UNPACKING THE BACKPACK – GV should restore arts scholarship

In the film Dead Poets Society, teacher John Keating, played by Robin Williams, tells his students this: “Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are the things we stay alive for.” I would add the term “art” to his list, for that is what he is talking about, the Arts. Art sustains us, consoles us, inspires us, heals us, makes us human. 

Greenwood Village has long been a community that values and supports the arts. It is, or at least was, a community that cultivates the arts among young people. Programs like Art in the Park, which my daughter took as a child and now works as a rec aide, and the impressive array of Curtis Arts Center classes promotes the arts to the next generation. Until recently the Village also supported the arts with the annual arts scholarships awarded by the city’s Arts & Humanities Council. For thirty-five years, this scholarship has been a wonderful message and symbol to the community and its neighbors, as the award has always been open to any student in Arapahoe County. 

However, the Greenwood Village City Council recently eliminated the scholarship after the Village’s Arts & Humanities Council rejected a directive to limit the scholarship to only high school seniors who are Village residents. The City Council’s misguided and unilateral decision to end the scholarship on December 1, was a disappointing lump of coal delivered to the area’s young people just in time for the holidays. Their “take-my-ball-and-go-home” attitude sends a terrible message to our community, especially to young people. For inexplicable reasons, city leaders have broken a thirty-five year tradition of offering an arts scholarship simply because they couldn’t restrict the program to only Greenwood Village residents, even though that had never been the practice. 

Until now, Greenwood Village has never limited appreciation of the arts to only Village residents. Non-residents have always been welcome in the city to enjoy the arts, whether that’s art shows and classes at the Curtis Center, summer Concerts at the Crescent, or movies at the Landmark. Past city leaders have always wanted non-residents to enjoy – and, of course, spend their money on – concerts at Fiddler’s Green. And it seems money is the crux of the Council’s misguided vote. By eliminating the scholarship altogether because they can’t limit it to Village residents, the Council is basically telling all young artists in Arapahoe County, “If-we-can’t-have-it-no-one-can.” 

Yet, current council members conveniently forget the city depends on non-residents coming to the Village and spending their money here. Many non-resident spenders are high school students who spend thousands of dollars on lunch every day they come to school in the Village. They spend thousands of dollars hanging out with their friends here. Many study art, music, and dance in the Village, with their parents spending thousands of dollars on classes. The City Council shouldn’t send a message that they are not a part of our community every day they come here. Giving a scholarship to a non-resident is not a waste of city funds – it’s an investment in the arts and in the youth of the community. And it might actually return to a family some of the thousands of dollars they have spent in the Village over the years. 

Greenwood Village is not a self-sustaining municipality whose residents generate enough revenue to support all the amenities they value. As part of Arapahoe County, the DTC, and the greater metro area, the Village benefits from outside money and civic programs. For example, every day students at Cherry Creek take a beautiful path through Chenango Park on their way to spend money at Belleview Square. That path was funded in part with a grant from Arapahoe County. Additionally, as reported by The Villager, the City Council and residents should know arts programming in the Village received $70,000 in funding from the metro area’s SCFD funds – that’s the Science Cultural Facilities District, the regional district providing arts funding for the greater metro area.

So perhaps the current City Council could dispense with the idea that Greenwood Village is only for residents, and these community leaders could focus on opening doors rather than building walls. The Council should honor a legacy that precedes them and should outlive them, for the Greenwood Village arts scholarship is a shining example of civic stewardship. The Greenwood Village arts scholarship is about one thing and one thing only – supporting the arts through the young people who are its future.

Michael P. Mazenko is a writer, educator, & school administrator in Greenwood Village. He blogs at A Teacher’s
View and can be found on Twitter @mmazenko. You can email him at mmazenko@gmail.com