Arts, culture and heritage funds brightening the face of Manitou Springs

News  /  Village

Organizers and volunteers work on the Hiawatha Gardens mural, supported by Manitou Arts, Culture, and Heritage funds, in October 2022. From left: Becca Sickbert of the Creative Alliance Manitou Springs; K8e Orr, a project organizer and designer; and volunteer Nicole Riggio. (File Photo)

Manitou Springs has long been known as a haven for the arts, history and the people who love them. But a relatively recent change in the 150-year-old city is spreading benevolent ripples throughout the community. 

The city of Manitou Springs’ 2022 annual report, released in late January, includes information about how Manitou Arts, Culture, and Heritage funds have impacted the community. The ordinance sets aside 0.3 percent of the city’s sales tax and use tax revenues to support local culture. Voters narrowly approved the measure in November 2019 and it took effect July 1, 2020.

MACH was set up to divert 66 percent of those funds to support facility improvements and operations at five historic buildings, the Tier 1 recipients. They are: the Carnegie Library building, the Hiawatha Gardens property, Manitou Art Center, Manitou Springs Heritage Center and Miramont Castle.

The remaining funds are used for Tier 2 competitive grants and mini-grants (up to $750), with recipients selected by the MACH board.

All projects must be implemented within city limits. People and entities outside Manitou Springs are eligible to apply, as long as they apply via a fiscal partnership with a Manitou-based nonprofit that has been in existence for at least two years.

According to the annual report, MACH funds distributed in 2022 amounted to $480,138. The Tier 1 properties split $323,154, leaving $156,984 for grants. Last year, 27 competitive grants and eight mini-grants were disbursed.

The report also states that MACH-funded events drew 32,430 participants and that 3 million people have seen MACH-funded public art.

Becca Sickbert, executive director of Creative Alliance Manitou Springs, explains that astounding number combines all reported participation or digital interaction throughout the funded programs and projects. She emphasizes that it’s not equivalent to attendance, because some programs support opportunities for networking, training and marketing, and the same people could be participating in multiple experiences.

“I think it’s important to draw a key distinction that those experiences are not just about seeing — it’s all things sensory: listening, touching, tasting or creating art in MACH-funded arts, culture and heritage moments,” Sickbert says.

She also explains that the 3 million statistic is based on reports from the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce, Mountain Metro bus service and the Colorado Department of Transportation, attendance at School District 14 events and First Friday Art Walks, ticket sales, parking fees and online traffic. MACH grant recipients are required to report the impacts their projects have had on the community.

Sickbert says the projects that really boost experiences to that 3 million-experience stratosphere are the ones that are accessible 24/7. They include Brenda Biondo’s “Window into Wildlife” installations at bus stops, the Smokebrush Foundation’s Turtle Project asphalt murals at crosswalks surrounding Memorial Park and sculptures stretching from Hiawatha Gardens on Old Man’s Trail to the 900 block of Manitou Avenue, a 0.6-mile expanse.

“Isn’t that the point of public art — that it’s easily accessible to anyone, of any age, and any kind of physical ability, whether casually passing by on the avenue or spending a whole day interacting with art in one of our beautiful pocket parks?” Sickbert says.

The MACH board received 69 grant requests during its most recent application cycle, which ended Jan. 6. And 24 of those are mini-grant requests, according to board chair Neale Minch.

In 2021, the board received 52 grant requests, with 18 asking for mini-grants. Funds totaling $150,000 were disbursed, supporting 23 successful projects.

Sickbert leads training sessions for applicants so their requests can be as thorough as possible and align with the values in Plan Manitou, the community’s long-range master plan.

“Creativity is good business,” she says. “The more fun, relevant and unique our businesses and events can be for Manitou Springs, the more enticing it is for our residents, neighbors and visitors to shop, eat, play and stay with us.”

The board will discuss applications for this year’s disbursements and present its selections to City Council in March; City Council is expected to decide on the recipients that month.

This year, Minch says, the board anticipates approximately $150,000 will be available for grants, but applicants have requested approximately $330,000.

“Generally the quality of applications is good, and we expect to see a higher number of partial awards this cycle,” he says.

The tax, scheduled to sunset in 2035, still has plenty of time to leave a legacy for future generations.

“Nobody knew just how much revenue the MACH tax would produce, but in two and a half years the total amount will surpass $1 million — all going directly back into the community,” board member Ralph Routon says.

“That’s clearly making a difference, not just for the larger recipients but for the dozens of smaller programs and projects that are being impacted.”


Disclosure: Ralph Routon serves on the board of Sixty35 Media.

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