Jan. 20 2015 04:16 PM

With expert Felicia Shaw gone, some wonder about the organization's ongoing support

Kathlyn Mead
Photo by Kinsee Morlan

There's a shortage of arts-and-culture funding in San Diego. That's why there's been shock and concern in the arts community after the recent announcement that Felicia Shaw, longtime director of arts and the creative economy at The San Diego Foundation, had left her position. The foundation is the biggest and most influential grant-making community foundation in the area, and critics say that Shaw's departure signals the organization's waning support for the arts.

However, "the arts absolutely still have a place here," assures Kathlyn Mead, who took over as the foundation's new president and CEO about five months ago.

Mead says that the loss of Shaw is a result of restructuring that involved eliminating 13 positions while creating 15 new ones. She says the move was part of organizing the foundation's work under an initiative called WELL (Work Enjoy Learn Live), which puts funding opportunities into a rubric that allows potential donors to easily understand the various categories to which they can contribute. Arts and culture, for example, falls under "Enjoy," alongside recreation and physical activity.

Shaw was offered a chance to reapply for a new position overseeing the funding opportunities that fit under "Enjoy," but she declined and, instead, recently became the interim executive director at Young Audiences of San Diego. While Shaw didn't want to be quoted directly for this story, she did say that she wished to continue her career in the arts rather than take on responsibilities outside the field.

Mead points to the roughly $6.6 million allocated to arts and culture by the foundation this fiscal year—that's about 13 percent of its total grant funds—and says she doesn't expect any major changes to those numbers now that Shaw and her arts-specific position are gone. The foundation's budget is guided by donor interest, and she says the organization will continue to advocate for all of the opportunities that come with WELL, including arts and culture.

On Jan. 25, the foundation will announce 10 local artists who'll receive grants through the organization's Creative Catalyst Fund. Mead says the program's been popular among the foundation's donors and, while she stops short of making any promises, she says there's a good chance it'll continue even without Shaw at its helm.

Victoria Plettner-Saunders, a local arts consultant, says she's wary of any of the foundation's guarantees of continued support for the arts.

"They eliminated the arts-and-culture strategy position," she says. "That says it all."

Plettner-Saunders says she doesn't agree with the foundation's decision to lump arts and culture under a category with outdoor recreation.

"It's like putting the city's arts commission into parks and rec," she says. "I think the message they're sending is, ‘We're not going to have someone whose staff time is dedicated to arts and culture….' My greatest concern now is that I see a real void in our city's arts leadership, and regardless of what the foundation says on record, from what I've seen, the leadership there has never been particularly supportive of the arts…. And now there isn't any role at all in that realm, and it's sad to me."

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