If Deborah Jordy could be granted one superpower, quite possibly it would be clairvoyance. An ability to see into the future would enable her to know where things stand with regard to the novel coronavirus and how it turned life upside down. It also would let Jordy, executive director of the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District, know what lies ahead for the 300 cultural organizations the SCFD helps fund in seven Colorado counties.
“I wish I could see my December self right now, but I can’t,” she lamented during an interview conducted in mid-summer. Right now, “Everything in the world has been affected by the virus. Everything has imploded, moved into crisis mode, and because there’s so much uncertainty, it’s hard to plan.”
True, but Jordy and her staff still spent much of the summer communicating with recipient organizations to get a handle on what could happen should a predicted 30 percent drop in sales tax revenue become reality. If it does, it would mean that the SCFD would have $20 million less to distribute to Tier I and II organizations on Dec. 14. Tier III distributions are made in September.
The SCFD receives one cent from every $10 in sales and use tax collected in Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas and Jefferson counties. In 2019 the SCFD, the second-largest cultural funding mechanism in the U.S., was able to distribute $66 million to cultural organizations ranging from the Arapahoe Philharmonic to the Denver Zoo.
As of July, Jordy said, “We’re not aware of any of our organizations closing their doors. Still, of the 300 that we fund, 47 percent have four months, or less, of operating revenue. So, we have to ask how they are going to manage and the answer is they will function smart.”
For some that means going virtual with free or pay-as-you-go offerings that range from French lessons offered by L’Alliance Francaise de Denver to Opera Colorado’s Great- est Hits, where opera buffs enjoyed selections from the company’s archives from the comfort of their mobile device screen. Cleo Parker Robinson Dance established a Virtual Village with classes, podcasts and documentary excerpts, while Denver Zoo’s Zoo to You took “visitors” on a virtual safari.
The big issues, should the pandemic still be raging, are how to monetize the virtual offerings; making sure that smaller organizations have the equipment and know-how to produce quality online programming; and how to reach audiences who might not have internet access or a means of finding out about the virtual offerings. “The hard part – but one that is very important – is understanding that this is going to be a very long haul with serious financial implications. It’s going to be about shifting the mindset because until we get control of the virus ... and even when we do, rebuilding consumer confidence is going to take a long time.”
Yet, she is confident things will fall into place, if for no other reason than “arts organizations are nimble, creative and scrappy. They have to be.”
The Scientific and Cultural Facilities District had its start in the 1980s, when Colorado–Denver, in particular–was in the midst of its worst economic downturn, a period that economists described as the second-worst period in state history, second only to the Great Depression. Realizing that cultural organizations were at risk of shutting down, thanks to deep cuts in city and state funding, a group of “local mavericks” headed by the late Rex Morgan and Julie Smith lobbied the legislature and drafted a ballot measure that would put the tax up for voter approval. It passed with a 67 percent favorability and has received voter approval three times since.
In addition to helping cultural organizations survive and thrive, SCFD funding has helped create 11,820 private-sector jobs, generated $1.9 billion in economic activity and enabled recipient agencies to offer 100 free or reduced-price cultural events annually.
A Colorado native, Jordy was named executive director of the SCFD in 2017, following an eight-month, nationwide search. Her extensive experience as an arts administrator prepared her well for leading the SCFD. She came to the organization following 13 years spent as executive director of the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts. In addition, she has been executive director of the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities; associate curator of modern and contemporary art for the Denver Art Museum and chair of the Chero- kee Ranch and Castle Foundation.
Jordy is co-chair of the Create Denver Advisory Committee; a member of the executive board of the Colorado Governor’s Residence Preservation Fund; and a past chair of the Private Sector Council of the New York-based Americans for the Arts.
Scientific and Cultural Facilities District
1047 Santa Fe Drive Denver
Organizations receiving SCFD income are grouped into three tiers, with funding amounts determined by size, attendance and other factors. Tier I recipients are the Denver Art Museum, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Denver Botanic Gardens and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Tier II and III organizations include Wild Bear Nature Center, Colorado Ballet, the Butterfly Pavilion, Arapahoe Philharmonic, the Art Students League of Denver and HawkQuest.
During her 29 years at The Denver Post, Joanne Davidson estimates she covered fundraising events for at least 200 of the 300 arts and cultural organizations that receive SCFD funds. And, she has enjoyed many a free day at the Denver Art Museum and Denver Zoo, also made possible by funding from the SCFD.
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