ARE YOU BEING SERVED? 

 
visart-boots-3839_330jpg
These boots were made for walkin', and that's just what they'll do - through North Star Mall. Located at the far north end of City Council District 1 - which encompasses downtown and is home to most of the city's top-notch art - the boots, the creation of Bob "Daddy-O" Wade, look as if they belong a few blocks north, in District 9. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)

Arts in the Community has growing pains

Arts in the Community, the small but influential city program that has provided funds to initiatives such as Gemini Ink's The Rainbow Writings and the Carver School for Visual & Performing Arts, appears to be outgrowing its funding sources without meeting its goal of providing more arts programming in underserved districts. The Office of Cultural Affairs, which operates the 5-year-old program, will soon present to City Council the list of projects recommended for the fourth round of AIC grants, and the pattern of applicants and funding in each district tells the same old story: The socio-economically challenged downtown and inner-city neighborhoods are contrastingly rich in arts agencies and services, while the more traditionally affluent outlying districts remain artistically poor.

"Districts 8, 9, and 10 are the districts that we were just not getting applications from," says OCA director Felix Padrón. "And they are the districts that were driving this program."

Arts in the Community was established in 1999 partly in response to concerns from councilmembers from those North Side districts. AIC receives $100,000 annually from OCA's major (and soon to be only) source of funding, the Hotel Occupancy Tax. Funding cycles originally alternated yearly between even and odd council districts, with $20,000 available per district. In April 2003, the program began operating on a two-year implementation cycle with a cumulative $200,000 to be dispersed across all districts. Funds must be used in their designated district, and any money not awarded is carried over to the next cycle for the same district. The funding process is competitive, involving several layers of review and ranking of the applications based on peer panel scoring. If there is an insufficient number of applicants with high enough scores, the money goes unused until the next round of funding.

The socio-economically challenged downtown and inner-city neighborhoods are contrastingly rich in arts agencies and services, while the more traditionally affluent outlying districts remain artistically poor.
After successive years of too few applicants and poor scores in Districts 8, 9, and 10, they have accumulated funds of $40,000, $27,000, and $42,000 respectively. Yet applications from those three districts totalled less than half the number received from Districts 1, 2, and 3, which each had only the standard $20,000 available for funding.

AIC program applications must involve partnerships between an artist or arts agency and a community organization. The artist or agency can be located anywhere in the city, but the community organization must be located in the district from which the funds are requested. To address the imbalance, OCA has encouraged the development of partnerships between centrally located arts organizations and outlying community groups.

"We suggested that some of the organizations in heavily active districts like District 1 should really be thinking about partnering with others in the communities that are lacking applications," says Padrón. "Clearly some organizations get it," he adds, referring to the three projects recommended for funding this round in Districts 9 and 10.

Of the six applications received in those two districts, the three that met the scoring requirements incorporated cross-district partnerships: Centrally located Arts San Antonio, the San Pedro Playhouse, and the Magik Children's Theater partnered with organizations in outlying districts. Even so, District 9 will go into Round V funding with $10,000 in carryover money, and District 10 will have a $17,000 surplus, assuming City Council approves the funding recommendations as they stand.

In addition to advocating outreach partnerships, OCA and the Cultural Arts Board are also looking into ways to help organizations improve the quality of the applications, from planning to grant-writing.

Citywide, the number of applications filed doubled between Round III and Round IV, while the amount of available funds remained the same.
"Some of the applications are just not well-written," says Padrón. "We do provide workshops before the application deadline, but nobody comes for the most part." He adds that the board has expressed interest in a more radical response to the problem. "They would like to explore the notion of focusing directly on those under-served communities. Other cities have incubator programs that have proven to be very effective, where you bring in organizations that either are just starting or don't have a home and teach them how to be administrators."

While the outlying districts continue to suffer from a dearth of arts programs, in the larger picture, the demand for AIC funds is growing. Citywide, the number of applications filed doubled between Round III and Round IV, while the amount of available funds remained the same. Without a change in funding sources or allocation, this trend means that deserving projects in some districts will go un-funded while money accumulates in other districts.

A more intuitive approach might include a program that rewards arts-in-community initiatives based solely on merit, without regard to geography, and a separate incubator program to foster the growth of competitive arts organizations in underserved areas. Such a structural change would require additional arts funding from another source, such as the city's general fund, because re-allocating within OCA's HOT funds would be robbing Peter to pay Paul. •


More by Laurie Dietrich

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