By Brad Erickson
For those who have been following arts funding in California over the past 20 years, the news out of Sacramento last week was stunning. The California Arts Council (CAC) was able to trumpet that its budget had just been increased by another $10.8 million, for a total topping $18 million for the upcoming year. Just four years ago—and for a decade before that—the CAC could scrape together only $3 million from all sources ($1 million from the legislature, $1 million from the National Endowment for the Arts and $1 million from arts license plates and voluntary contributions).
Advocates, like those of us at Theatre Bay Area and Californians for the Arts, have been hammering away for over a decade to move California out of last place in the nation, in terms of per-capita investments in the arts—a figure that, for a dozen years, stood at just three cents per person. Our aim has been to restore (and even surpass) the CAC’s one-time $30 million appropriation in 2000, which placed the Golden State’s arts funding firmly at the national median of one dollar per person. Last week’s announcement that the Governor had signed the $18 million appropriation still moves California’s arts investment to only 50 cents per capita, but the jump was significant enough to be celebrated as a major victory for artists, arts groups and communities of all kinds around the state. Yes, we still have a long way to go to appropriately resource the CAC in order to fully support effective and equitable funding for arts programs around California, but we have also just had a very big win, and it’s right to celebrate.
Here in San Francisco, we stand on the cusp of a potentially game-changing development: a broad coalition of arts groups (of which Theatre Bay Area is part) has joined with advocates for ending family homelessness to place an initiative on the fall ballot. This ballot measure would restore funding for the arts and affordable housing that had for decades been supported by the San Francisco hotel tax, historic allocations that were severed several years ago by the City Attorney in an attempt to preempt a potential lawsuit over legal technicalities surrounding uses of the tax. This ballot measure would not only preclude any future litigation, it would reestablish a stable (and growing) source of funding for the arts while dedicating more than $20 million to provide housing for the more than 2500 homeless children in San Francisco and their families. For the arts, the restoration of the hotel tax allocation will mean an additional $21 million a year in funding within four years, and that total is set to increase annually as receipts from San Francisco’s booming tourist and convention industry continue to rise.
As impressive as that figure is, the consensus over the allocation of the funds is almost more astounding. With a coalition drawn from a number of San Francisco’s largest arts organizations (the Opera, the Symphony, the Ballet) along with American Conservatory Theater, Theatre Bay Area and a number of smaller and multicultural groups (Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center, the Queer Cultural Center, the Chinese Cultural Center, Root Division and the Center for New Music), the measure has been written so that two-thirds of the hotel tax funds would be directed to Cultural Equity Grants and arts in the neighborhoods, while one-third would fund the city’s Grants for the Arts, the original arts recipient of the 55-year-old hotel tax. That such a diverse cohort of arts groups could agree on arts appropriations—and move together to place this measure on the November ballot—is a new high-water mark in trust and cooperation between artists and leaders from across the city’s arts ecosystem.
What’s next? Statewide, advocates will focus on the next legislative cycle. The new appropriations are only for the new fiscal year, so legislators and the Governor alike will need to be actively persuaded to renew or increase these appropriations for 2018. In San Francisco, the ballot measure campaign will take off in earnest once the necessary number of signatures are submitted (as expected) on July 11. The measure requires a two-thirds majority of the electorate to pass (always a high bar), and proponents will be working to motivate friends and neighbors to support a vision for the city that links community vitality to retaining San Francisco’s artists and arts groups while finding a way to end family homelessness.
For more on the ballot measure and an upcoming rally on Jul. 11, click here.
Want to add your signature to the ballot initiative? View a list of venues and dates here.
If you’d like to make a donation to support the campaign effort, click here.
Brad Erickson is executive director of Theatre Bay Area.