"And the beat goes on......................."
Continuing with the ABBA Blog Forum with Local Arts Agency leaders in the San Francisco Bay Area (see Monday's blog for the introduction and participant's list).
Funding varies from area to area, across disciplines and organization size - and remains one of the key challenges to every arts organization. Is there any kind of tax or dedicated revenue stream that might have a chance of voter passage that would include all nine Bay Area counties? Is that kind of approach viable? Are there other ways the funding issue might be addressed from a cooperative approach?
Olivia Dodd: A dedicated revenue stream for the arts that has a chance of passing is the million dollar question (pardon the pun)! A meaningful revenue stream has been something our agency has spent a lot of time considering, as it has the potential to be transformative for not only our region but our California culture. Although we have not yet found that there is an obvious path forward, I certainly believe there is merit to working collaboratively on the issue. There are several models deployed by other regions and industries that could be guides for us - of which many might only be lucrative if applied on a larger regional scale.
A few models we’ve discussed internally may be worth exploration on a regional level. Business Improvement or Tourism Improvement Districts have been successful for collecting pooled funds through industry-led self-assessments, helping re-development and destination marketing organizations at the city or county level. If applied to the arts, might this be an added art sales or ticket fee assessment that goes back into local nonprofit arts? In areas like Cincinnati and Louisville, regional united arts fund models have raised millions of dollars from philanthropists, special events, and corporate giving programs. In the greater Portland area the regional governments support the operations of their local arts agency based on a cost of living formula and they even have an agreement that the arts can not be cut disproportionately to other services. Voters additionally approved an income tax levy that provides $35 per person for grants in education and access to the arts. Whether or not the Bay Area would be willing to do an income tax or sales tax like our northern counterparts is yet to be seen but worth exploring. Or, maybe, it would be better to explore a retail program that benefits a regional arts fund, like the state-run English Lottery or California vanity license plate program. Whether privately or publicly funded, by looking at the issue of funding on a regional level we open up a much greater opportunity for our residents and arts community.
Within our county, I have seen how this sort of asset can transform an industry’s presence. Just seven years ago our county’s conference and visitor bureau was as a small agency hovering around a $250,000 budget annually. Then, the hotel industry came together and adopted a Tourism Improvement District for the county and within in each city that added an assessment to each visitor’s overnight stay in order to fund the marketing of Napa County as a destination. The CVB was then contracted as the agent for this joint marketing of the county as destination, now yielding them just over $6 million annually for our small county of just under 140,000 residents.
If we were to look at funding for the arts through a nine county approach, the challenge will be in deciding what is equitable and strategic in geographic distribution of the funds as well as what sort of infrastructure would support this venture. Would we need to establish a regional arts agency that the local organizations and agencies apply to or could it be a consortium of agencies that run the fund co-operatively? Should we explore mergers among local arts agencies to combine our administration and grantmaking? All of these questions offer great opportunity to step back and explore what could be if we’re willing to think outside the normal territorial boundaries.
Connie Martinez: I’d like to be wrong but hard to envision a public funding mechanism across all nine counties that would speak to the values and priorities of each unique sub-region AND be able to get voter approval. That said, funding mechanisms that align with local values and priorities are worth exploring and could be reinforced by overarching regional messages that connect to and complement local campaigns.
Tom DeCaigny: A regional tax or dedicated public funding stream for the arts across all nine Bay Area counties isn’t a viable option. Jurisdictional authorities in California are defined by city, county and state legislative bodies. Public funding structures mirror those jurisdictions making it difficult to fund multi-county initiatives. Historically, very few regional measures have passed and critical regional infrastructure bond measures like BART have struggled for decades.
That said, the arts stand to benefit from several regional planning efforts, particularly the long-term development of a second Transbay BART tube. A second Transbay tube would allow late night entertainment and cultural workers as well as arts audiences to access BART on a 24-hour basis which will become essential as more and more artists and cultural workers seek affordable housing around the Bay Area. The recent success of the BART bond measure gives hope that critical transportation infrastructure improvements may be able to secure regional funding in the future.
The best opportunity for securing new Bay Area arts funding may be through securing community benefits from the expansive amount of development taking place in the region. In 2015, the San Francisco Arts Commission worked with the SF Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development to negotiate an arts community benefit package valued at more than $12 million. The benefits package, to be paid by Forest City as part of their development of the 5M project in the South of Market neighborhood, includes the gifting of the historic Dempster Building to the Community Arts Stabilization Trust as well as approximately $3 million to seismically retrofit and restore the building. The benefits package also includes an arts programming fund for the neighborhood and a nonprofit arts displacement mitigation fund to be administered by the SFAC. By sharing promising practices and lessons learned through networks like the U.S. Urban Arts Federation, communities across the Bay Area could negotiate similar community benefit packages for the arts.
Kristen Madsen: The list of people who are smarter than I am about the intricacies of taxes and ballot measures is … oh right … everyone. So I’m steering completely clear of that part of this question.
And I will also caution against imagining that the voters of our 9 geographically-connected-but-still-quite-diverse counties are homogenous enough to support a new tax or proposition. There is a lesson to be taken from very recent history on making assumptions about our fellow travelers’ life concerns.
Here’s what I am comfortable saying. Taking advantage of existing strategies and smart work by others is always a good option. As an example, the Sonoma County Economic Development Board has recently submitted a proposal in partnership with Mendocino County’s Economic Development Board to the US Economic Development Administration to become an officially designated Economic Development District (EDD). This program is specifically for multi-county regions working together to improve and expand their economic development efforts. The proposal pre-approved a list of projects that will become eligible for federal funds if the EDD designation is approved. Plus, the imprimatur of a federal designation may be helpful with other funding sources. Creative Sonoma has a project that has been approved as part of the Sonoma-Mendocino proposal. So, we’re taking advantage of an existing multi-county effort, where the heavy lifting has already been done, hoping that it will help open doors to potential new arts funding in our counties.
Michele Seville: What about a $1 allocation for the arts on income taxes?
Kerry Adams Hapner: Funding is a perennial issue. I frankly don’t see a regional effort as a viable option in the near future as getting voters across counties to support a regional initiative is a huge effort and the mechanisms to administer it are narrow. Alternatively, I see National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and California Arts Council funding as more urgent priorities. The Trump administration has threatened the eliminate the NEA and the field must act to protect this national resource.
With an annual appropriation of $146 million, the NEA is the single largest national funder of nonprofit arts in the U.S. Locally, the NEA’s investments meaningfully catalyze cultural vibrancy. Over the past three years, the NEA has awarded approximately $9.1 million in grants to organizations based in San Jose, San Francisco, Palo Alto, Oakland, Santa Cruz, and Berkeley.
I urge people to join Americans for the Arts’ Arts Action Fund for free at www.artsactionfund.org. We can’t be complacent in this environment.
Arts Education remains somewhat of a Have and Have-Not proposition, with wealthy districts offering more than those that are struggling financially. Is the solution an approach that unites all the districts in the greater Bay Area? If not, then what can each district do at this point in time to maximize the possibility of offering meaningful arts education to local students K-12?
Have a good day.