A little more on the Museo's City funding

Below you'll find this week's QueQue item about the Alameda -- the nonprofit Latino cultural-arts org that operates the Museo Alameda, is restoring the Alameda Theatre, and is now partnering with other local arts orgs to open the Henry Ford Academy: Alameda School for Art & Design.

As the QueQue notes this week, the chair of the Cultural Arts Board, which makes the arts-funding recommendations to City Council with the support of the Office of Cultural Affairs, is concerned about the Museo Alameda's finanical stability -- which is one key factor in receiving City support. The Museo receives almost $380,000 annually toward general operations in this current two-year grant cycle (putting it near the top of the list of grant recipients), and one possibility, if the CAB is unsatisfied with the Alameda's strategic finanical plan, is that the City will attach stringent performance benchmarks to next year's funds. Another option would be to earmark the funds for e.g. utilities and maintenance of the building, which is owned by the City.

The Alameda certainly isn't the first major City-funded arts organization to go through a rough finanical period -- the Symphony and the Guadalupe come to mind. In both cases, the organizations had to meet certain criteria in order to continue receiving funding.

But in order to work with a grant recipient, the City has to know what's going on, and as of last Friday, CAB and OCA were awaiting crucial information from the organization.

"They have satisfied the first year's contract, without a doubt. As far as we're concerned, the museum's functioning." OCA Director Felix Padron said, but he also acknowledged that "We need to have a better understanding of their financials to move ahead."

Since the QueQue was published, public-relations rep Ken Slavin confirmed that none of Ford's new $1.5 million pledge, formally announced last week in conjunction with the Alameda's gala, will go directly to the Museo, which has struggled to meet its budget and grow revenue since it opened.

Why, you might wonder, am I so hard on the Alameda and founder Henry Munoz -- who stepped down as Alameda char this spring, but remains on the board? Just getting the museum built and opened is an amazing accomplishment, right? Right.

But here's my concern -- a concern I gather is shared by Cultural Arts Board Chair Nelson Balido: The Museo is still financially shaky enough that it had a rough moment this summer when it was short payroll and had to approach a funder to step up its pledge. City staff expect it to go through some additional reorganization to make it financially viable in this economy and at its current state of development. Very little progress has been made on the renovation of the theater and its unique blacklight murals -- yes, Henry was able to work $6 million for the theater into last year's venue-tax extension, a portion of Ford's original $5.5 million grant was for the theater, and there is a handful of City money as well, but completion is a long way off. And now, we have a school -- a school that everyone is rightfully very excited about and that has some very well-established, successful partners in SAY Si and the Southwest School of Art & Craft. But the Museo is far from stabilized.

I sense an attitudue -- in fact, sometimes it's more or less spoken -- that the City, or some entity even more vague: "they" -- won't let the Museo fail because it's too important to our Latino heritage and citizens, because it would be too embarrassing, etc. ... Maybe that's true, but it's not much of a business plan.

Here's the original QueQue item:

Interest-free account

The City wants to help the perennially underfunded Alameda, but first the San Anto-based Latino cultural-arts center must help itself.

For starters, spend face time with local leaders, not just the fancy pants in New York and D.C. who are always appointing Museo instigator Henry Muñoz to boards. Por ejemplo, the QueQue heard that Cultural Arts Board Chair and Texas Commission on the Arts Commissioner Nelson Balido wasn't even invited to last week's star-studded gala, where the guest of honor was former Mexican President Vicente Fox. Nor was Office of Cultural Affairs Director Felix Padrón.

Balido and Padrón represent the key folks to whom the Alameda is accountable for its $390,000 in annual City arts funding. 2010 is the second year in the City's two-year arts-funding cycle, which usually means that funded organizations will receive the same amount of cash they got the first year, assuming they fulfill their contract with the City. “They have satisfied their first year's contract, without a doubt,” says Padrón.

But the other leg of that stool is financial stability, and Balido is concerned that the new board chair and the interim director of the Alameda â?? which was shy of payroll at the Museo earlier this summer `see the QueQue, July 22` â?? haven't yet shared their plans for achieving that stability with the CAB or OCA. The gala reportedly raised just under $400,000, but at least $10,000 of that was already spent: Valero agreed to expedite its table donation as part of a $50,000 pledge paid early to cover this summer's gap.

“Before we award tax dollars,” says Balido, “we need to see a plan for success and solvency. In my opinion, the Alameda has not presented us a plan for success.” Balido says he's especially conscientous of the CAB's responsibility to spend public money wisely during the current recession, which will shrink next year's HOT funding for the arts by an estimated half-million. “We're looking out for `the Alameda's` behalf. At the same time, we are also the steward of taxpayer dollars.”

At last week's gala, a $1.5 million gift from Ford (which has donated $5.5 million to the Museo and the Alameda Theatre restoration) was announced, but two-thirds of that money is earmarked for the new Henry Ford Academy: Alameda School for Art & Design, a partnership with established arts schools Say Sí and the Southwest School of Art & Craft. If the QueQue's reading the press release correctly, none of the other $500,000 goes directly to the Museo, either, but to other specific programs. A request for clarification from the Alameda was not returned.

And lack of communication is what seems to be bothering Balido. “I've reached out to the Chairman `Margarita Flores` over the past month,” he says. “I've reached out to Henry Muñoz over the past year â?? I can't get a call back.”

He hopes they'll get it all straightened out before the CAB's September 8 funding meeting. But, you know, Henry's dance card is very full.

p.s. The tip that the CAB might be concerned about the Alameda's performance came from R.G. Griffing, at the Lightning. Thanks, R.G.

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