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Cultural Arts continues revisions for arts contracts funded by hotel tax

Thursday, June 2, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

The city is moving ahead with further revisions to its process for awarding contracts for Cultural Arts funding, with the rollout of the first phase of a three-tiered pilot program expected to take place in October.

Cultural Arts staff members gave an update last week to City Council’s Audit and Finance Committee on their progress in the multi-year process of restructuring the way contracts are awarded. The current round of changes began in 2019 to add emphasis on equity and improving the viability of new and niche arts groups that had traditionally not received much – if any – arts funding from the city’s share of Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue.

In her presentation, Cultural Arts Division Manager Meghan Wells said the equity focus is being balanced against increasing concerns from the city’s Law Department over how heavily race can be considered in evaluating applicants looking to receive city funds or other resources.

“We understand the importance of intersectionality and how we can address other historically marginalized communities such as LGBTQ and disability communities,” she said. “We are also mitigating the concerns by the Law Department and Council about the legal risk of leading with racial equity. It has been a difficult balance.”

The roughly $6.6 million in the next batch of Cultural Arts contracts will be broken up into three rounds of funding for recipients of different sizes and purposes.

The Nexus group seeks to nurture new and emerging applicants, with 100 grants of $5,000 broken into two cycles of 50 awards each. The Elevate group targets the creative and administrative needs that amplify equitable and inclusive programming, with $4 million in funding broken up into roughly 100 awards of $10,000 to $75,000, with different guidelines for private or nonprofit applicants. The Thrive group is intended to sustain and grow deeply rooted arts organizations that are reflective of the city’s diversity, with $3 million available for 35 two-year contracts worth $80,000 to $150,000.

The proposed guidelines could see some slight revisions while the Arts Commission continues its community feedback process before taking a final vote to support the new framework in the coming months.

Of the three funding groups, Thrive is slated to launch in October, with Elevate and Nexus launching in the 2023 fiscal year along with the Live Music Fund that also uses hotel tax revenue and is being overseen by the Music and Entertainment Division.

Council Member Vanessa Fuentes praised the work by staff, the Arts Commission and other stakeholders over the years to revise the funding process. Responding to a comment from Wells that the program would no longer fund the vast majority of applicants, she expressed concern over the messaging that should go out to the community about the changes.

“You mentioned that this new framework would not fund the 99 percent of contractor (applications) that had previously received some amount of funding, and it seems like we’d at least have the opportunity to award 235 different contracts,” she said. “I just want to level with the community … what percentage amount would be receiving funding with these changes?”

Laura Odegaard, program manager for Cultural Arts, said in recent years the city had about 600 applications from contractors seeking funding, though the recent outreach to arts groups to deliver Covid-19 relief awards was likely to result in an increased interest for city contracts.

“The quick math on it is 40 percent instead of the 99 percent of applicants, but that’s with only existing past contractors coming forward to apply. With a lot of the outreach staff has been doing … I would expect that we’ll be having more applicants for these pilot programs than we have in the past.”

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