Aspen’s generosity delivers once again |

Aspen’s generosity delivers once again

Municipal government doles out nearly $1.5M in grants to community, arts and culture and health and human services organizations

Nearly 100 local nonprofits have been propped up by the city of Aspen, which last week awarded almost $1.5 million in grants supporting arts and culture, community and health and human services.

Out of 99 applications, 95 organizations were awarded an average of roughly $15,320.

There was a significant increase in the amount of requests over last year, and in the case of community nonprofit and arts and culture programs, they exceeded the budget allocations.

Not feeling as though the arts and culture groups received enough, Aspen City Council this past week made an additional $200,000 available through the city’s real estate transfer tax collections from this past December.

That allowed all 26 applicants to receive a larger contribution to their organizations than originally granted.

For Jim Horowitz, president and CEO of Jazz Aspen Snowmass, it was almost a $31,000 difference for his organization.

JAS applied for a $75,000 grant toward its June Experience, which utilizes locations all around Aspen to provide live jazz performances. Ultimately, JAS received nearly $54,500 instead of the first allocation of $23,650.

The reallocation of funds was made after council voted unanimously at its April 12 meeting to increase the city’s total contribution to $600,000 for arts and culture organizations.

“When we got the news at first it was disappointing, but then we got the second email and it was like, ‘OK that is better,’” Horowitz said, noting that this year’s award is similar to what has been granted in the past. “I can only say thank you for everything in the past and in the future.”

Doling out the funds

Horowitz, along with the leaders of the upper valley’s largest arts organizations, was an ardent supporter last fall of the passage of ballot measure 2A, which allowed the city to divert money from the real estate transfer tax dedicated to the Wheeler Opera House toward more arts funding.

Council members last week agreed to discuss this summer future diversions and how much money should be released without putting the historic opera house fund in jeopardy.

“I think the arts groups put an awful lot of work into the campaign,” Councilwoman Rachel Richards said at last week’s meeting. “We set the $400,000 number based on where we were at, knowing it was coming from the general fund in prior years, and we weren’t going to take the general fund up to $600,000 and I think that leaves us plenty of room with 2022 collections to think about the greater issues and longer-term policy questions.”

Even with the additional funding, the city couldn’t meet all the requests, which amounted to almost $871,000 in asks from arts and culture organizations.

There were more requests from the community nonprofit sector than what was in the budget as well; $746,750 versus the $520,670 available.

This year’s awards represent a significant increase in local nonprofit support, with cash requests increasing over 24% since 2021, rising to $2.1 million from almost $1.7 million, according to city officials.

There were 14 organizations that were first-time participants in the grants program for 2022, representing a 15% growth in applicants over the previous year.

Welcome to the new process

The city restructured its grants program for the 2022 cycle after a consultant identified several ways to improve the application and review process and foster transparent, equitable access to funding.

New criteria were established and shared with applicants, which allowed them to see how their proposals would be rated and scored by a review committee, according to John Barker, the city’s senior management analyst.

“Previously there was no connection or announcement of what the committee was looking for,” he said. “I think what I am most proud of is the public posting of the criteria, and I am very pleased on how the process went this year.”

Nonprofit organizations applied for support through three grant programs: arts and culture, community nonprofit, and health and human services.

While requests exceeded the total available funding for the grants program, all eligible organizations that applied received at least partial support.

That prompted some representatives from those organizations to reach out to council members to express their disappointment, which wasn’t surprising for Ann Mullins, chairperson of the grant steering committee.

“Maybe we can put more money towards this whole bucket, to these three different areas, but we can’t do that until we have a very defendable application process, and that’s what we are trying to do,” she told council. “We’ll take feedback and hopefully incorporate what we can into next year’s process.”

With steering committee support, the volunteer review committee recommended to council that all eligible organizations receive at least a majority of their funding request, with 19 of 26 organizations receiving their full request amount.

Thanks to a one-time contribution of $340,860 from the Tobacco Products Sales Tax fund, available funding for health and human services exceeded requests this year.

City officials are exploring options to ensure that additional funding is distributed appropriately.

The community nonprofit program received the most applications, with 36 organizations requesting support this year. Due to the disparity between program budget and funding requests, no organizations requesting more than $1,500 were recommended to receive full funding of their requested amount.

Richards said she supports the work in making the process more transparent and professional, and it’s tough to be a position where there are unmet needs.

“For the volunteers to have to discuss what I know to be the difficulty of not having the funds to allocate what we would like to a lot of given programs and giving everybody about half of what they wanted, so it’s tough,” she said.

Mayor Torre said while it’s not a perfect program yet and more refinement may happen after a full review this summer, it’s an improvement from the past.

“Through the city’s new grant process and thanks to the hard work of our volunteer review committees, we are all excited to provide needed funds directly into the hands of our local nonprofit partners,” he said. “All of these community organizations play a huge role in supporting our arts, culture, essential services and community building that are vital in shaping our city.”