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Arts capped

After two hours of debate last week, City Council voted to cap City funding for arts organizations, and Councilwoman Patti Radle says it will depend on the generosity of future City Councils to determine whether arts entities in lower funding levels will survive.

Council passed the new guidelines by an 8-3 vote, with Radle, Art Hall, and Elena Guajardo voting against the agenda item.

Arts funding always generates controversy, as different agencies vie for a limited portion of hotel-occupancy-tax revenue, from well-funded groups with multi-million dollar budgets to small arts organizations that emerge from and serve the Latino commmunity.

Proponents of the new system say future arts funding will be more equitable, but future City Councils will decide the amount of funding groups receive; Councilwoman Guajardo joined Radle in speculating it could mean less money for organizations such as Urban 15, and more for the Witte Museum, to use an example.

Last year the Cultural Arts Board asked City staff to “clarify the application procedures and funding to better relate to the arts community and general community needs,” according to a presentation by Cultural Affairs Director Felix Padrón. In January, the CAB hammered out new rules and presented them to the Urban Affairs Committee, which forwarded them to City Council.

To be eligible for operational funding, arts organizations must have as a mission statement and operational goal to create, preserve, and present arts and cultural programming “such as music, dance, drama, literature, film, crafts, and festivals.” They must have operating budgets of more than $50,000 with at least a part-time salaried manager, and provided matching funds to the City’s donation.

Arts groups with budgets of more than $2 million must obtain a 1:3 cash match from other sources that grant funding for arts; groups with $800,000 to $2 million must have a 1:2 ratio with up to 25 percent in-kind support; groups with $100,000 to $800,000 budgets must achieve 1:1 support with up to 50 percent in kind; and organizations with budgets between $50,000 and $100,000 are not required to have matching funds.

City Council also set award limits. For groups with budgets of more than $2 million, the City’s contribution will not exceed 10 percent of their operating budgets; groups in the $800,000 to $2 million category can request up to 20 percent of their operating budgets; and groups with budgets from $50,000 to $800,000 would be eligible for 30 percent of their operating budgets.

A review committee will be in place to monitor organizations’ compliance with their stated missions, Padrón explained. And staff will follow criteria in determining how much money each entity will receive from the City.

CAB Chairwoman Ruby Perez said the new guidelines are the result of “nine months of hard work and three public hearings. Cultural equity is a big part of the criteria.” She warned that arts agencies should also find other income sources and not rely on the City as a sole source of funds. “The current procedure `of arts funding` is too subjective, it gets heated and politicized,” Perez explained.

María Lopez de Leon of the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture said the new procedure hurts Latino arts organizations because they receive less than 5 percent of funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. “Local public funding is critical to the survival of the Latino arts field. We do not have the deep pockets to support our organizations.”

Denise Cadena of Centro Cultural Aztlán, which developed the annual Passion Play and the Posada, said the smaller organizations “get many rejection letters. We try very hard to leverage the dollars, but this is the only source of funds for operational support.”

Padrón said that “cultural equity criteria” would be used to aid grassroots arts groups. “We do look at these things through the review process.”

By Michael Cary

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