UNPACKING THE BACKPACK – Maybe students should spend their money elsewhere

Art can break down barriers. It can open minds and connect communities. Art at its best reaches across borders. Greenwood Village City Council, however, has taken the opposite position with its recent meddling in the work of the city’s Arts and Humanities Council. With the decision to restrict and ultimately cancel the annual Greenwood Village Arts Scholarship, the city leaders prefer to close doors, build walls, marginalize people, and restrict arts funding. In fact, if you follow the thinking of the City Council, you might suspect the Village is closed for business to outsiders.

The GV arts scholarship had been a wonderful message and symbol to the community and the town’s neighbors across Arapahoe County. For thirty-five years, previous leaders of Greenwood Village set an admirable example of support for the arts among young people. With its generous and impressive guideline that opened applications to any student in Arapahoe County, the Arts Council used its independently-raised funds to honor the best among all the students attending school in the area. Knowing no city is an island and that consumers cross borders all the time, the Arts Council simply focused on its mission – supporting the arts. 

Apparently, city council members are pretty riled up about giving money to artists who don’t live in the city. I guess that could make sense because it’s not like the Village ever pays artists who don’t live here – like say the musicians who play the mobile summer concerts. I guess we’ve never seen non-resident artists and performers at the Mayor’s Lighting Ceremony or Greenwood Village Day. No, of course not. The Village can’t honor, support, and pay artists who don’t live in the Village. That’s the thinking of a City Council member who said “this is city money and we are elected to be stewards of city money.” However, that view is somewhat inaccurate and misleading because city tax dollars are not used to fund the scholarship. The Arts Council is self-funded through fundraising, donations, and grants, a point made clear by member Sandy Carson who noted “I find this particularly appalling because all monies for scholarships are derived from our earnings. City taxes are not involved in the scholarships.”

Sadly, current council members are surprisingly aloof to the nature of the town they profess to lead. For example, one council member responded to an email about the arts scholarship by saying she had “volunteered to chair the application and award committee” limited specifically to a Greenwood Village resident. Had she listened to the discussions with Arts and Humanities, she would have known that last year only two of the twenty-seven applicants were from Greenwood Village, and one of those applications was not even complete and did not qualify. The scholarship is a merit award, yet apparently some council members would simply award the scholarship to applicants based on their address. Clearly the council members have limited knowledge of the work the Arts Council does. In fact, that’s why the Village established separate boards and councils to specialize. 

Greenwood Village is a small community of just fourteen thousand people. Thus, in a graduating class of nine-hundred seniors at Cherry Creek, the number of Village residents could be quite small, with no guarantee any of those residents are outstanding artists of exceptional talent. However, a phenomenal artist may literally live across the street from the Village in Centennial or just down the road in Littleton. Council members want to award the “youth of Greenwood Village,” but the youth of the community are not just those living here. It’s those who spend their days – and their money – in the Village. And, to be clear, of the nearly seventy scholarships given over the years, only twenty-nine went to kids outside the Village anyway.

As a Village resident, I’d hate to suggest people not support local businesses, but money talks, as the saying goes. Because the Council has made it clear they don’t value non-residents as members of the community, perhaps students should think more carefully about where they spend their money and the implications of those funds. A Centennial or Aurora student attending school in the Village may spend thousands of dollars in the Village over the years. Until the Greenwood Village City Council reverses its unfortunate decision about the arts scholarship and heals its relationship with the Arts and Humanities Council, the young people of Arapahoe County might want to consider spending their money elsewhere. 

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