The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego scaled back its monthly evening-art program, TNT, because of lack of funding.
A story in the July 11 San Francisco Chronicle boasted how the city had secured $1.5 million in economic-stimulus money for 37 different arts organizations. Given that only about $4.5 million was awarded to arts groups throughout California (out of the scant $50 million earmarked for arts in the $787-billion stimulus bill), San Francisco, population 800,000, got roughly one-third of the money awarded in the state.
As for San Diego County, population 3-million-plus: We got a meager $75,000—the same amount awarded to Fresno County, population 909,000, and Worcester County, Mass., population 783,000. We got far less than Lewis and Clark County, Mont., with its 3,500-square-miles of land and 59,302 people. They got $291,000.
Victoria Hamilton, executive director of the city of San Diego's Commission for Arts and Culture is, understandably, pissed off. She's talked to colleagues in other cities where not only did city commissions receive money (up to $250,000) to dole out to worthy nonprofits, but individual arts groups got money, as well. Hamilton said that folks she's talked to are shocked that San Diego was, it seems, totally snubbed.
“I mean, come on,” she said, “the La Jolla Playhouse? Museum of Contemporary Art?”
Both of those organizations applied for funding, as did the San Diego Symphony, the San Diego Opera and the Media Arts Center San Diego, which organizes the annual Latino Film Festival and educates kids and teens from underrepresented communities on how to use film and video to promote social change. The only two awardees in San Diego County were the Old Globe Theatre ($50,000) and the AjA Project ($25,000), which runs photography workshops for refugee youth. Hamilton doesn't have an exact count on how many local groups applied for stimulus grants; she knows of at least 16 who asked for, in total, $849,834.
The point of the stimulus funding, which the National Endowment for the Arts struggled to get into the bill in the first place, was to help prop up nonprofit arts organizations that have seen a decline in donations and patronage amid the recession. The grants were competitive—applications were judged by a panel of experts in each genre. It was a quick turn-around time, too. The NEA announced the funding on March 3, and applications were due April 2. Only groups that had received NEA funding in the past were eligible to apply.
Hamilton said she's tried to get an explanation from the NEA as to why San Diego County fared so poorly but has been told only that the agency received far more applications than it was able to fund. An NEA spokesperson told CityBeat as much, and pointed out that the California Arts Council was awarded $500,000 to hand out in another round of competitive grants. Applications are due Aug. 24.
CityBeat used the "Recovery Tracker" database compiled by nonprofit journalism website ProPublica.org to report this story.
An earlier version of this story said the total stimulus bill was for $272 billion.