News : Begging your padrón

HOT summer funds? Not for everyone ...

Florence had the Medicis; San Antonio’s got the OCA. With the May 19 application deadline just around the corner and revamped guidelines in place, both the estimated 40-some local nonprofits and creative outfits in search of arts and cultural funding and the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs, which is charged with dispensing such awards, are keeping a collective ear to the pavement, waiting intently to gauge the results of the recent overhaul. And the pavement, especially this time of year, can get pretty hot.

A significant portion of the debate this year is framed by the concept of “cultural equity” — defined, by some, as the notion that an ample variety and manner of voices should be permitted the same access to aid in what can be a highly contentious artistic marketplace.

“I think these new guidelines are a major improvement to what we had and establishes a lot more clarity,” says OCA Director Felix Padrón. “We’re giving more focus through this process to deeply rooted and culturally underserved communities. Which could be loosely translated as ethnic communities, whether it’s Chinese-American or Mexican-American.”

Padrón says the new model, which will, among other provisions, grant assistance based on a graduated percentage of each selected applicant’s budget, provides a fairer way of allocating resources. Others, however, believe true cultural equity to be more elusive when viewed with a less-than-consistently-inclusive American past as context.

“We can’t talk about this issue for me unless we talk about a `level` playing field,” says Jump-Start Performance Co.’s Steve Bailey, who says that while the Mexican-American population of San Antonio is around 60 percent, only about 17 percent of municipal arts monies go to culturally specific organizations. “When there’s not that equal access, even equality, necessarily, doesn’t cut it.”

OCA funds, derived in large part from a percentage of the Hotel-Motel Occupancy (HOT) Tax, are conferred over a two-year period by an OCA application-review board. Last year’s funding model distributed more than $3.1 million among about 42 recipients, according to Padrón, who expects roughly the same level of activity this time around. Under the old guidelines, he says, applicants for operational support could ask for any amount of money, so long as they matched that amount, dollar for dollar, from other sources. (“In-kind donations,” such as volunteer time, donated equipment, or other such contributions, could be internally appraised and counted toward the dollar-match total.) The new plan, approved by City Council on March 9 to mixed reactions, provides a rubric for assigning levels of aid to organizations with budgets ranging from $50,000 to over $2 million.

“The percentage system was one of the key items and one of the biggest changes,” Padrón says. “The structure gives more flexibility, I think, to the organizations that may not have the access to other dollars in the community.”

The plan breaks down like this: Groups with budgets in the $50,000 to $100,000 range may request that up to 30 percent of their actual budget be provided by city funds, with no dollar-match required; $100,000-to-$800,000-range groups may ask for up to 30 percent, at a one-to-one dollar-match rate; $800,000-to-$2-million-range groups may ask for up to 20 percent, matching two dollars for every city dollar awarded; and groups budgeted at over $2 million may ask for up to 10 percent, at a three-to-one match rate. The $2 million-and-up groups must match purely in cash, but the $800,000-$2-million set may use in-kind value for up to 25 percent of their match responsibility, while the tier below that may use in-kind for up to half of theirs.

Padrón says this system will make for fairer fund allotment, as organizations are now more accountable for their requests. City Councilman Art Hall agrees.

“Part of the issue was that we were funding percentages `of applicants’` requests,” Hall says, “so we had organizations that were coming in and over-requesting.”

Graciela Sánchez, director of the fund-hopeful Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, says she doesn’t like that reasoning.

“The assumption then, right there, is that organizations are lying, and that doesn’t seem to be a good place to be coming from,” Sánchez says. Sánchez says she’s not optimistic about the new system, though it purports to help smaller and mid-sized groups, of which Esperanza is one. “`They say` ‘No, we all have to be equal and `the` way to be equal is to give everyone equal money,’” she says. “That’s not equality. That’s too simple.”

She says that a “quick-fix” or one-size-fits-all approach does not account for the individual needs and difficulties of smaller organizations. “I’m a smart woman, like all the people that run our organizations, and we all work hard,” Sánchez says. “And everybody does deserve money but some of us have to work harder to get it.”

Bailey agrees: “It’s not because other organizations aren’t important. It’s not an us-versus-them scenario,” he says. “It is about looking at history and current trends, understanding that and doing something about it. A major art museum has access to organizations in a way that a smaller `largely Hispanic` organization doesn’t.”

With final decisions slated for September, perhaps only one thing is certain: Someone’s going to end up unhappy.

“I’m optimistic that it’ll work out,” says the Guadalupe Arts Center’s Bret Ruiz. “They’re not set in stone forever.

Fine. Two things.