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Ammiano to introduce legislation
to restore arts funding

Legislation based on San Francisco Arts Task Force recommendations

Supervisor Tom Ammiano
Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

By Aldrich M. Tan

April 24, 2006

Supervisor Tom Ammiano said he will introduce legislation to the Board of Supervisors to restore funding to the city's arts organizations and communities, based on recommendations from the San Francisco Arts Task Force at the Government Audit and Oversight Committee meeting on Monday.

"The arts contribute over a billion dollars to the economy," Ammiano said, "but a third of our artists and art organizations are closing or relocating outside of the city. We have underutilized and under-funded our valuable arts community long enough."

Based on research of the current state of the city's arts infrastructure, the Task Force called for the restoration of mandated funding from the Hotel Tax and development of new departments to oversee the distribution of funding, chair Debra Walker said.

Debra Walker

Ammiano requested the city attorney to draft legislation which he can introduce at a future Board of Supervisors meeting. The committee requested for the construction of a planning council between the Task Force, the Office of Economic Analysis and the Budget Analyst for an in-depth study of the recommendations and the drafting of a letter to the Budget and Finance Committee to begin developing this year's funding for the arts.

The city currently invests $48.4 million annually to arts funding, programming, services and facilities, Walker said. Approximately $28 million is allocated to fund the War Memorial, Asian Arts Museum, Fine Arts Museums and Yerba Buena to satisfy charter requirements, leaving only $20 mil. to fund the rest of the arts organizations.

One of the arts community's major funding sources comes from the Hotel Tax created in 1961 that places a 14 percent tax on all hotel room rented throughout the city, Walker said. The tax is strictly supposed to allocate eight percent of revenue from the hotel tax to the arts and six percent to the general fund. But in the past ten years, the city had diverted more of the hotel tax funding to the general fund, Walker said.

"In this year alone, the difference of what has been given to the arts community and what it should have been given is $24 million," Walker said.

The task force strongly recommends legislation that restores the mandated Hotel Tax revenues to the arts industry, said Tom Kelly, Task Force vice chair. The hotel tax income is estimated to increase by $20 million per year for at least the next five years.

"The increase in the hotel tax is a simple way of restoring arts funding without decreasing contribution of the hotel tax to the general fund," Kelly said.

There is no surprise that all the arts organizations support the re-funding of the arts through the hotel tax fund, said Tom Horn, member of the board of trustees for the War Memorial of San Francisco.

"Our facilities see arts groups of various sizes and compilations in our theatres and because there is municipal support of our programs," Horn said.

Tom Horn

However, not all the arts organizations agree with the Task Force's recommendations to establish develop a Department of Arts and Culture which would consist of both the Arts Commission and Grants for the Arts and an Arts Planning Council to advise the Mayor and Board of Supervisors on matters related to public funding of the arts.

Walker said the Task Force found many problematic program gaps in the current infrastructure. Gaps include the abandonment of the Neighborhood Arts Plan with many communities having no cultural space and little or no arts activities and little attention paid to individual artists, whose annual income is $7,000 without benefits.

These gaps resulted from not only a lack of funding but also a lack of coordination between arts agencies and little or no coordination between arts agencies and other city departments, Walker said.

The Arts Planning Council came as a specific request from the Arts Commission staff themselves, Task Force vice chair Tony Kelly said. The staff said they were personally overwhelmed with their current workload

It only makes sense to have some kind of body to serve as oversight," Kelly said.

Not all of the members of the city's art community agree with this specific task force recommendation. According to the alternative recommendation by 52 local arts organizations, the Task Force's recommendation lacks analysis and concrete information about how the creation of these departments would enliven the arts community and ensure neighborhood arts programs.

"This step is unnecessary and may possibly create a bureaucracy," said Charles Chip McNeal, director of education at the San Francisco Ballet. "Any reorganization should be considered as proper studies and analysis confirm."

Ammiano said the Task Force's recommendations would not create a new bureaucracy based on his readings of the recommendation.

"If we're increasing city-wide planning and collaborative efforts, that's not a bureaucracy," Ammiano said. "That's reform."

Regardless of opinion over the recommendations themselves, the San Francisco arts community uniformly stands behind the Task Force's vision of expanding San Francisco's arts funding, said Deborah Cullinan, executive director of Intersection for the Arts.

"Overall, we're all about incorporating a vision as the city as a center for art and expanding that vision," Cullinan said.

The vision advocates for those who will benefit the most from the recommendations, said Richard Putz, president of Local 19.

"Arts organizations supported by city grants provide employment and benefits of workers in San Francisco who increase the city's tax base and draws visitors to the city," Putz said.

Large arts organizations are not the only ones that benefit from the Task Force's Recommendations, said Jessica Robinson, executive director of counterPULSE, a smaller arts organization that serves 400 emerging artists from all over the Bay Area annually to help kick-start their careers by providing workshops for professional development, performance and funding. counterPULSE has strong relations with larger arts organizations that help expand artist careers.

"Supporting arts in San Francisco means supporting a large range of organizations," Robinson said. "It is important to recognize that this recommendation will benefit the entire ecosystem which is the city's arts community."

The Arts Task Force is gong to continue to work with the other art organizations to develop the recommendations, Walker said.

"We need to succeed together," Walker said.

Contrary to opposing opinion, the recommendations will not challenge funding to the Grants for the Arts, Walker said.

"We want to make sure that nothing that we do here destabilizes Grants for the Arts and other trust agencies," Walker said. "It's important to fund Grants for the Arts and other organizations."

At the request of the Matthew Franklin, director of the Mayor's Office of Housing, the committee postponed the hearing regarding Grants for the Arts to its next meeting on May 8.




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