The arts have long been recognized as a unifying and strengthening force. Partnerships between artists and arts organizations in Colorado and across the U.S. contribute to increased cultural and eco-tourism, higher tax revenues and greater awareness of the social and economic contributions that artists and arts organizations make in our everyday lives. The arts are a major factor in what makes our communities and state distinctive and a desirable place to live, work and play.
In 1985, the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts (CBCA) emerged with the promise of helping the arts community in Colorado realize their dreams. Denver developer John Madden, Jr. brought together a distinguished, forward-thinking group of Colorado business leaders who believed in the importance and value of arts and culture. They were inspired by David Rockefeller’s national Business Committee for the Arts, which was formed in 1967 by a group of business leaders committed to demonstrating corporate social responsibility by supporting the arts. Under this model, CBCA was created with the mission to educate, motivate and recognize business support for and participation in the arts in Colorado.
Founding board members were from Colorado Springs, Denver, Durango and Pueblo. CBCA was originally founded with a strong focus on the inherent benefits of nonprofit arts on the business community with services and programming primarily serving the private sector. CBCA has evolved to serve the mutually beneficial intersection of arts and business. All programming now also builds capacity for arts and cultural organizations and supports working artists.
For 35 years, CBCA has carried forth its founders’ vision of a Colorado where arts and business are integrated to catalyze and build strong and vibrant communities. Vicki Aybar-Sterling, CBCA’s first executive director, says, “By the time I took the job in 1985, there were a handful of companies and they had developed a plan. My mission was to move CBCA forward to become a true state-wide organization, leveraging the strength of the board of directors.”
During several early years of CBCA’s existence, its board of directors was comprised of corporate CEOs and Chairmen only. Marc Servoss, Servoss Public Relations, was asked by Madden to succeed him as the second board chairman. “I knew CBCA was going to be successful given the influencers comprising its board,” says Servoss. “In those first years, CBCA’s biggest accomplishment of all was the influence we had on the creation of Denver’s Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD).”
Bill Cook, early CBCA board member and founder and chairman of Howard Lorton Galleries reflects on the early days saying, “Culture was always important to the strength of our community and my business’ culture.”
The trajectory of CBCA’s growth was steep and fast. “We began with 13 members and had over 90 members by 1994,” says Aybar-Sterling. “As we grew, it became apparent that creating an economic activity study would be essential to our continued growth and ability to raise money for the arts.” Conducted every two years, the study has validated the economic impact of the arts and culture sector on the metro Denver region. In the very first study in 1992, one conclusion was that more people attended arts events than Colorado’s NHL, NBA and NFL teams’ home games.
“Year-after-year we’ve seen CBCA’s value and contributions play out in advancing Colorado’s quality of life, community vitality, cultural capital, stimulating the economy, and the health of the business community and overall society,” says Christin Crampton Day, CBCA’s current executive director.
CBCA’s marquee event every year is its Business for the Arts Awards, which has honored over 180 businesses and individuals over the years. The awards celebrate innovative partnerships, generous philanthropy, creative businesses and stellar leadership across the state. It is the only statewide event honoring companies and individuals for their outstanding partnerships and engagement with the arts. The awards event is known for its entertainment, showcasing Colorado’s diverse artists and performers including a variety of dance, theater, music, and much more. “In the early years of the awards luncheon, it was all about getting the business community to participate and engage directly with the artists, which included business attendees playing kazoos and creating art at their tables, adds Aybar-Sterling.”
Today, CBCA continues to evolve due to changing needs, dynamics and priorities of the business community; arts, culture and creative industries sector; and Colorado’s economy. CBCA provides services by facilitating connections, convening art and business leaders, and advocating for the arts and creative industries. “Arts and culture are essential to Colorado’s social fabric and economic recovery, and it’s undeniable that the sector needs support now more than ever, as a result of COVID-19. What we’ve come to realize over the past eight months, since the pandemic started, is that our mission at the intersection of arts and business is more relevant today than ever,” Crampton Day adds. “As we continue to face the ongoing challenges of this pandemic and economic recession that has disproportionately affected artists and cultural organizations, it’s critical that we increase our advocacy with the private sector to support the arts community in towns and cities throughout Colorado.”
“When I look back over my tenure as executive director,” says Aybar-Sterling, “I feel so proud of what CBCA has become today.”