"And the beat goes on………………….."
S P E C I A L R E P O R T - Equity and Arts Funding Allocation
(Apologies if some of the font in this post is smaller. It may turn out ok, but the Google Blog Platform seems to frequently make its own decisions - for inexplicable reasons - and try as I might I can't get it to change its mind…….)
"Oh we got trouble, right here in River City, with a capital 'T' and that rhymes with 'E' and that stands for equity……………"
One of the blog topics I left off last week's list of issues has taken on more of a sense of urgency this week. I kept it off last week's list, because I wanted to write about it at some point. That point appears to be now.
I have long suspected (and have intimated in previous writings) that there is brewing a deep divide in major urban areas as to the allocation of decreasing government funding pools between the established cultural organizations of an area (mostly white), and the growing multicultural organizations. That scenario, in my mind, unfolds something like this:
The demographics of urban areas is rapidly changing and the inevitable march to previously minority populations becoming the majority is in full charge. As those largely ethnic groups grow to majority status they gain the local political power that comes with their potential at the ballot box. City Councils, Boards of Supervisors and even Mayors - all being political animals - see the writing on the wall and appreciate that the power balance is changing.
As minorities move to majority, they inevitably and understandably seek greater equity in the allocation of government funds to support their organizations and their needs. That, in many cases, they have sought a greater piece of a shrinking pie for some time, and have been, in one way or another, rebuked has left them resolved now to redress their grievances. The power vacuum has changed.
This is true in the arts sector as in other sectors. Much of local government funding has for a long time gone to the established white cultural organizations (arguably at the expense of multicultural groups). And now, with power, those groups want a change. In some quarters, good will hasn't been helped by what is (legitimately or not) perceived by the multicultural community as arrogance and patronization (either implicit or tacit) by the dominant cultural community. In some places, this has created a storehouse of resentment.
And now a version of that scenario has come to the fore in San Francisco - and it has the potential the get ugly and to pit one segment of our field against another - with equity being the watchword, but with undertones of charges of racism. And it may very well be a divide and a fight coming to your community.
Some background: San Francisco is both a city and a county. The San Francisco Arts Commission is the official local arts agency for both. It's funding comes principally from the City and County budget. Grants for the Arts is a separate organization that gets a percentage share of the local TOT (Hotel tax) funds, and it is that organization that dispenses the lion's share of the funding to local arts organization grantees. The Arts Commission has a program that awards grants in an Equity Program designed to support local multicultural arts organizations (and it also administers the local public art programs and provides other services to the local field). Both organizations are under the control of the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor. There was an attempt a few years ago to combine the two by the Mayor's office into a Cultural Affairs Department based on the recommendations of a widely publicized task force, but there was substantial opposition and the proposal died on the vine. Apparently, the major cultural institutions had their paid lobbyist fight the change. Unquestionably, politics was, and is, involved in the San Francisco Arts ecosystem on this and other matters.
Both organizations are led by capable, locally experienced, seasoned leaders - Kary Schulman at Grants for the Arts and now Tom DeCaigny at the San Francisco Arts Commission. I know both of these individuals, and both (to my mind) have a legacy of trying to be supportive of the arts in San Francisco - all the arts - but this potential chasm in the community puts both organizations, and Kary and Tom, in the proverbial "between a rock and a hard place." I don't envy either of them having to meet this challenge. It will call on not only theirs, but the whole of the arts community's best efforts to deal with this - if it gets out of hand.
The Gist of the Fight:
I got two emails on Wednesday of this week. The first was from the San Francisco Arts Town Hall - a four year old (+ or -) ad hoc local advocacy group that sought to reach out to candidates for office to ascertain, and encourage, those candidates to be arts supportive - and with notable success. The composition of the organization was fairly representative of the whole of the community and had seeming widespread support.
The email had to do with a proposal to take one million dollars from the Grants for the Arts budget and transfer those funds to the SF Arts Commission to provide greater funds for its Cultural Equity Grants program.
Here is that email:
"URGENT: PLEASE REACH OUT NOW!
We have heard reports from City Hall that there is a proposal to cut funding to Grants for the Arts by $1 million. The proposal would transfer these funds to the Arts Commission to fund cultural equity grants. Cultural equity is an extremely important issue that needs to be addressed and this isn't the right way to do it.
A $1 million cut to Grants for the Arts (GFTA) would be devastating to arts organizations that depend on GFTA for operating funds. Arts organization and artists need more funding during these difficult times. Pitting arts organizations and City agencies against each other won't help solve our bigger problems. We need to work together to find more resources for cultural equity grants - not cut funding for the arts to fund them.
Please help stop this devastating cut by emailing the Supervisors now! They are meeting this week to discuss this budget and we need to speak up on behalf of the arts community in San Francisco.
Just cut and paste the email addresses below and use our draft as a template.
Thank you for your help!
The San Francisco Arts Town Hall Organizing Committee"
The second email came at the same time, this one from Urban Idea.org, which organization's website describes the organization as follows:
"The Urban Institute for Development and Economic Alternatives (Urban IDEA) is a progressive think tank focusing on land use, housing, transportation, economic development and job creation, environmental justice, food and water policy, climate change strategies, and urban and regional governance. Urban IDEA serves as an incubator for new ideas and approaches to urban and regional development from a left-progressive perspective. Bringing together researchers, professional practitioners, scholars, cultural workers, policymakers and activists, Urban IDEA promotes dialogue, critical thinking, engaged scholarship, and a collaborative approach to addressing the larger forces influencing development in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Institute promotes exchange of ideas and strategies being developed elsewhere in the US, and internationally, that are at the forefront of efforts to bring about social and economic equality and long-term urban and environmental sustainability."
I have no idea who is actually behind this move or how widespread the support for it is.
Here is the gist of that email - which, BTW, had as its subject line: "Protest Institutionalized Racism in San Francisco Arts Funding."
"Come to a Budget Justice Rally at City Hall Friday June 20 at 9:00am to Protest Severe Cultural Inequity in Arts Funding Stay for Public Comment at the Board at 10:00am(write the Board of Supervisors telling them to support cultural equity)City Budget Analyst Report Proves Grants for the Arts policies reflect the same funding priorities of a long by-gone era (1960), when 82% of San Francisco’s population was white.
More than half a century later GFTA policies and procedures still ensure that over three quarters of its grant dollars (77%) are awarded to arts organizations that predominantly serve white audiences, even though the white population now only comprises 43% of the City’s residents."
The email went on - in a damning indictment of GFTA funding (and because I think it important, I am including it here in its entirety even though it is lengthly):
An extraordinary e-mail written by BMWL & Partners (the official lobbyists for the City's largest and most powerful arts organizations including the SF Opera, Symphony and Ballet) and distributed through the San Francisco Arts Town Hallwebsite/e-mail server yesterday attacked the City’s arts organizations of color and LGBT artists as "fringe elements of the arts community" for daring to protest the inequitable funding distribution at GFTA. The accusation that anyone who supports cultural equity is a “fringe element” lets us know exactly what these organizations think about most of the City’s artists.
Artists and arts organizations representing people of color have for many years bemoaned the lack of equity at GFTA, but became particularly incensed when the City Budget Analyst published a report on GFTA funding practices in March that proved their point: that while people of color are 58% of the City’s population, they receive only 23% of GFTA money.
Members of the Board of Supervisors sitting on the budget and finance committee were equally outraged by the report and even more so by the fact that the director of GFTA did not seem to think that her agency’s clearly discriminatory policy was a problem and had no plans to change it--despite making assurances to the contrary when she appeared before the Committee last year.
As they discussed the budget it became clear to the Supervisors that there should be some kind of measure that registered their strong priority for GFTA to change its policies and equitably fund organizations that represent people of color.
Clearly, if an indication of GFTA's comparative funding levels is anything to go by, then People of Color are indeed fringe elements when it comes to determining the City of San Francisco's arts funding policy."
Note: Included in the email was a graph (that would not reproduce well for this post) that indicated the percentage of GFTA funding that went to the 'white' arts community was approximately 78% of the total. Also, I could not locate the purported email from the lobbying firm, and the only other email I received from the San Francisco Arts Town Hall was a call for the arts community to lobby the Board of Supes for more money for the SF Arts Commission's Equity Program, but not to take money from GFTA - a solution that may be problematic if there isn't any more money, and which somewhat begs the question of equity in allocation long term. .
The email from Urban Idea went on:
"Ask the Supervisors to:
- Not allow any increase in funding to GFTA. Any new monies should go to the Cultural Equity Grants program.
- Increase the annual funding allocation to the Cultural Equity Grants program at the San Francisco Arts Commission.
- Make any future fundraising increase to GFTA be contingent on the department's efforts to achieve cultural equity.
- Start to work on a plan to merge GFTA to become part of the San Francisco Arts Commission as recommended by the Arts Task Force in 2006."