responding to the attack on our community

December 1, 2010

Those of you in San Diego may have read the Voice of San Diego article about Councilmember Carl DeMaio’s proposed cuts to arts and culture. You can find the article and links to his proposal here:

Members of the San Diego Regional Arts and Culture Coalition worked together to write the following response. We’ve submitted it to be posted on Voice of San Diego:

Solving for pattern, a concept coined by the farmer and writer Wendell Berry, is the idea of finding solutions that solve multiple problems while minimizing the creation of new problems. Unfortunately, Councilmember Carl DeMaio’s proposals for arts and culture in his “Roadmap to Recovery” do not “solve for pattern.” Rather, if implemented, they will have the opposite impact and create greater social and economic problems for our City:

1) Councilmember DeMaio’s recommendation will have the impact of widening the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” and expanding divisions of race and class. Ultimately, it is an elitist and exclusive approach to providing arts and culture to the citizens of San Diego. Mr. DeMaio writes in his Roadmap:

However, our office proposes that the current approach is reformed to focus on fewer, but larger awards that are geared toward attaining specific outcomes rather than spreading out a larger quantity of smaller fund amounts. This would resemble the model utilized by the City’s Tourism Marketing District (TMD) and the process awarding Community Development Block Grants.

The Commission for Arts and Culture currently has a highly democratic, fair and rigorous application process that allows for organizations of all sizes to compete for contracts and serve all San Diegans. Essentially, the Commission’s approach has been one that embraces “arts for all.” DeMaio’s suggestion to shift the Commission’s focus to only larger awards, ultimately suggests that arts funding should be only for the large budget institutions and not the small and mid-sized ones, with funds supporting only a particular population, therefore limiting who has access to arts opportunities. With the funding from the Commission for Arts and Culture, organizations large and small, together, are able to serve underserved communities (many of us provide free services to communities of need), provide arts education opportunities for schools, and ensure a diversity of arts access points. In 2009, arts organizations provided 5,534 school and community group visits and directly served 438,189 people, according to the report The 2009 Economic and Community Impact of Nonprofit Arts and Culture Organizations in San Diego (EIR).

2) Every dollar invested by Commission for Arts and Culture has an important impact on the local economy. According to the EIR, the 76 funded organizations matched the $6.4 million from the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) with $168.1 million in revenue and over $181 million in direct expenditures in the San Diego economy. Mr. DeMaio’s proposal will hurt the city by cutting a critical revenue generator, including the $86.9 million in salaries and workforce of more than 7000 people employed by the organizations funded through the Commission for Arts and Culture.

It’s important for San Diegans to understand that the Commission is funded entirely through the TOT. As such it is not a part of the City’s General Fund (which funds fire and safety) and it is not funded by local taxpayers. The TOT receives its revenues from tourists who stay in San Diego hotels. Further, in 2009, over 1.46 million visitors traveled to San Diego to participate in arts and culture events funded by the Commission and pumped more than $750 million into the local economy (EIR). The return on investment in arts and culture gives us a competitive edge when we promote San Diego as a high quality, diverse cultural destination. Through the Commission for Arts and Culture, the City is engaged in a proven and successful public/private partnership that brings benefit to residents across the city.

On behalf of the San Diego Regional Arts and Culture Coalition, I invite Councilmember DeMaio to work with the arts and culture community to solve for pattern to address the City’s budget problems. Let’s be wise about the cuts that are made and work together to ensure there is liberty, justice, education, arts, health and safety for all San Diegans.


Seema Sueko Co-Founder & Executive Artistic Director, Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company
Member, San Diego Regional Arts and Culture Coalition


2 Responses to “responding to the attack on our community”

  1. Doris Bittar Says:

    Dear Seema,

    Your letter is excellent. An economic argument is vital to underscore. When smaller amounts of funds are given to more people, they generate more economic activity for the wider local and regional economies. This is a proven fact, which show various studies and statistical data bases show. When larger awards are given out, at least half of the money is swallowed up by administrative, regulatory or other bureaucratic steps. Dollar for dollar, when individual artists are funded, the return is nearly immeasurable because artists tend not to pay themselves, they focus on realizing their vision and often balance zero. Of course, there is ample anecdotal evidence, too. When I get funded, I use every penny, and it goes out to the community. I always hope to have something to pay for my time, but I usually end up using that money, too. And it is all productive going back into the community: printing establishments, carpenters, steel cutters, powder-coating businesses, assistants, software and computer businesses, editors, translators, plastics fabricators, etc. Many businesses in the last two years said to me that if it were not for my projects they would have had nothing that week or that month. Times are hard, let’s use our money wisely. DeMaio’s ideas are not wise, not the best use of money. His ideas sound good but they come from a dead end “austerity mentality.” That kind of mentality does not invigorate the economy. Rather, it insures a slow down, and that is a fact any economist would agree with.

    You can pass this on to him, post it or use it as you like. I will send him my letter.

    Thanks again,

  2. Jill Holslin Says:

    Dear Seema, Thank you so much for your thoughtful and insightful response to DeMaio’s proposal. I’m a lecturer at San Diego State, teaching university students how to craft arguments to engage in advocacy on local issues, and we have been discussing the San Diego budget cuts for the past 15 weeks. Yours is precisely the kind of evidence-based analysis we need to develop creative and productive solutions to our budget crisis. Too often, debates about arts funding are driven by ideological arguments and simplistic assumptions, leaving the average San Diegan with little understanding of the real impact of arts investment in the local economy. Your argument provides an excellent model for arts advocates to follow, and I will be pleased to introduce it to my students!

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