City to Support Grassroots in New Arts Funding Guidelines

Families dance in La Villita during the 2013 International Accordion Festival

It came as a shock to many when, in 2012, San Antonio’s beloved International Accordion Festival took a one-year hiatus, after having downscaled to a single stage the year before. Was this the death knell for the free, quirky festival that presents zydeco and conjunto alongside Jewish klezmer and qawwali, a Sufi devotional music? Unlike much of corporate America, the non-profit world still hasn’t recovered from the 2008 collapse, due to belt-tightening in federal agencies and cut-backs in private giving.

The Accordion Festival was back on its feet in 2013, receiving over $30,000 from the city’s arts budget, while also acquiring new sources of private funding. But if an established festival with a solid track record, corporate sponsors, and city support could find itself on such shaky ground, one wonders whether the next innovative arts festival will find fertile ground in San Antonio.

This is exactly the kind of problem the Department for Culture and Creative Development (DCCD) hopes to address with the first major revision to its arts funding guidelines since 2006. Three new programs aim to encourage innovation and community access to arts programming throughout the city. In a significant shift, individual artists will have direct access to funding for the first time, while in the past all awards went to non-profits which had been in operation for at least three years. On Saturday, February 15, DCCD will host a public input session for the proposed guidelines at Municipal Plaza (114 West Commerce), Plaza Room B, from 9 AM to 3 PM.

One new category of funding is set aside specifically for arts festivals. The festival may be run by an individual artist or group of artists, and does not require 501(c)(3) status, but the festival must have been in existence for at least three years, and have actively presented programming for the last two years – but Fiesta-related events are not eligible. Another new program, StART Place, aims to “stimulate neighborhood vibrancy” by offering $500 - $10,000 awards to artists and non-profit community based organizations for creative events and programs. Unlike most DCCD grants, this category does not require matching funds – the program could be funded entirely by the city.

Finally, a new artist re-granting program grew out of a desire to support two specific organizations: the Artist Foundation of San Antonio, and the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC). In DCCD’s view, these organizations have done an exemplary job of supporting San Antonio artists directly through an engaging, public application process. The re-granting program is open to San Antonio-based non-profits whose “primary mission is to provide grants to San Antonio artists for the creation of new works.” The Artist Foundation has given over half a million dollars to 92 San Antonio artists since 2006.

These programs represent a major change for the DCCD, which in recent years has focused on providing operational funding for established non-profits, maintaining cultural facilities like The Carver, funding large public art projects, and playing a major role in organizing Luminaria, a one-night arts festival started by the city. The new funding initiatives, if successful, will nurture innovative, grassroots, community-focussed arts programming.

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