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TBA Online: News & Features: May 2019

Looking Ahead: An Interview With Matthew Goudeau

Wednesday, May 8, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Rotimi Agabiaka
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by Rotimi Agbabiaka 

In February, Matthew Goudeau was named director of Grants for the Arts, the city agency responsible for distributing funds for the operational needs of local arts organizations. Goudeau took over a few days after the retirement of Kary Schulman, who led the agency for 38 years, and on the heels of the passage of Prop E, which provides additional municipal arts funding and has stirred new conversations among local arts makers and funders.  

A San Francisco resident since 1995, when he enrolled at the University of San Francisco, Goudeau has spent most of his professional career in the Mayor’s Office of Protocol, with stints as a fundraiser for museums in Texas and San Francisco. 

I spoke with Goudeau by phone about his transition to Grants for the Arts.


Matthew Goudeau. Photo by Adrian Whipp.

You’re no stranger to city government, having worked in the Mayor’s Office of Protocol. How did that experience prepare you for taking over as director of Grants for the Arts?

Pretty much for the previous 20 years prior to joining Grants for the Arts I worked in the Mayor’s Office of Protocol for five different mayors, starting from Mayor Brown through Mayor Breed, and a lot of our work was really about working with San Francisco’s international community—the consulates, our sister cities, and foreign governments—carrying out cultural diplomacy. So we were really focused heavily on the best cultural assets of San Francisco to market and to promote around the world. Working with the wide diversity of our arts community here to showcase the best of SF is really how I became familiar with San Francisco’s arts community.

What was it like transitioning to your new role?

It was pretty quick mainly because Kary [Schulman] announced her retirement and decided to leave soon after her announcement. I started on February 5 and a few days later was the deadline for our general operating support grant application. We receive a few hundred applications for that program so the city administrator [who made the appointment] felt that somebody should start right away just to be a part of that process. With the passage of Prop E, there certainly was and continues to be a focus on where that money is going, how it’s being spent. There was a lot of educating that needed to happen, a lot of meetings that needed to happen, a lot of listening sessions that needed to happen and only were able to happen when there’s a director.

You’re arriving at an exciting time for the agency. Prop E just provided additional funds for city arts funding. How will this affect Grants for the Arts?

Kary laid a wonderful foundation and created and shepherded a wonderful program. We’re the envy of the rest of the world in the amount of funding we provide to the arts specifically in general operating support. Now, thanks to the voters of San Francisco, Prop E guarantees a certain size budget for Grants for the Arts and the other beneficiaries and it’s a percentage of the hotel tax so it’s really exciting.

We expect to see sizable increases in the number of organizations we’re going to be able to support and we’re also going to be able to look at and increase grants to those organizations that are most in need and display merit.

With Prop E, we’re gonna be able to grow our  ability to be a stabilizing force among the arts community because of this money that will be available. It’s certainly not going to be enough to meet every need when it comes to space and capital and the cost of doing business here but I hope it will help.

What are the biggest challenges facing local arts organizations and how can Grants for the Arts help?

There are three trends that I see as problematic for the arts community. One is certainly space issues. The cost of having space in SF is exorbitant for everybody. It’s high for businesses, it’s high for residents, and it’s certainly high for our arts community. Secondly, the cost of business here is extremely high for everyone. It’s hard for our arts organizations to pay their employees and the artists they work with not just a minimum wage but a living wage, enough so they can afford to live within our city or at least within the Bay Area. And the third challenge, which I see impacts our theatre community the most, are challenges regarding audiences. Basically, the cost of filling the theatre. And that includes changing tastes among the audiences, it includes a change in attention span or people’s ability to plan ahead … changes in people’s desire to get subscriptions. 

That third area is the area that we at Grants for the Arts, in this immediate time of this year, can be the most helpful because we already provide support to the arts community for marketing and growing audiences through our support for San Francisco Travel. Grants for the Arts significantly underwrites the arts and tourism pillar of SF Travel and we also significantly underwrite Arts Monthly, that publication that goes out every month in the New York Times as well as

I really think we could be doing more and doing a better job in marketing our arts organizations to visitors to the city and to people who live in the Bay Area as well. So that’s something I’m really focused on because I think that’s where Grants for the Arts can have the most immediate impact.   

You took a few years off from the Mayor’s Office of Protocol to work in the private sector, as a fundraiser for the Chinati Foundation in Texas and the David Ireland House here in San Francisco. What did those experiences teach you about arts funding and the needs of arts organizations?

I worked for the Chinati foundation in Marfa, which is a small arts colony in far west Texas, at a visual arts museum that was founded by the artist Donald Judd. Working in fundraising there I really came to see the value of what it means when an organization can count on a stable source of revenue year after year. I also saw the important role that arts organizations play in our lives, whether it’s education, or attracting tourists, or just making a place a great place to live and work and visit. In Marfa I saw it firsthand when you’re one of only a couple of organizations in a region that is probably bigger than the size of most states. The important role that Chinati plays in the economy of that town can’t be underestimated—in arts education, as an employer, and also city pride. It’s easy to see when you’re one of a few arts organizations in the town. I think in San Francisco we sometimes lose sight of that because we’re a big city … that has helped me to see here in San Francisco, similar situations for specific neighborhoods, what role arts organizations can play in specific communities.

And then both the David Ireland House and the Chinati Foundation were organizations very much aligned with the vision and ideals of individual artists and I think that’s something else we forget when we think about arts and culture: it’s not possible without individual artists and the important role that artists play. We can’t forget about the artists when we’re talking about art.

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