Look, I love art as much as the next guy and beer more than the next. I agree that artists can bring energy and interest to areas that weren’t formerly very enticing, and often go hand-in-hand with hip eateries and hip businesses that make actual money instead of merely being hip, which is the province of the aforementioned artists. Quality of life matters to people, and creativity in a community can make that quality better. But the idea that the good people of Colorado need to spend $50 million of their money to subsidize artist communities during hard times seems, shall we say, silly to the point of irritatingly irresponsible.
This idea of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s—brewer and current beer lover himself—was hatched in Minnesota by a non-profit group called Artspace and exported to Loveland in Colorado, where the group built “30 affordable live and work units for artists and their families.” It’s unclear how much of that project, which is revamping an old feed-and-grain warehouse, is being paid for by the people of Loveland, but they’ve already given the non-profit and developers about $6 million in tax credits. With $500 million in assets across a dozen states, it sounds like Artspace is a big developer with an acceptably socially conscious sounding message that vacuums up subsidies just like, you know, other big developers.
The statewide Colorado project Hickenlooper announced will be a public-private partnership with an “uncertain price tag” for taxpayers, according to AP reporting. Super. The housing projects, scattered across the state, will cost about $5 million each, require residents make no more than 60 percent of the median area income, and have no real definition of artist. Hence, the craft brewers and liquor distillers’ inclusion. What about artisan marijuana cultivators?
The housing, if it looks anything like the proposals for Loveland, will be modern and hip, and we will be incentivizing a bunch of people to keep their incomes low to live in it.
“The more you can get creative energy into a community, that energy helps the entire business climate.”
Energy is an interesting euphemism for it. The fact is, you’re putting something very concrete in— the people of Colorado’s money— and what you’ll get out of it is not at all clear. Which is why such community alchemy is better left to people who willingly decide to give their money to it.