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From the Executive Director: The Big Win

Posted By TBA Staff, Tuesday, July 5, 2016
Updated: Tuesday, July 5, 2016

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.

Tags:  arts advocacy  californians for the arts  Executive Director's Note 

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From the Executive Director: ‘Tis the Season

Posted By TBA Staff, Tuesday, February 2, 2016
Updated: Tuesday, February 2, 2016
By Brad Erickson

With acacias and fruit trees already coming into bloom, spring arrives early in Northern California. With the flowers and the showers comes a flurry of activity in the area of arts advocacy. Government bodies from cities to the feds are setting their budgets for the coming year, and legislative and election cycles are revving into high gear. As the season unfolds, Theatre Bay Area will be representing the interests of Bay Area artists and arts organizations before policy makers at every level. Here’s what to watch—and where to get involved—this spring: 

As with every year, the number-one goal at the federal level is increased funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Last year saw a $2 million rise, bringing the total to $149 million. This year, advocates will be asking for another boost. While it’s likely that any increase during this electoral year will be modest, advocates are setting their long-term sights on doubling the Endowment’s funding to $300 million, or nearly one dollar per person. This might seem wildly ambitious, but that figure would only bring the Endowment back to its 1990 level of funding, in inflation-adjusted dollars; 1995 was the year the agency, a victim of the culture wars, saw its funding cut in half in the furor over the “NEA Four.” Americans for the Arts (AFTA)—the national leader in arts advocacy—has publicly set the goal of one dollar per capita, and AFTA leaders report that powerful lawmakers are not pushing back—at least not yet. 

The NEA is particularly important to California and the Bay Area. In most areas of federal spending, California is a “donor state,” meaning we pay Washington more in taxes than we get back in investments. The National Endowment for the Arts is one of the few federal agencies that funds California with investments (nearly) proportionate to our population. Californians make up one out of every eight Americans, and the NEA funds California arts groups with one out of every nine grant dollars (we’ll call it even). Bay Area arts groups fare especially well in the NEA portfolio, and as any managing director will attest, NEA dollars are famously useful for attracting contributed income from other sources—individual donors as well as foundations and public agencies. 

As the Presidential campaign unfolds, AFTA is again using this election season to educate the candidates and press each of them for their policy positions on the arts. Some are responding, others are not; but in any event, the arts are being put before the candidates of both parties as a vital component of our civic life. 

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Theatre Bay Area, but also of the California Arts Council (CAC). This milestone was honored last week at an event in Sacramento with Governor Brown, the agency’s founder, headlining the commemoration. The CAC’s first director, Bay Area actor Peter Coyote, reminded the assembly of the Council’s early successes—quickly winning $20 million in appropriations and funding a raft of programs that supported artists and art-making across the state. The agency’s funding ultimately grew to $30 million in 2000 (reaching the national median for state investment in the arts of one dollar per person), but was slashed in 2003 to a paltry $1 million—where it was stuck for more than a decade. In the past several years, arts advocates have won significant victories, raising the CAC’s appropriations by a whopping 800 percent. This sounds spectacular until one realizes that, with a population of 38 million, California’s investment in the arts (about 25 cents per person) is still far below the national average, and behind even red-state rivals like Florida and Texas. Arts advocates will return to Sacramento this spring to press for further increases, citing the vast areas of the state—such as inner cities, suburbs and the inland counties—still starved for access to the arts. 

Exciting news for arts education advocates (and theatre and dance folks) across the state is a new bill introduced by Senator Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), that would reestablish subject-specific teaching credentials for theatre and dance. As it is, California is only one of two states in the nation lacking accreditation for theatre and dance (teachers must be certified in all other academic subjects); currently, anyone wanting to teach theatre or dance in a California public school must be certified in English (theatre) or Physical Education (dance). Senator Allen’s bill, SB 916, “The Theatre and Dance Act,” would ensure that theatre and dance teachers are adequately trained by establishing specific credentials for both subjects. The bill has both Republican and Democratic coauthors and is widely supported by the arts advocacy community. Joe Landon, executive director of the California Alliance for Arts Eduction (CAAE) says, “This is an opportunity for all advocates to come together with one voice to give dance and theatre teachers what is long overdue—dignity, equality, and a credential!”

On the local front, cities and counties across our region are crafting their budgets for the coming fiscal year. In San Francisco, Arts for a Better Bay Area (ABBA) is once again convening advocates around the budget for the city’s two arts agencies (SF Arts Commission and SF Grants for the Arts), looking to follow last year’s boost of $2 million with further increases. ABBA has also convened a working group to focus on the urgent issues of displacement and soaring rental rates for both arts spaces and housing. A third group (including theatre reps Tony Kelly, Jonathan Moscone and myself) is exploring a possible ballot initiative that would lock in increased support for the arts by reconnecting arts funding with the city’s hotel tax.  

As your service organization’s executive director, I represent Theatre Bay Area artists and companies in a number of advocacy settings: as AFTA’s state captain for California, leading the state’s delegation to Washington, D.C. for AFTA’s annual Arts Advocacy Day (March 7-8 this year); as treasurer and past president of Californians for the Arts; and as a steward of ABBA. While Theatre Bay Area is deeply committed to our work in this arena, advocacy is not an effort that can be outsourced. Each of us—as citizens, as artists, as representatives of arts organizations—must add our voices to the chorus calling for fully adequate and fully equitable arts funding. Join us this spring! 

Brad Erickson is executive director of Theatre Bay Area.

Tags:  advocacy  Americans for the Arts  arts advocacy day  arts for a better bay area  californians for the arts 

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