San Francisco Funnels $7 Million to the Arts

Mark MacNamara on June 1, 2015
Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, one of the arts organizations to benefit from the new city funding. Photo: Chris Carlsson, 2013

In the nick of time for many arts organizations, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee has announced a “Shared Prosperity for the Arts Package.” Over the next two years, the city will contribute $7 million to programs supporting the arts.

The windfall, the product of a glowing hot local economy, includes a $2 million enhancement to the Cultural Equity Endowment Fund and $1 million to Grants for the Arts, which supports small and mid-sized arts nonprofits, individual artists, and historically underserved communities. The package also includes a $3.8 million capital investment in the city’s Civic Art Collection and Cultural Centers, and additional funding for arts education.

“On behalf of the Arts Commission,” said Director of Cultural Affairs Tom DeCaigny, “we are grateful to the Mayor for taking steps to protect the city’s arts and culture ecosystem. With an historic increase to the Cultural Equity Endowment Fund and this overall commitment to artists in San Francisco, we are setting an example for other municipalities on how to preserve and support artist communities.”

In collaboration with the Mayor’s Office, the Arts Commission will also explore new opportunities to build housing for the artists.

City-owned cultural centers that stand to benefit from the package include the African American Arts and Culture Complex, the Bayview Opera House Ruth Williams Memorial Theatre, the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, and SOMArts.

Mayor Lee will submit his two-year budget plan to the Board of Supervisors today, June 1st. “This package represents long overdue progress in the city's reinvestment in arts and culture." --  Adam Fong, executive director of the Center for New Music,

“This package,” says Adam Fong, executive director of the Center for New Music, “represents long overdue progress in the city's reinvestment in arts and culture. In the last decade, San Francisco's overall budget has grown roughly 70 percent while its arts budget dropped 30 percent. This announcement begins to correct those years of mistakes.”

Fong added,

I'm particularly gratified to see funds earmarked for cultural equity, as well as small and midsize organizations. Music nonprofits tend to be smaller and more reliant on contributed income, as compared to arts nonprofits supporting other genres of work.

Of course there's still much to do – Grants for the Arts will still fall far short of their charter, and need continued budget increases. There are good conversations brewing to support subsidies for artist housing in San Francisco, and that is a critical issue that must be solved at the policy and planning level. The health of our real estate market also creates incredible pressure on arts facilities, like the Center for New Music's space in the Tenderloin. I also believe the city can take a far more active role in engaging its other departments to collaborate with all of the rich resources in our arts and cultural communities.”

Others in the arts community strongly agree.

“While one million additional dollars for small/ midsized arts organazations is very welcome,” said Tom Stone, a violinist with the Cypress Quartet, “the city needs to do more. The arts have been disproportionally hit during the recession and now that our local economy is booming, the government needs to take a much more active lead in holding up the arts as essential to civic life. Without bold leadership from the city government, S.F. will lose its lead as one of the world's important creative communities.”