The City-operated Arts in the Community funding program, which supports cultural outreach initiatives such as writing classes and mural painting at neighborhood schools and community centers, has dealt with a funding discrepancy since its inception five years ago `see "Are You Being Served?," January 8-14, 2004`. Every two years, close to $250,000 in grant money is divided among San Antonio's 10 council districts, and organizations are awarded funds based on a peer panel review process that is approved by the Office of Cultural Affairs and ratified by City Council.
Because there have consistently been more applicants in the inner-city districts such as Districts 1 and 2, and funds may only be allocated within assigned districts, outlying wards such as Districts 9 and 10 have had carryover funds from cycle to cycle, while other districts cash out each time and leave qualified applicants unfunded. One implication of this inequality is that the outlying areas, while comparably rich by economic measures, are culturally undercapitalized, at least when it comes to public art projects. But this funding cycle, the Council members from Districts 9 and 10 took matters into their own hands and pushed for funding for two arts projects in their territory that were not recommended by the AIC peer panel.
Guardian Angel Performing Arts Academy, a 5-year-old charter middle school in District 10 on Austin Highway, will receive $9,224 to bring members of the Dallas Black Dance Theatre to town for a five-week student workshop. In District 9, Hidden Forest Elementary will get $6,000 for Art á la Carte, an annual day-long arts festival that features hands-on activities and interaction with local artists and professional designers.
Guardian Angel and Hidden Forest received 59.18 and 58.55 points, respectively, in the peer panel review process, but the panel had established 60 points as the minimum score to be recommended for funding. Following a brief appeals process, neither program had been recommended to OCA. This left a $10,000 surplus in District 9, where the only other applicant for funding, ARTS San Antonio, will receive $17,000. In District 10, grants to the YMCA and Magik Children's Theatre still left $17,025 in unallocated funds.
OCA forwarded the peer panel recommendations to the city council ahead of a January 15 meeting at which the awards were scheduled to be reviewed and approved. Before the date arrived, however, Council members raised questions about the funding allocation, and the representatives from 9 and 10, Carroll Schubert and Chip Haass, asked OCA Director Felix Padrón to make discretionary grants to Guardian Angel and Hidden Forest. Padrón did so and on January 29 the final set of recommendations were approved by the council.
Because the peers are artists and community members from each district, their decisions carry a lot of weight, but the disbursements must also get through the political process at City Hall. This can leave Padrón between a rock and a hard place in contentious funding decisions. And while OCA strives to have representation from each district on the panel, during this cycle the panel member from District 9 dropped out at the last minute, leaving those applicants without an advocate.
Padrón - who points out that none of this cycle's applicants were funded at the full amount requested because scores were low across the board (the highest score was 85 out of a possible 100) - says he is pleased that Council members chose to push for funding in their districts.
"I think it's up to the council to make the decision for their constituents," Padrón remarked. "I'm glad they opted to bring more arts opportunities to their districts."
Deborah Murphy, a Hidden Forest parent who serves as chair of Art á la Carte, says it's important to her to bring cultural programming to the wealthier districts as well as to the inner-city neigborhoods that are richer in arts organizations.
"I'd say more of (the children at Hidden Forest) have gone to Disney World than to the Southwest School of Art & Craft," she observes. "If we want art to survive, we have to make sure that people of means see the value in it, too." Murphy will use AIC funds to pay the local artists who participate in Art á la Carte.
The 52 students at the open-enrollment Guardian Angel spend their morning in Gifted & Talented and core classes, and their afternoons studying dance, acting, and modeling. "Here the kids get exposed to all the different `performing` arts," says marketing director Preston James IV. According to the school's AIC application, "Applause! Dance Explosion, Dancing for Healthy Bodies and Healthy Minds," will integrate poetry and core curriculum subject areas with modern, jazz, and African dance.
Padrón points out that funding for Hidden Forest and Guardian Angel didn't take money away from any of the other funded applicants, though it did diminish the pool of money for a new city initiative. This funding cycle, rather than roll the excess money from any district over to the next cycle, the remaining $24,781 (from Districts 6, 7, 9, and 10), are being invested in a graffiti abatement project that will promote mural painting as an alternative to tagging. •