Cutting out the CAB
Big projects circumvent the City’s arts-funding process
Mayor Phil Hardberger was elected to office in 2005 in part on a platform of increased funding for the arts — a promise he’s kept both through effort (by convincing Council to raise the Hotel Occupancy Tax allotment for the Cultural Arts Fund) and good fortune (HOT revenues are up). For this coming year, as a result, the Fund’s coffers were fattened by an additional $797,000.
But if you thought that most of that money would drop to the bottom line of the organizations that were approved for funding in the current grant cycle, you’d be mistaken. Instead, the majority of it was diverted to other checkbooks, including an aviation heritage museum ($100,000), a graffiti art program ($5,000), and two somewhat more controversial expenditures: the Mayor’s proposed Arts Night ($200,000) and a $315,000 grant to the Museo Alameda, the Smithsonian-affiliated Latino heritage museum that opened in Market Square this spring, to support free admission.
The Alameda received $184,000 last year through the City arts-funding program administered by the Office of Cultural Affairs, and like its fellow grant recipients, it was scheduled to receive the same amount this year as part of the two-year funding cycle. But by going directly to Council, the Museo almost tripled its City monies without submitting to OCA’s evaluation process. The remaining 32 applicants, in contrast, are slated to receive a pro-rated portion of the remaining $107,000 surplus based on their 2006 applications.
Even more galling, perhaps, for organizations who play by the OCA and Cultural Arts Board rules, Council approved the same amount for the Alameda for 2009, which means that however the organization fares in next year’s peer-panel review and staff-scoring process, it can count on $315,000 from the City.
Council, including District 1 Councilwoman Mary Alice Cisneros — who led the push for the Alameda grant — didn’t discuss the decision with OCA. (Cisneros didn’t return calls for comment.) OCA Director Felix Padrón says he learned of the move the day before the Council approved the money as part of its 2008 annual budget.
“I think it’s always healthy to consult the CAB,” says Padrón, but adds that it’s legitimate for organizations to make their case directly to Council. “I think it’s a perfectly acceptable part of the process.”
CAB members do not agree.
“It’s not that I necessarily object to the Alameda,” says CAB Chair Nelson Balido. “Regardless of the amount, regardless of whom you’re awarding it to, procedure has been breached.” On Tuesday, Balido was drafting a letter that fellow CAB member Ruby Perez plans to read at Council on Thursday, when OCA is scheduled to present next year’s funding allocations for approval. Although the Alameda’s $315,000 set-aside was approved by Council on September 13, the contract still has to be blessed, says OCA Executive Assistant Ernesto Rubio, and Council could theoretically change its mind.
Alameda Chairman Henry Muñoz says that the Museo is in a category by itself and deserves the extra funding. “We watch over three City buildings,” says Muñoz: the Museo, the Alameda Theatre, and the Casa de Mexico International building. “We felt like our funding wasn’t adequate for that responsibility.” Muñoz argues that other arts organizations on City properties, such as the Carver and the Witte, receive a significantly larger portion of their budget from the City. Following the last funding cycle, the council approved a separate category for the eight cultural organizations that occupy City-owned facilities, a category that the Alameda will compete in for the 2009-10 funding cycle. The new windfall puts the Alameda in the same rarefied funding realm as the Symphony Society, the Witte, and the Guadalupe. The only organizations outside the City-owned-property fraternity that receive comparable HOT checks are the Southwest School of Art & Craft and the San Antonio Museum of Art.
“We’ve been making the case for many years to be treated as a major institution by the City of San Antonio. Even as a museum without walls we feel we’ve had a big impact on the community,” says Muñoz, who also argues that the Museo is a natural recipient of HOT money because it is located in the tourist-magnet Market Square.
Nonetheless, he says, he understands that not everyone will be happy with the Council’s decision. “There’s too little money to fund arts organizations in our community,” he notes, “and every dollar is precious.”
Muñoz adds that the Museo will make an announcement soon about free-admission times, as well as a fundraising campaign to make the Museo free all of the time.
Muñoz has other rainmaking duties this year. As the chair of fundraising for the mayor’s proposed San Antonio Arts Night, which is scheduled to take over Houston Street and environs on March 15, Muñoz is charged with raising $300,000. Added to the $200,000 Council allocated to the festival from the Cultural Arts Fund, the total event budget will be $500,000.
“It’s a time to showcase our creative industry to the outside world,” says Hardberger. “I would consider it a success if everybody who shows in that event, 25,000 people now know what they do and where to find them.”
Modeled on successful day-long arts festivals in Europe and Canada, the event will promote visual and performing arts through live dance and theater, booths, and related activities. Chicago’s 2007 Looptopia fest drew more than 800,000 people to the streets for all-night cultural revelry.
Although the initial planning meetings have been well-attended, at least one participant is anonymously circulating concerns via the internet. “Wait a minute! Wait a minute!” read an anonymous October 5 email forwarded by HAPPY Archives Director Gene Elder. “You mean to tell me that the Mayor’s Arts Festival ... has a $200,000 cash budget and there is no money to pay Artists? The money is designated for: 1. An event planner. 2. Police. 3. Advertising.”
But Hardberger says the alarm is premature, and no final funding decisions have been made, although, he adds, he did caution the committee that they have finite resources.
“Ultimately, I think exposing people to [the artists’] work is more important than giving them $200,” he says. “Keep in mind, you’ve got a budget. Don’t give all your money away or you won’t be able to put on the show.”
One arts observer told this reporter that they see some justice in the Alameda grant — every dollar Muñoz raises for the Arts Night is a dollar not raised for the Alameda, was the rationale — but the mayor says there is no quid pro quo. “The question of the Alameda did not come up” he says, when they were discussing fundraising for the fair.
Nonetheless, it is a nice bit of symmetry for the Alameda and Arts Night, if not for the CAB and the arts-funding process.
“What I’m upset about is, why even have a cultural affairs office, why even have a CAB board” — and spend the money it takes to run them — “to [then] override what we do?” asks CAB Chair Balido, who also serves on the Texas Commission on the Arts. He’d like to see Council restore all of the funds, including the aviation-museum allocation, to OCA’s pot — and process. “Those suggestions need to be brought up to the Cultural Arts Board.” •
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