About 20 years ago, Larry Baza served as executive director of the county of San Diego's Public Arts Advisory Council, an advocacy organization that promoted the arts countywide.
Frustrated that the organization had to compete for grant money with the very arts groups it served, and with the Board of Supervisors' refusal to set up a better process for distributing hotel-tax revenue partly earmarked for arts organizations, Baza left. The council disbanded a few years later.---
"I still think that the county of San Diego should develop an effective, equitable and transparent manner for which arts organizations can apply and be awarded funding-it should not just be in the hands of the Board of Supervisors," said Baza, who co-owns and runs Noel-Baza Fine Art, a gallery in Little Italy.
Last Thursday in Chula Vista, April Game, executive director of Art Pulse (formerly San Diego Fine Art Society), held the first in a series of forums focused on the formation of a new county arts council. About 30 people showed up and, after Game and others explained what an arts council is-an agency officially designated by the Board of Supervisors to provide financial support and other services to arts organizations and artists-the overwhelming sentiment was that a countywide council would be useful.
Back in April, Game applied for a grant from the California Arts Council, proposing to put together a feasibility report on creating a countywide arts council in San Diego. The council voted to award Art Pulse the grant, but a few months later, after Game had already begun research and started interviewing more than 50 county leaders, the grant was rescinded.
"New information was brought forward," said Craig Watson, the California Arts Council executive director who was hired in August.
He said Art Pulse had claimed $600,000 in new revenue, which gave the council confidence in the relatively young arts organization. But upon further investigation-and before the grant contracts were signed-Watson said he found the revenue was a loan, not income, which doesn't pass then council's "rigorous practices" when it comes to the approval process.
While Game accepts the council's explanation, she says she quickly realized that her move to form a county coalition might've been perceived by other local arts organizations as overlap (Watson said he heard complaints from San Diego arts groups about the grant being awarded to Art Pulse, but he maintains it had nothing to do with his decision). It turns out the San Diego Regional Arts & Culture Coalition was putting together a report that resulted in similar findings around the same time. Thanks to funding from the San Diego Foundation, the coalition was able to hire Charlotte Cagan, the interim executive director of the San Diego History Center, to do an analysis and come up with recommendations for the coalition, which has been in transition since longtime coalition chair Dalouge Smith announced his departure nearlier this year.
The report, released Oct. 17, found that "an overwhelming majority of [arts organization] directors (nearly 83 percent) indicate there is a need for a San Diego Countywide arts and culture advocacy coalition."
The coalition's transition team is still mulling recommendations, which include transitioning from an all-volunteer group to 501(c)(3) nonprofit, broadening the group's geographic reach and expanding the mission to include more than advocacy.
"But," said Cagan, who interviewed nearly 40 stakeholders and sent an email survey to 183 executive directors of arts groups, "there's no question from the coalition's perspective: The priority expressed across the board was for a countywide effort."
Game said she's approached the Regional Arts & Culture Coalition with the idea of teaming up but has met resistance.
Despite the hurdles, she's continuing her efforts; she'll host community forums on the need for a county arts council at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17, at the California Center for the Arts (340 N. Escondido Blvd.) and at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1, a the Solana Beach City Council chambers (635 S. Hwy. n 101). Game believes she's building momentum, getting plenty of RSVPs for the forums.
"I'm glad someone's talking about it," Baza said. "I'm glad someone's paying attention to this pool of money where the only criteria is who can get the attention of one of the Board of Supervisors. I don't know that [Game] can turn that tide around on her own, but I'm glad it's a topic again."