Over the last few days there has been a couple of emails that have ‘apologized’ for ‘divisive’ comments, particularly calling people of color advocating for equity as ‘fringe members’. First from Theater Bay Area and Brad Erickson:
An Apology and an Update
June 23, 2014
Last Friday, I asked that an email action alert, received from a prominent San Francisco arts advocacy group, be forwarded from Theatre Bay Area, under my name, seeking action and support from Theatre Bay Area’s San Francisco members.
That letter contained some unfortunate—and untrue—language about “fringe members” of the arts community. I am deeply sorry for not noticing this language in the original template and for forwarding this assertion to our San Francisco members.
Not an excuse, but an explanation: I was out of town most of last week attending the TCG theatre conference in San Diego—and on the first day I was in Tijuana with a contingency exploring ways to encourage cross-cultural exchange and greater awareness about the horrific issues along the border and around immigration. I absolutely admit, and deeply regret, not reading closely enough the template letter forwarded to the arts community. Because I read the action alert too quickly, I missed the “fringe members” language, a phrase which is itself demeaning and divisive.
Since Friday I have been greatly relieved to learn that there is no current move to take funds away from either Grants for the Arts or the Arts Commission and its Cultural Equity Grants. Indeed, there is redoubled effort on behalf of the field to win more support for both. I also want to gratefully acknowledge Supervisor Eric Mar’s leadership on this issue—and his commitment to this city and the arts.
This is a moment when our city is experiencing another economic boom. Some are reaping tremendous benefits, but many others are not and are in fact being squeezed out of what they have struggled hard to achieve. It is a time of scarcity, yes, but also abundance. We must take this opportunity to tap that abundance for all.
Theatre Bay Area
While it was good to see Supervisor Mar’s name cleared of the lies leveled against him there was never any attempt made to move any money from San Francisco’s Cultural Equity Grants so why even bring it up? More on that later…. But who is the prominent San Francisco arts advocacy group“?
The answer came from another apologetic email this time from San Francisco Arts Town Hall:
Thank you for your support over the last few weeks to help advocate for increased funding for the arts on the state and city levels. Your active participation has been invaluable, resulting in a $5 million increase in funding for the California Arts Council and strong efforts to increase local arts funding
Recent emails sent to this list have raised a few questions and concerns, so we wanted to provide clarification. We also want to apologize for any miscommunication or confusion.
First, last week an email was circulated to this list in an effort to communicate about a budget proposal to cut funding from Grants for the Arts in an effort to increase funding for cultural equity grants from the Arts Commission. That email was sent by a consulting firm that the San Francisco Arts Alliance works with to help us organize and communicate with the City called BMWL & Partners. That email mistakenly referred to the supporters of that proposal as “fringe” – and for that BMWL is deeply apologetic. That language was inappropriate and divisive and it does not reflect the viewpoint of the San Francisco Arts Alliance. Instead, we believe – along with BMWL – that we should all be working together to find ways to address inequity in the City and to support increased funding as one way to accomplish that goal.
Second, we want to explain who the Arts Alliance is and what the Arts Town Hall is, and their relationship to these emails.
The Arts Town Hall is an event that has been occurring since 2011 and focuses on bringing together arts and cultural organizations in San Francisco to educate policymakers about the role of the arts and to advocate for our common goals. Candidates for San Francisco Supervisor are invited to participate in these discussions to ensure they are thinking about the arts, our impact on the community, and ways to work together to help support arts organizations and artists. The goal is to advance policy to lift everyone up – through increased funding for all arts organizations, creative policies to protect housing for artists and space for arts organizations, investing in arts education and more.
The Town Hall is planned by a volunteer organizing committee of about 10 people that varies year by year, representing a wide variety of arts organizations. These people dedicate their time to help planning a successful event, and have not been directly involved in recent communications regarding City funding. The event itself is funded by a combination of donations from arts organizations and direct financial contributions from the San Francisco Arts Alliance. The logistics of this event are supported by BMWL in their capacity as the consultant to the San Francisco Arts Alliance.
The San Francisco Arts Alliance is a coalition of the 15 largest budget arts organizations that has been in existence for many years. It was founded to create an opportunity for the leaders of these organizations to share best practices and mutual concerns. In response to significant budget cuts made to arts funding over the last ten years, the organizations decided to also work together to advocate for increased funding for the arts community from the City. We have always advocated for more funding for all arts groups no matter where their funding comes from – the goal is to raise the bar for all arts funding in San Francisco. Supporting the Arts Town Hall is an example of the Arts Alliance’s commitment to bring the arts community together to advance strong policy.
As we move ahead as an arts community, we hope we can work together to solve the important issues facing all artists and arts organizations. These are incredibly tough times, as we face the devastating impacts of the affordability crisis after years of state and city underfunding. By standing together, we can turn the tides in San Francisco and protect the arts.
The San Francisco Arts Alliance
What does the second apology letter tell us: First, it reveals that the prominent San Francisco advocacy group, referenced in Theater Bay Area’s apology was Arts Town Hall. Second, it reveals that Arts Town Hall, SF Arts Alliance and BMWL can be considered one in the same. Why else would a letter written in the first person by the Alliance be distributed on Arts Town Hall letterhead referring to Arts Town Hall in the third person?
It points to the fact that Arts Town Hall’s messaging and email systems are controlled by BMWL and Partners, the lobbying firm retained by the Arts Alliance. This would explain why the Arts Alliance was first distancing itself from – then re-aligning itself with BMWL all within the same email.
Though referenced as a “consultant” in the Arts Alliance apology, BMWL is in fact a lobbying firm that makes regular filings with the San Francisco Ethics Commission with one of their main clients being: The San Francisco Arts Alliance.
Some facts about the Arts Alliance relationship with BMWL from about two minutes of internet research and exactly one google search:
This is from the San Francisco Ethics Commission’s website
San Francisco Arts Alliance
Activity Summary for 1st Quarter 2014
|Client Payments Promised
|Total Political Contributions
San Francisco Arts Alliance
Activity Summary for 2nd Quarter 2014
|Client Payments Promised
|Total Political Contributions
Lobbyist Total Payments
2012 Payments to San Francisco Lobbyists
Based on data extracted from data.sfgov.org on 2/19/2013
San Francisco Arts Alliance $90,000
If you do a google search for: “San Francisco Arts Alliance” – use the quotes – you’ll find no public website, and of the first 10 results 6 are about the San Francisco Arts Alliance specifically; and of those, 4 are related to lobbyists or lobbying efforts.
Summary so far:
- The San Francisco Arts Alliance, as stated in its email, is comprised of San Francisco’s 15 largest budget non-profit arts organizations;
- The Arts Alliance has hired the lobbying firm BMWL to work to protect its members’ own narrowly defined interests;
- BMWL has communication control over The Arts Town Hall;
At this point readers should draw their own conclusions but here are a few things to ponder:
If you receive messages from SF Arts Town Hall and consider them to be accurate, consider the following from BMWL’s website:
- BMWL declares it “possess(es) all of the tactical competencies and capacities needed to meet most of any challenge.”
- The “firm has unmatched expertise on both sides of the keyboard, microphone and lens that we put to work anticipating, preparing for and responding to media attention and publicity.”
- It “master(s) the art of telling stories and shaping debates via earned and paid techniques – conceived and carried out by award winning former journalists and creative talent.”
If these are the qualities that BMWL prizes itself on then one must trust that its representatives knew what they were doing when accusing fringe elements of divisive behavior. They were attacking those disenfranchised communities whose interest in cultural equity is contrary to those of BMWL’s clients the Arts Alliance, as “fringe.”
Miscommunication and confusion in this instance sounds a lot like “master(ing) the art of telling stories and shaping debates” and completely misjudging the environment in which an entity is operating
Apologies in the political arena of the kind issued by the Arts Alliance only come when those caught perpetrating them are so off base that they are easily called out because of it.
The REAL issue that has always been at the forefront is the inequity in Grants for the Arts funding allocations as laid out by the City’s Budget Analyst Report. The findings in the report have NEVER been addressed by Arts Town Hall, the Arts Alliance or BMWL.
Any change to the status quo will effect the narrowly defined self-interests of the largest budget organizations. In that regard the Alliance membership sees their interests to GFTA funding as directly opposite to the interests of the rest of the arts community, particularly those calling for cultural equity.
If cultural equity is SO important to the Arts Alliance then why not drop the lip service (“cultural equity is important”, “no current move to take money away from GFTA or Arts Commission and it’s Cultural Equity Grants”, and “specifically fund Cultural Equity Grants”) and get on the side of of the disenfranchised. Equity in the arts is not something that came up yesterday. These large institutions could have been working alongside the rest of the arts community all along, but they have never seen it as in their interest to do so. As revealed in the Budget Analyst’s report this has been the state of affairs for over 25 years..
Why are people upset? Every year during budget season the arts community is told not to make waves, that equity will be talked about later. But every year nothing happens. And as the years go by the inequity deepens and communities of color are pushed further and further down the equity ladder. These communities don’t have lobbyists, all they have is their voice, their pain, and their human and civil rights to demand justice. Restorative Justice. This year with the great leadership on the Board of Supervisors including Supervisor Mar, Supervisor Breed, Supervisor Avalos, Supervisor Chiu, Supervisor Campos, Supervisor Kim, Supervisor Yee; and the other supervisors who have not have a chance to speak on the issue; there is a chance for change – not just lip service.