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TBA Online: News & Features: December 2018

Prop E Gives San Francisco Artists Firm Financial Footing

Wednesday, December 5, 2018   (1 Comments)
Posted by: Rotimi Agabiaka
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by Rotimi Agbabiaka

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series about the victorious campaign for Proposition E. In this article, we explore the financial impact the new legislation will have on the local arts community. Join us next Insider for a look at the lessons and tactics learned from the arts community’s successful engagement in city politics.

The San Francisco arts community is breathing a lot easier since the last election. After mobilizing in support of Proposition E, which allocates a portion of San Francisco’s hotel tax revenue to arts funding, arts advocates were thrilled to see the measure pass with 75 percent of the vote.

“It’s not easy to get 75 percent of San Franciscans to agree on many things,” says Tom DeCaigny, director of cultural affairs at the San Francisco Arts Commission. “We see that as a clear mandate by our residents and voters that [they] see arts and culture as a critical investment.”

Prop E allocates 8 percent of current hotel tax revenues to arts-related programs. The controller’s office estimates a $5 million increase to current arts spending in the 2018-19 fiscal year with funding projected to grow to an additional $13 million in fiscal year 2021–22. As the dust settles from the campaign, arts leaders are reckoning with what this electoral victory means for the San Francisco arts community.

Jonathan Moscone. Photo courtesy YBCA.

Restoring A Relationship

The new legislation restores the connection between the hotel tax and arts funding—a link originally forged in 1961 when a portion of the newly created hotel tax was allocated to the arts by Mayor George Christopher. Since then, economic downturns have led the city to allocate less and less of tax revenue to arts funding until the connection finally snapped in June 2013 when the Board of Supervisors voted to place all revenue from the hotel tax into the city’s General Fund.

“Every budget cycle we had to go back and ask for money and it was always from the General Fund,” says Jonathan Moscone, chief producer at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. “Which meant that [our request] was competing against the very many important needs of the citizens of San Francisco from homelessness to rent issues to development issues, public safety, public health, you name it.

Arts organizations could no longer rely on a dependable amount of funding and struggled to keep up with rising costs.

“We have not been able to really keep up with the growth of the arts community since the severing of Grants for the Arts funding from the hotel tax,” says Kary Shulman, director of Grants for the Arts, a city agency that funds arts nonprofits. “So it has been very difficult to keep up with the growing budgets [of our funded organizations] and very difficult to add new organizations.” 

“But Prop E will change all of that,” she adds.

Kary Shulman.

More Money for Current Programs

Even though the city is in the middle of its fiscal year, San Francisco’s arts organizations will see immediate benefits from the legislation. Mayor Breed and the current Board of Supervisors threw their support behind Prop E and budgeted arts funding for the current fiscal year at the new baseline created by the legislation. City arts funders anticipate being able to start widening their scope in the months to come.

“We will be able to give organizations funding increases, help to support their budget growth, and add newer organizations as they come along,” says Shulman.

The San Francisco Arts Commission welcomes the new money after witnessing a record number of applications this fall for its Cultural Equity grants, which fund individual artists and organizations that serve historically underserved communities.

“We’ll be able to allocate 600,000 extra dollars for cultural equity in the awards that will be announced in April and May of 2019,” says DeCaigny.

Among the recipients of additional funds are the city’s cultural centers. The Bayview Opera House, African American Arts and Culture Complex, SOMARTS, the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, Queer Cultural Center, the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center, and the American Indian Cultural Center will see funding increases.

Community celebrations like Pride and the Chinese New Year Festival and Parade, which receive funding from Grants for the Arts, will also receive a boost from the new allocation.

“It’s very good news not just for the arts community but for everyone in the city who loves the arts and culture,” says Shulman. “All of that cultural richness in the neighborhoods that bring people into the city and into our neighborhoods and cultural districts will be able to be supported as well.”

Tom DeCaigny. Photo courtesy SFAC. 

New Programs to Support San Francisco Artists 

Arts and community advocates are especially excited about two new funding allotments in the new legislation. The first is a $3 million annual allotment that will go to the city’s five designated cultural districts. Managed by the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, the money will help districts like the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District in the Mission and the Compton Transgender Cultural District in the Tenderloin preserve their neighborhood heritage.

The second new allotment is the Arts Impact Endowment to be managed by the SF Arts Commission. It provides $2.5 million dollars in the first year, and more in subsequent years, to address the needs of the arts community as determined by a cultural services allocation plan.

“That money can go to any arts purpose,” says DeCaigny. “It could support artist housing, space needs, individual artist commissions, artist-in-community work, new organizational projects in any artistic discipline.”

The legislation requires the Arts Commission to come up with a five year cultural services plan for allocating these new funds. To do so the Commission is seeking input from the arts community. 

Seeking Community Input

In January, the Arts Commission is launching an electronic survey and hosting focus groups on various subject areas—from individual artist needs to space and capital issues to organizational needs—to develop a draft plan.

“I would encourage anybody who is interested to sign up for our e-newsletter which you can do from the homepage of our website” says DeCaigny. “We will certainly be distributing this survey at that time as well as publishing the available opportunities to participate.”

In February the Commission will host a town hall forum to present its recommendations, based on the survey and focus groups, and solicit public feedback.

The commission will vote on the final plan at its meeting on March 4. The public is invited to attend and comment at this or any of the commission’s monthly meetings, which are usually held at city hall at 2pm on the first Monday of the month.

“The [meeting] agendas are posted on our website so people can see in advance where they might want to come and what the topics will be,” says DeCaigny.

With hotel tax revenues projected to grow steadily, the San Francisco arts community seems to be stepping onto higher ground.

“To be tied to that kind of revenue stream is a great gift to the arts,” says Shulman. 

Rotimi Agbabiaka is the Features Curator for Theatre Bay Area. He is an actor, writer, director, teaching artist, and a collective member of the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Learn more about him at


Jay Krohnengold says...
Posted Wednesday, December 5, 2018
Absolutely wonderful news!!