as artists, was no longer to tell the visual and verbal stories of our culture, but to encourage real estate sales and tourism and bank deposits. The natural next step was to change the name of Colorado Council on the Arts to “Colorado Creative Industries.”

Read Part Five…

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