These are notes from what was said.  Some things were paraphrased and not all the testimony was included.  If you feel your comments were taken out of context please contact info at culturalequitymatters dot org.

The SF Arts Commission comes out with official minutes on their website.


The meeting started off with Commission President PJ Johnson and Interim Director JD Beltran announcing that Interim Director JD Beltran had withdrawn her consideration of being the next Director of Cultural Affairs of the SFAC.

JD Beltran said that she will miss the staff and felt that the staff had better morale now than it did before she came on board.

PJ Johnson said that it’s been a trying time for Arts Commission in terms of leadership and they had a leadership transition in duress.   JD Beltran stepped in and tried to bridge the gap and did an admirable job.

JD Beltran began introducing the Controller’s office team by first saying that there wasn’t enough time or opportunity to give a full narrative about the report and response to contextualize what it the report really meant.

Other points made:

  • Had they had a more time they could have avoided some of the misconceptions
  • One of the misconceptions of Report is that in concurring with the report CEG was going to get cut.
  • SFAC is NOT going to change any Agency policies regarding CEG or any other program.
  • Agency will change processes in a matter in which it makes the programs ‘legal’.
  • Agency values and supports the program as it is a model program for the rest of the nation.  JB Beltran said she won an individual grant in 2007 is part of that CEG constituency.
  • Because of fixes to administrative inefficiencies the money going out to the community should actually rise.  The CEG program is mandated to keep administrative costs under 12.5%.  CEG’s admin costs had more than doubled in the past 5 years while the overall program budget had remained the same or in some years shrunk.

JD Beltran then wanted to clarify 2 points:

  1. Controller recommended cease funding and administering the 4 programs that is not legislatively mandated to do.  SFAC is NOT going to stop funding or administering these programs.  They are just not going to be administered by CEG.  The want to administer them in a way they are ‘legal’.  They are already doing this by CAE Director Judy Nemzoff meeting with Jaime Cortez, who heads the Native program, and Judy is also meeting with San San on budget and how to transfer the program to CAE.
  2. Second point to clarify was simultaneous grants.  Receiving multiple grants should not reflect poorly on the awardees of those grants. It reflects upon the shortcomings and oversight by CEGs current granting process.  Grants to Galeria de la Raza and those to other organizations are won through a competitive process and were awarded to the best organizations.

Giving out multiple grants in the same cycle was a shortcoming of CEG and the SFAC will look at their own policy of simultaneous grants in accordance to the ‘best practices’ of grantmaking.

The Controller’s Office was then asked to speak.

Members of the Controller Office talked about the report, it’s finding, and methodology.

Commissioner Lorraine Garcia-Nakata spoke and apologized for not being about to be at the Dec 12 meeting:

  • Some of the issues in the report are basic and could be found of any department or organization.
  • The entire process of how this was handled and how it was played out in the media was unfortunate.  Especially to those organizations who were named.
  • She said that she agreed to those financial and fiscal policy recommendations of the Controller’s office because it was in their purview but PROGRAM policy is very distinct and should be left in the hands of the Commission and staff.
  • Having been in philanthropy one of the red flags she heard was ‘best practices’ is spreading the dollars out to as many people as possible.  That is NOT a ‘best practice’ in the philanthropy world and has not been for decades.  Some grantmakers can make a focused attempt at change and therefore would have a focused funding.
  • One of the key points is that the new leadership needs to understand is this discourse, understanding philanthropy, understand our cultural community, and because we’re tied to the nation it will require a person who has that complexity.
  • She feels positive that with the energy in the room we will heading to a better place.
  • She values the reciprocity of the information the commission and the community has.

PJ Johnson then went to say Controllers Reports are never an easy thing to deal with.  PJ had some hesitation about this meeting.  There had been a lot of emails over the weekend.  He’s been a volunteer on the commission for many years and has fought to increase funding for the community arts.  No one on the commission wants to cut CEG and everyone is for more resources towards it.  He was at a meeting the night before with some community members and one person said to him ‘hey the community needs to come out in support of CEG and City Hall needs to hear it’  it will be ‘cathartic’.  He thought about it last night and he came to the conclusion that it was going to be a great thing.  He’s glad to see everyone here.  CEG will not be cut.  He went great lengths to say that the SFAC values all the work of the grantees of CEG who won grants through rigorous panel review processes and that the Controllers Report and subsequent articles only reflect issues/problems WITHIN SFAC.  He knows that these arts organizations are applying for a small piece of the pie, that is administered through a peer review panel, and then a pall is cast over the process, it’s hurtful.  He said “we’re not even talking about the bigger piece of pie here.”  He welcomes the opportunity to set some things straight here.  Cultural Equity is important to everyone.

Community Speakers:
Carolina Ponce de Leon: Expressed her displeasure of how Galeria was portrayed.  Expressed her gratitude for the support from the Arts Commission.  Expressed that CEG’s creative granting programming has given the ability for cultural community to express themselves.

Lily Kharrazi: ACTA: ACTA deals with Cultural Equity on a statewide basis.  ACTA works in tandem with CEG to further the Cultural Equity.  CEG grants have led to a many projects that have helped benefited traditional artists.

London Breed: African American Art and Culture Complex: Did not agree with the moving other Native American grants from Cultural Centers to Cultural Equity.  Did not agree with how those decisions were made.  And those decisions contributed to the division between Cultural Centers and CEG.  She said she’s feels very fortunate that we have CEG but wants to see changes so it is even more Equitable.  In 2007 the Black Film Festival did not get funded and President PJ Johnson did a personal fundraiser to help raise money.  In that year only grant was awarded to an organization in District 5.  She’d like to see the program take a look at dispersing more monies though the cultural and geographical districts of San Francisco.

Vinay Patel: Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center: A lot of reason why the community is here is because of the lack of response to the report and articles.  CEG’s stakeholders are the community.  The community got together and created CEG and they are still invested.  CEG IS A ‘BEST PRACTICE’  in grantmaking.  Other funders look to CEG as a roadmap to how to deal with Cultural Equity issues and making changes to their own programming.  We need to hear from the CEG staff about what they think about the report and recommendations.

Elizabeth Pickens: Radar Productions: Expressed gratitude to Garcia Nakata, JD Beltran, and PJ Johnson to come to support San San Wong and her department which help creates a city unlike any other.  The possibility arts in the marginalized communities is made possible by CEG.  That’s why she moved to SF, why many did.  With more resources and monies San San Wong and her staff can extend that great work.  “We are the community and we are here to give you (the Arts Commissioners) the support you need to make the city flourish even more.”

Celine Schein: Chitresh Das Dance Company: With CEG CDDC has almost reached the million dollar mark an amazing feat for a single Indian choreographer dance company.  She asked why the focus on CEG and not the rest of the programs?  Why was money going to CEG scrutinized but not the monies going to the Symphony Opera Ballet?  She spoke in support of the CEG staff.  CDDC is appreciative of support that they receive; that they can talk to the CEG staff, send applications before hand, get feedback; and that is truly a ‘best practice’.  She knows there’s questions about admin costs but in her opinion the CEG staff is earning their pay.  The transparency of the granting process has been very professional.

Rachna Nivas: Chitresh Das Dance Company: Extremely grateful to SFAC.  It’s because of this program (CEG) that she was doing this part time to propel to do it full time and be able to pass on this incredible jewel to the community.  She thanks the Commission for giving her the opportunity and hopes that can only build upon CEG’s success.

Krissy Keefer (felt the need to transcribe Krissy’s speech completely): Krissy Keefer, Dance Brigade.  Today I am speaking on behalf of Cultural Equity, I am speaking on behalf of the artists and community served by cultural equity, on behalf of San Francisco and the worlds people who benefit from the unique perspective artists and cultural workers bring to politics, human relationships and the world’s problems.  The article that appeared in the Chronicle implicated CEG artists and organizations of being erroneously overfunded.  Shocking that this Audit was sent to the press views Cultural Equity as the piñata for the problems that have plagued the Arts Commission for years leaving those of us funded by CEG under a cloud of suspicion and fear.  I think that you all may have been caught off guard by the level of support for Cultural Equity from those of us out in the field.  We feel real support and camaraderie from the director and staff.  As artist who feels almost as though I may have PTSD from running an organization that deals directly with a lack of resources, underpaid staff,  increasing burden of accounting and processing of grants, with an inordinate amount of fiscal oversight and accountability of which CEG is right up there and demanding; including a contentious peer review panel that often leaves longterm colleagues at odds; for what?  to get a grant that ranges from 15 to 35 thousand dollars… and then make it feel like we don’t deserve it.  so rather than that accept and foster an article that alludes to impropriety of CEG recipients why not glorify us, honor us, revel in our creativity, demand our government that we get the same access to city’s resources as the Ballet, the Opera, the Symphony,  Theater who are all on their own accounts suffering from low ticket sales, diminishing subscribers, lack of donations, and basic lack of audience.  I for one am tired of this conversation but feel that the recent actions of this published audit leave the door wide open to renew the discussions of what art forms and what community gets served by the city’s resources.  Finally whoever you hire for the job needs to live in San Francisco and go see the arts that are out there, visit the theater the artists the communities on a regular basis, to know firsthand of what is going on, on the ground. I will be very disappointed  if you hire someone who lives in another city and clocks out at 5pm.  That is when the actions starts, that is when the day should begin.

Jon Jang: Artist/Composer: Acknowledged Krissy Keefer.  One of 4 artists to sit on the 59 member Cultural Affairs task force which helped pave the way for the establishment of SF CEG.  On that task force there were the big organizations and the small and there was contention over the world ‘multi culturalism’.  In the end of that contention the phrase Cultural Equity was established.  Since 1995 Jon has received many awards and through that has written works that have honored the legacy of San Francisco.  He heard of San San Wong since 1980’s who had strong background in dance and music and was excited that we brought her here.

Thomas Simpson: Afro Solo: His organization did not received a CEG grant last year and will not receive one this year; but those who did receive them he deeply respects and was very glad that they did get them.  Frequently when there is chaos, confusion, rumor there on the street that means that there’s chaos, confusion and rumor in the arts commission.  So when this report bubbles up, often there has to be a fall guy or a program and usually those fall guys are people of color or marginalized peoples or people who have less voice than the more economically well off people.  He’s glad everyone’s there and there’s support for CEG and glad there is a unspoken resistance.  Some people are here to wait and see what happens and he hopes the community will hold the commission’s feet to the fire on to what happens to  the program.  CEG is very important to our community and others.  Community wants to be part of the solution, whatever is decided. Don’t leave the community in the background.  Take that into account when choosing new leadership.

Julie Lazar – She’s new to SF, lived here for 1.5 years, but she’s not new to California.  Moved from LA.  Was founding curator of Museum of Contemporary Art.  Nothing but admiration of the community that has gathered here.  Is disappointed that JD Beltran is not in the running for full time Director.   She has grat respect for JD as an artist an individual.  Doesn’t know many people who could have done this job coming in to a difficult situation and handled herself with dignity.  But she knows a lot of the other people involved such as Guillermo Gomez Pena, San San Wong, and personally know Cora Mirikatani who runs Center for Cultural Innovation, who built that organization from the ground up, serves artists throughout the state.  The grants given to CCI are well deserved because they are redistributed to a diverse community.  She hopes that we don’t fight each other when things go awry and we need to reinforce each others strengths.

Michelle Tea: Thanked all the volunteer work the commissioners did.  Is the E.D. of Radar Production.  Radar Productions has received funding and not received funding from CEG because that’s what happens.  Really shocked to see themselves in the Controllers report because receiving those grants since 2005 was a great source of pride.  To see Radar’s name associated with doing something shady, because of an error was very discouraging and that’s why everyone is here.  Everyone works very hard and Radar is a all women queer people of color run non profits.  If CEG goes away SF would be gone as we know it.  She would move.  People move here because of CEG.