GV City Council rejects the policy of its Arts and Humanities Council causing one member to resign and leaving others reeling

BY FREDA MIKLIN
STAFF WRITER

In 2011, the Greenwood Village City Council (GVCC) passed a city ordinance to make the powers, duties, and operation of its Arts and Humanities Council (GVAHC) official. That law, unchanged in the past decade, says that, “Monies required for the operation of the (Arts) Council shall come from donations, proceeds of fundraising events, and grants secured by the (Arts) Council, and held within the Arts and Humanities Special Revenue Fund. The City Manager shall submit for consideration of the GVCC an annual budget within the Arts and Humanities Special Revenue Fund for the reasonable expenses of the (Arts) Council, which shall also contain an estimate of anticipated revenues for the next calendar year.”

The GVAHC began awarding merit-based college scholarships to talented high school seniors planning to major in fine arts back in 1986. Through 2022, 69 students have received the GVAHC scholarships. Of that total, 40 were GV residents and 29 lived elsewhere in Arapahoe County. 

At the GVCC’s all-day workshop for the 2023 city budget, held on September 16, for which there is no audio recording or official minutes, the council decided to reject GVAHC’s recommendation that it award three scholarships in 2023 to deserving Arapahoe County residents as it did last year, and for which there is sufficient money in the Arts and Humanities Special Revenue Fund, after expenses. 

Although there is no official record, GVCC apparently voted 7-1 to reduce the number of scholarships (of $5,000 each plus a $500 stipend to the school for its art program) to two and to not allow any student who does not live in GV to receive it. 

When GVAHC members were told of the city council’s decision, several of them reached out to this newspaper, extremely upset and confused. We, in turn, reached out to all the members of the city council to ask why they rejected GVAHC’s recommendation. Only GV City Council Members Dave Kerber, Dave Bullock, and Tom Stahl did not respond to our inquiry. On October 17, when five of the seven members of GVAHC appeared at the regular city council meeting to express their intense disappointment and bewilderment at what they said was the “appalling” and “insulting” decision made by GVCC, imploring them to re-examine it prior to voting on the 2023 budget, five members of the city council responded to the arts commissioners. Kerber, Bullock and Stahl sat silent, offering the arts commissioners no explanation or acknowledgement of their concerns before voting to pass the budget with the reduced amount of scholarship money and the policy decision that only GV residents were eligible for it.

GVAHC member Sandy Carson told the city council, “I have served on the arts council for seven years and have watched the cultural arts program increase in diversity and in attendance …One of the board’s major objectives is to enrich the community’s exposure to…the creative abilities of talented and skilled individuals…In keeping with our goal of the enrichment of culture…A very important aspect of… (GVAHC) is to provide scholarships for three students who are going to major in one of the fine arts in college.” 

Pointing to the city council’s decision, Carson said, “It is insulting for the city Council to reject (GVAHC’s) recommendations. We firmly object to the decision to reduce the number of scholarships and limit them to only Greenwood Village residents. We have carefully considered the amount of money awarded for the scholarships.” She continued, “There was no rationale or explanation given by the city council for these restrictions. I find this particularly appalling (because) all monies for scholarships are derived from our earnings. City taxes are not involved in scholarship awards.”

Carson also pointed out that most of the applications come from outside GV, which is accurate. Then Carson told the city council that if it did not reconsider its plan to reject the Arts Council’s recommendation, she would resign her position. The following morning, she did just that.

Catherine Huggins is in her eighth year on GVAHC and commended Ms. Carson for her strong advocacy for the arts, despite being ill with stage four cancer, then said,We are truly upset that you decided during the budget workshop (to reject) our established scholarship criteria, going directly against the wishes of the Arts and Humanities Council…To change the criteria from allowing GVAHC to choose from the pool of the best high school seniors in all of Arapahoe County to only the graduating seniors of Greenwood Village residents is diminishing the intent of the scholarship. This scholarship is an outreach program that grows the GV arts and humanities base. The Arts Council aims to increase awareness of our program. We want to grow the arts community in GV and reach Arapahoe county. Unfortunately, with your action, we are shutting down our best campaign. I am asking you to give the choice back to the Arts Council. You have selected a group of leaders to lead the Arts Council, please let us do our job. Please let us continue to fund three arts scholarships for high school seniors in Arapahoe County. Please let us use the money that the Arts Council generates with artist application fees for shows and from art sales, money that is coming from outside of our city boundaries, that we in turn can use for good without concern of a city boundary. Scholarships are a good thing, please don’t make this an issue and hurt students and schools with your actions.” She concluded with, “Our neighbors reach beyond the boundaries of our city. We need to cultivate our friends in this greater community and continue to grow by including all the Arapahoe County high schools. Please consider a bit of grace and allow us the opportunity to present three scholarships next spring.”

Kathleen Smith, former principal of Cherry Creek High School, who has been on GVAHC since 2019, said that it was her understanding that the current policy of allowing students from throughout Arapahoe County to apply for scholarships arose because there were not enough students who live in GV who would qualify for it. Based on her long experience, she determined that there would likely be about ten students each school year who are GV residents and plan to major in fine arts in college. As she pointed out, however, “That doesn’t mean they have talent and this is a merit scholarship.” In fact, of the 27 applicants for the scholarship in 2021, only two were GV residents.

Alissandra Seelaus, Visual Arts Teacher and National Art Honor Society Sponsor at Cherry Creek High School in GV, was unable to attend the meeting, but sent along a letter that was read to the city council. It said, “The Greenwood Village Arts Council Scholarship has been a long-standing tradition, earned by dozens of Cherry Creek High School (CCHS) students, including myself, in 2005, and several of my students in more recent years now that I teach art at Creek. I have been delighted to observe that the amount of the award has expanded in the years since I received it to honor more young artists with scholarships that are also commensurate with the rising cost of higher education, and hearing that this important progress will be rolled back was deeply discouraging.”

She went on, “The idea of excluding CCHS students who attend school in Greenwood Village but live outside its boundaries feels unnecessary and cruel. While at best, the policy appears shortsighted and exclusive, at its worst, it carries racist undertones. Many lower-income students of color are bussed in from Glendale to attend Creek, and these are precisely the students who could benefit most from an accessible, local scholarship like this one. Eighty percent of the young artists in my AP Studio class this year have expressed interest in pursuing the arts in college and/or professionally, and the class is also majority-minority, and has been for the past few years. The idea that some of these students would be ineligible for this scholarship (most likely, the ones who need it most) based on city boundary, something so inconsequential, seems counterintuitive to the purpose of the scholarship in the first place. I sincerely hope a closer look is taken at the logic behind these recent choices and that the council considers restoring the scholarship to its former glory and accessibility.”

Jack Huggins, Youth At Large member of GVAHC said, “I am honored to be part of the Greenwood Village Arts Council. I attend Denver School of the Arts. This is my 7th year in an art only school. I was on the Arts and Humanities Board this past Spring and was impressed by the selection process and the candidates for the scholarship. Please don’t reduce the number of scholarships and the pool of applicants.”

Sam Langley-Hawthorne read a letter from his mother, Clare Langley-Hawthorne, GVAHC Chair who was out of the country and unable to attend the meeting. It said, “I am profoundly disappointed in the city council’s decision to cut the budget allocation for our arts scholarship program and restrict eligibility to only those students who are Greenwood Village residents. Not only will this have a damaging impact on the viability of the scholarship, it also demonstrates a lack of respect, support, and confidence in the arts council itself…All of our art scholarships are funded directly from artist fees raised from art sales, art show submission and application fees, as well as donations received at the Curtis Center. These artist fees come from a broad pool of Colorado residents within and beyond Arapahoe County. Restricting the art scholarships to students who live in Greenwood Village sends a message to the local community that we do not want to assist or encourage students beyond our city borders, even though residents of surrounding communities support, attend and participate in GVAHC and Curtis Center activities. Further, it builds barriers to access, to further art education rather than supporting the arts council’s mission to support talented high school seniors looking to pursue a college degree in the visual, performing and literary arts. I urge City Council to reconsider their budget decision and follow the recommendations of GVAHC.”

Henry Siegel, GVAHC member since 2018, asked the council to kindly explain why they were insisting on removing one of the three scholarships and requiring recipients to be residents, noting that, “It has been reported that Greenwood Village has or will be receiving a windfall of $628,677 as a result of the sale of the Denver Broncos through a lease agreement. It stipulates that these funds be used for youth activity programs certainly, including music, art, and sports. Certainly, council can find $5,000 from that sum to retain the third scholarship… The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members. I think it’s in GV’s best interests to be known for its generosity, especially in regard to our children, our students, and our future. Let all students in the schools in our district be eligible for the Arts Council scholarship.”

5 members of GVCC chose to respond to the arts commissioners.

Council Member Donna Johnston said, in part, “It’s not our role to pay for anything outside of our city that doesn’t benefit us,” adding, as she spoke directly to the GVAHC members who were there, “I’m disappointed that you (GVAHC) just simply cannot understand that the scholarships really need to be for Greenwood Village residents… You do great work, so I’m saddened that this is so hard for you to understand.” She also told them that, in her opinion, they “pick great candidates to win those scholarships… no question about it.”

After noting that, “The GVAHC has obviously attracted additional artists and we’ve expanded our programming,” GVCC member Libby Barnacle said to the commissioners, “You serve at our will, at our pleasure. You are appointed by city council… You are expected to cooperate and work with and communicate with council… It is the city who is funding and hosting these things. It’s not a separate revenue stream that GVAHC raises and is in control of.” Referring to the September 8 letter from GVAHC to the council in which they offered to reserve one of the three scholarships for a GV resident, Barnacle said that it was “insulting,” explaining, “No, no, no, that’s not how this relationship works. I mean, thank you for your opinion, but this is city money and we are elected to be stewards of city money. It is equally as insulting to be alluded to as being racist (referring to a statement in the letter from the Cherry Creek High School visual arts teacher who won this scholarship in 2005; she is not a member of the GVAHS) because we choose to keep this money in the city. That is equally as insulting and disappointing. By way of education, it’s (GVAHS) not a separate advisory board to city council.”

Council Member Paul Wiesner wanted to know about the budget for the GVAHC. GV Finance Director Shawn Cordesen informed him that “the proposed expenditures for 2023 are $27,550, however the associated revenue is $33,050.” Wiesner pointed out that that didn’t include the cost of “police, trash pick-up or staging.” Suzanne Moore, director of parks, trails and recreation, added that, SCFD funds (The Science Cultural Facilities District), which are about $70,000, pay the direct costs of the annual Arts on the Green program. 

Council Member Judy Hilton turned and looked back at the GVAHC members and said, “Maybe the criteria by which you make the decision of who will be awarded scholarship money—maybe it’s a little bit off.” 

Council Member Anne Ingebretsen told the arts commissioners that she agreed with their position but that she was in the minority.