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Colorado Arts Relief Grant doles out $7.4 million, but backlash causes at least one venue owner to return funds

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Colorado Creative Industries this week revealed the 722 grantees that applied for the latest round of state relief funds during the coronavirus shutdown. The funds, totaling $7.4 million, were approved by the legislature during the Colorado special session in December.

“(We) reviewed over 2,500 applications from across Colorado to ensure those organizations and individuals that suffered the greatest loss received state support,” said Tim Schultz, chairman of Colorado Creative Industries, in a press statement.

Music festivals and promoters, marquee cultural nonprofits, and overarching arts organizations tended to receive the largest amounts. Big winners include Telluride Bluegrass Festival ($200,000), the Museum of Outdoor Arts ($125,000), Colorado Shakespeare Festival ($150,000), Swallow Hill Music ($150,000) and Clocktower Entertainment ($100,000).

Other organizations, such as Museo de las Americas, Boulder Ballet, Su Teatro and the Black Actors Guild, received between $2,500 and $12,000. Amounts were based on the size of the organization’s cash operating revenue loss from 2019 to 2020, from 30% to 100%, officials said.

“Funding was determined based on the percentage revenue lost, relative to budget size and proportionate to the size of your budget,” the website reads. “There will be a cap on grants to larger organizations to ensure funds can be distributed to organizations of all sizes.”

The full list of grantees is available to view at oedit.colorado.gov.

Some who applied for funds expressed disappointment on social media this week, including Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox talent buyer and engineer Randall Frazier, who took issue with venues and organizations aligned with corporate promoters.

“Why don’t we give a half a mil to the biggest corporate whores we can find?” he wrote in a Feb. 10 Facebook comment. “Lots of deserving people in didn’t get any help at all. Needs to be talked about because I don’t think most people understand what just happened.”

Scott and Gwen Campbell, who own Denver’s Globe Hall, Lost Lake and Larimer Lounge music venues, work with AEG Presents Rocky Mountains, the region’s dominant promoter. All three of their venues received money, with the Larimer and Globe Hall each getting $125,000, and Lost Lake getting $90,000.

That promoted Curtis Wallach, co-owner of Denver’s Hi-Dive, to write: “Happy to see my pal Scott Campbell got a much needed $340,000 for his 3 struggling venues after he offered to buy Hi-Dive back in August.”

However, Gwen Campbell said she and Scott decided to give back $70,000 of the money after finding out that some local venues got nothing at all.

Regardless of her venues’ affiliations, they’re locally owned clubs fighting to survive the same as any other business, she said.

“As an owner of three small, independent music venues, we have been in a very dire situation for many, many months,” Gwen Campbell wrote in an email.

Chris Zacher, who runs the nonprofit Levitt Music Pavilion and has organized fundraising drives on behalf of independent venue organizations in recent months, said he was disappointed Levitt received no funding.

But he did not see any of the grantees as undeserving.

“None of this money went to corporate venues,” he wrote on Facebook, in response to Frazier’s comments. “These are our people … Let’s put ourselves to the side and celebrate the fact that we were able to make this happen. We’re an arts community and arts communities lift each other up. Of course those of us who didn’t receive any funding are upset. Let’s get it out and keep fighting.”

Along with the Campbells’ $70,000, about $30,000 more has been returned to the fund by individuals and organizations that no longer need it, said Margaret Hunt, executive director of Colorado Creative Industries.

“That’s really heartening to me,” she said. “We’ll know after next week how much money is left, and some organizations just forgot to submit paperwork, so there will be some reallocation.”

The Colorado Arts Relief Fund split heavily toward businesses and organizations, with most of the $7.4 million — about $5.9 million — going to 123 organizations in 33 Colorado counties, while a smaller amount (about $1.4 million) went out as individual, $2,500 grants to 599 artists in 41 counties, officials said.

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