A Potential Deep Divide in the Arts Sector is Brewing
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 willhasn’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.
“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 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.”
“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.“
“Members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, outraged by the findings of a report by the City Budget Analyst on the Grants for the Arts program, are considering giving a million dollars from the discredited agency’s budget to the Cultural Equity Grants program at the San Francisco Arts Commission.
The Supervisors’ are considering this action one year after the Finance and Budget Committee members initially expressed concern that GFTA awarded only 23% of its funds to organizations whose artistic programs authentically reflect the lives and experiences of San Francisco’s culturally diverse residents. Supervisor Eric Mar called for the Analysts Report after GFTA Director Kary Schulman last year assured the Committee that her scheduled $400,000 plus budget increase would “support the new, younger upcoming groups that serve the populations that you (Supervisors Mar and London Breed) referenced.” Watch the video here
Instead, in 2013-14 GFTA increased funding for white organizations by a quarter of a million dollars whilst those representing people of color remained unchanged.
The subsequent report confirmed that virtually no change had taken place during the past 25 years. Since then, GFTA has just released its 2014-15 grant awards: funds to organizations of color increased by six–tenths of one percent. At its current rate of change, GFTA will not achieve cultural equity until the year 2061.
The Budget Analyst’s report found:
- GFTA’s funding for arts organizations reflecting people of color has not changed in over a quarter of a century, even though the demographics of the city’s population has changed significantly in that time.
- That in 2012-13 while people of color represented 57% of San Francisco’s population, GFTA funding allocations to organizations from this sector of the population was 23%.
- The report also found that from 2006-07 to 2012-13, the Agency had reduced the percentage of its funding awarded to arts organization of color and it was trending down.
- Further, the report goes on to say that GFTA has no plans to alter this allocation or the funding mechanism through which it makes its funding decisions.
The Budget Analyst’s findings has also led to a renewed call for reform through creation of a Department of Cultural Affairs, as recommended by the San Francisco Arts Task Force in 2006–something that City Hall, at the behest of Ms. Schulman, has resisted implementing.
The Task Force Report explained how San Francisco’s decentralized and dislocated arts funding of approximately $75,000,000 a year (as highlighted in the Budget Analyst’s report) resulted in little coordination, strategic planning, transparency or accountability.
GFTA’s policies and their impact
- GFTA’s practice of awarding public funding based on an organization’s current budget size produces an arts community similar to the national economy, in which the affluent accumulate wealth while the rest of the population struggles to make ends meet. The agency’s policies represent a form of bureaucratic “red-lining”: they promote inequality and discrimination without being patently illegal.
- In 1992, the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors declared that pursuing and respecting cultural equity was the City’s arts policy; in the City Budget Analyst’s study of GFTA, the agency’s Director repeatedly insists that because she is not mandated to diversify her funding, she does not keep statistics on this matter and is therefore not responsible for the inequities of her outcomes. Apparently, only the Mayor and Board of Supervisors can or will correct this situation.
- Once an organization is added to the GFTA roster it typically stays there: some organizations have been on the roster since 1961 when GFTA was founded. But over the past 50 years, while San Francisco, California and the nation have experienced powerful demographic shifts, GFTA’s annual grant awards have consistently reflected the cultural biases of the 1950s: art is for the affluent and hyper-educated; classical music, opera, ballet and big museums are what really matter.
- GFTA’s practices have institutionalized cultural discrimination: its policies guarantee that non-profits serving affluent white audiences will annually receive a disproportionate percentage of the City’s annual investments in the arts, to the detriment of the rest the arts community as well as to the City’s long-term financial interests. Many small groups—particularly Asian and Latino organizations–whose applications have repeatedly been rejected and have simply stopped applying.
- GFTA’s policy of giving its largest grants to organizations with the largest budgets (all of which are rooted in western European culture), disproportionately supports white organizations that have accumulated substantial endowments over the past century. For half of this time, other communities were subjected to legalized discrimination and did not develop similar resources. For example, the Chinese Exclusion Act was still law when the San Francisco Symphony was founded in 1911 and when the SF Opera was founded in 1923 and the SF Ballet in 1933.
- GFTA’s discriminatory and short-sighted policies adversely impact the agency’s stated goal of attracting visitors to the City. Residents of the surrounding Bay Area counties have always comprised the vast majority of these visitors and The US Census Bureau projects that in 2050, only 28% of the Bay Area’s 10 million residents will be white. It is clearly in the City’s long-term economic interest to maintain its position as the center of the region’s cultural production; however, to achieve this goal in the future, the City will need to promote the evolution of a culturally diverse non-profit arts community.
The San Francisco Arts Commission’s website describes its Cultural Equity Grants Program as follows:
‘The San Francisco Arts Commission’s grant making programs are committed to supporting and building cultural resources for our City’s diverse arts communities. The SFAC stewards the Cultural Equity Endowment Fund, the Neighborhood Cultural Centers Fund and other City resources to foster the values and increase the impact of cultural equity and neighborhood arts. The SFAC supports San Francisco artists, arts organizations, and historically underserved communities through grants, technical assistance and capacity building, economic development, arts education initiatives and community-based Cultural Centers.
Grants from the Cultural Equity Endowment Fund provide support for the enrichment of San Francisco’s multicultural landscape and are intended to ensure that:
- all people who make up the city have fair access to information, financial resources, and opportunities for full cultural expression, as well as opportunities to be represented in the development of arts policy and the distribution of arts resources;
- all the cultures and subcultures of the city are represented in thriving, visible arts organizations of all sizes;
- mid-and large-budget arts institutions whose programming reflects the experiences of historically underserved communities flourish.
Note: I believe the $75 million arts funding budget referred to in the above email is the combined total of the SF Arts Commission, Grants for the Arts AND the money expended by the City of SF to maintain the large budget cultural organization buildings which the City owns – funding which inures indirectly to the organizations housed in those buildings. Claims on both sides will need to be verified.
“The Paid Lobbyist of the Opera, Symphony and Ballet Yesterday Joined with Arts Town Hall to Call Artists and Arts Organizations that Represent People of Color “Fringe Elements”
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.”
“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.”
I have no idea how this will play out in the short run, or what action the Board of Supervisors might take. (As of this writing the results aren’t yet in). The current Board has substantial multicultural representation on its membership. I do not know when a final vote or decision will be made, but as this is a budget issue, the budget calendar theoretically has time constraints.). The issue is money and how it is allocated – compounded by a history. On one side you have at least some members of the multicultural arts community and on the other the more established (and white) organizations. And the strong local foundation community will have a stake in this outcome too. It is a situation that has been brewing for a long time. How San Francisco deals with this conflict; whether or not it can manage it and maintain a civility and unity within the arts community, and whether or not it can find a way to broker an acceptable compromise that will satisfy some of what each sides wants (and my advice to them is to remember that a successful negotiation has little to do with what your side wants, but rather what to do with what both sides need to reach a consensus) remains to be seen, and very well may frame the issue for other communities.
One way or the other, I don’t think the issue is going away. And I think it may yet play out all across the country as the times change. Unfortunately the local government funding pie is simply too small to meet the legitimate needs and demands of the entire community. And realistically there is no alternative to government funding (federal, state and local) to make up the shortfall that we are experiencing. And our efforts to increase government funding to meet the demand have not succeeded. Somewhere compromise will need to be made – at least if we are to avoid the trap of thinking we are our own enemies. We have more than enough enemies outside ourselves. Exacerbating animosity between factions within our community will have negative consequences for all of us in the long run. As we, in my generation, were advised in kindergarten: It is important to learn to play nicely with everyone.
I think in the near future the established cultural sector will no longer be able to claim a disproportionate allocation to itself – irrespective of whatever theory it puts forth to justify its claims. The shift in political power will eventually change the dynamic, and as that power shifts so will the funding. More minority voters will inevitably mean more minority office holders – as the minorities become in many cases the majority – [though I note the unique situation in the (relatively small) City of San Francisco where housing prices (purchase and rental) are escalating in response to demand to the point where all but the wealthy are being driven out of that market to some degree and that may impact the growth of minority power accumulation]. As the composition of local governing bodies changes to reflect changing demographics, the Large Budget Organizations will likely not be as successful in their formal and informal lobbying efforts to protect their status quo. Demand for equity by the multicultural communities will inevitably grow and put pressure on all funders – and a more equitable distribution of funds will likely mean less funding for the current recipients (it will have to come from somewhere). I think the days when multicultural arts support is its own “special” category are numbered, and the former majority cultural community – at least in certain urban areas, if not everywhere – will find its preferred status over. And as costs of doing business for arts organizations escalate, income decreases and shifts (funding, foundations, other philanthropic support and audiences), we are likely to see more closures and failures by organizations who will become economically nonviable. And all the improvement in our business skills won’t likely be enough to “market” our way out of this reality without substantial government support – and that seem problematic at best. This is the tip of the iceberg.
As Bob Dylan sang to my generation: “The times they are a’changing“. I will try to report back on what happens and any positions put forth by either side in this conflict, or by other interested parties.
The challenge of nurturing and supporting multicultural arts provision in an equitable manner, and protecting the integrity and viability of our established cultural organizations and that ecosystem – but no longer at the expense of multicultural or other communities – is likely thechallenge for the arts in the next decade. It won’t be easy. Stay tuned.
Have a great week.