Study: Spending on Denver arts is down, but hiring is up

"Ballerinas," by Ruth Keller Schweiss, outside of the Sheraton. (Jimmy Baikovicius/Flickr)
"Ballerinas," by Ruth Keller Schweiss, outside of the Sheraton. (Jimmy Baikovicius/Flickr)
“Ballerinas,” by Ruth Keller Schweiss, outside of the Sheraton. (Jimmy Baikovicius/Flickr)

Denver’s cultural scene has created more than 500 jobs since 2013, despite falling attendance and less capital and audience spending, according to a new report.

The Colorado Business Committee for the Arts (CBCA), in partnership with the Scientific & Cultural Facilities District, released its 2016 Economic Activity Study Wednesday as part of a two-decade long endeavor to quantify the economic impact of art and culture on metro-Denver. This year’s study was calculated using data from 2015.

Here are some takeaways from the study:

Attendance to Denver’s various art and cultural events fell by 300,000 since 2013, continuing a downward trajectory that peaked in 2011 with 13.6 million.

Arts and culture economic impact–or new money flowing into the local economy–fell 1.6 percent since 2013: $512.8 million in 2015, compared with $520.8 million in 2013.

Tourist spending, federal grants and capital expenditures all feed into the economic impact.  A 41 percent drop in capital spending since 2013 partially explains the slump–that funding goes directly to construction and renovation projects.

Since several organizations, including Colorado Ballet, Denver Botanic Gardens and Children’s Museum of Denver, all recently completed large construction projects, Program Manager Meredith Badler said overall expenditures are down. The Colorado Business Committee for the Arts expects these projects, and associated expenditures, to pick back up soon.

Attendance may have dipped, but cultural tourism is doing better than ever.

About 18 percent of total attendance at cultural events last year consisted of visitors from outside Denver-metro. These cultural tourists contributed about $367 million to the local economy.

As for jobs, Denver arts and culture created more than 500 for a total of 10,731 jobs in arts and arts-related endeavors—a 5 percent increase since 2013.

“For me, what is interesting is that the arts are not just providing jobs to actors or zoo keepers. It’s also accountants and marketing people and people in all fields,” CBCA executive Deborah Jordy told the Denver Business Journal. “This is a highly educated field that has many advanced degrees.” … The payroll numbers are up; we are paying good wages to arts workers.”

That payroll rose 9.6 percent to $165.2 million, meaning tax revenue also increased by about 7 percent.

Despite reductions in attendance and economic impact, arts and culture employment growth outpaced Denver’s overall 3.5 percent growth, and put the 1.9 percent national growth rate to shame.

Multimedia business & healthcare reporter Chloe Aiello can be reached via email at or

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