Barton expands on hopes for arts initiative
Two weeks removed from appearing before the Summit County and Park City councils to advocate for greater support for the local arts and culture community, Egyptian Theatre Manager Randy Barton said he is pleased with the response he and the other arts representatives received and where things seem to be headed.
"I definitely am optimistic," he said. "I think there is enormous public support, there’s enormous elected official support, and our organizations are all strong. In the past that has not necessarily been the case."
Barton said the idea to bring all the local arts and culture groups together to advocate for themselves as a unit was something he had been mulling over for 30 years.
"We’ve been kind of a group of disparate organizations and we really haven’t been much of a cohesive coalition," he said. "It’s something I’d thought about for a long time on and off but we’re always so busy. We never had time to do anything about it."
Then with the economic downturn of 2008, Barton said he decided there was no time to wait.
"We all almost collapsed, really between 2008 and 2011," he said. "We need to make sure it doesn’t happen again. We need to have a safety net. What happened there was totally out of our control. It was a worldwide economic crash."
At the county and city meetings last month, Barton spoke about recreation getting the lion’s share of attention and funding. He said the arts community doesn’t want to take anything away from, say, funding for trail maintenance and athletic programs – they just want the same careful attention.
"The recreation side was never in danger [in 2008] but we were," Barton said. "We think we’re a valuable enough asset to the economic engine of this county that we need more of an umbrella of support from both the city and the county."
Barton said the idea for a blue ribbon committee (with a representative from the city, the county, the Chamber/Bureau, himself and two residents at large) would be to look at how arts organizations are funded and come back with detailed recommendations.
"One idea would be annual reviews of what we are doing, with detailed reports so we know how many people are attending these events and coming here specifically for the arts. That way we know what our impact is," he said. "Let’s look at what other cities are doing. I just saw that a very similar thing happened in Boulder. They came up with action items and everything."
Park City Councilwoman Liza Simpson said the city currently makes "significant financial contributions" to the arts community but added that city staff will be coming back soon with an analysis of current funding.
"I believe the arts community to be vibrant and well-funded," she said. "Individual organizations may disagree with the latter."
Barton said he agrees the arts community is currently in a strong place — he and the other groups just want to ensure they stay that way.
"The questions have never been posed before," he said. "The specific idea of, as a coordinated effort, can we really soar as an arts and culture community? How can we triple what we are doing now? What can we do in Kimball Junction and Kamas and Coalville and other locations?
"How can we get more state and federal support? It’s a good time to be unified and work cohesively."
Kathy Hunter, executive director of the Park City Summit County Arts Council (PCSCAC), said the group has been in existence since 1986. It has helped launch initiatives like Mountain Town Stages and the Park City Film Series, helped pass the Recreation, Arts and Parks Tax Grant in 2000 and again in 2010, and expanded marketing efforts to promote the arts and grow the number of tourists who come specifically for the arts.
"Our online marketing and social media efforts have tripled the number of individuals who identify arts and culture as the primary reason they visit Park City," she said.
Where the PCSCAC and Barton’s cultural initiative come together, she said, is in advocating for more capital projects funding, which she said is "an ongoing challenge." Hunter said she was happy to join with the rest of the arts community and ask Summit County and Park City what else can be done.
"[Barton’s initiative] opens fresh conversations about potential avenues for capital project funding," she said.
Hunter said there is nothing confrontational about the cultural initiative. The focus is on finding ways to make a healthy arts community even healthier, to help it flourish.
"The arts offered here rival that of many cities," she said. "The city and county have recognized that the arts and culture are an integral part of our tourist economy and of what defines us as a community. The key is how to use limited resources, and identify new opportunities, to keep our arts and culture thriving and growing. I believe the city and county continue to be open to discussions on how to accomplish that."
Barton said he has asked the city and county councils to meet in a joint study session to discuss the formation of a blue ribbon committee. He said he hopes that comes to fruition as soon as possible.
"Now’s the time to do this," he said. "We’re really hoping within the next year we will have some great proposals that are unique to us."
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Tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world are descending on the Park City area amid fears of a coronavirus outbreak. Summit County health officials are talking to the CDC, but say as of now, it’s the flu that poses more of a danger.