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Staffing issues cause slow rollout of arts, historic preservation programs

Tuesday, June 7, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

The Economic Development Department plans to wait until fall to begin spinning up three programs for music, arts and historic preservation that are funded by proceeds from the city’s Hotel Occupancy Tax. Portions of those programs aren’t slated to become active until mid-to-late 2023, with some contracts not expected to begin until the 2024 fiscal year.

The prolonged timelines are caused in large part because ongoing job openings at EDD are creating large workloads for existing staff.

In a memo released last month, EDD Director Sylnovia Holt-Rabb updated City Council on the progress in restructuring some of the programs, some of which began in 2018 but were paused due to the need to create 11 new Covid-19 pandemic relief programs. The memo noted that the three hotel-tax-funded program launches are being staggered to allow EDD staff to effectively handle each launch.

She wrote, “EDD is currently experiencing a 27.4 percent staff vacancy rate, or the equivalent of 20 full-time positions. EDD is actively recruiting for vacant positions; however, the current vacancies are creating impacts to program development and implementation, purchasing processes and controls, administrative support, and communications outreach.”

The Live Music Fund is expected to launch in the summer of 2023, after the city enters into a contract with a third party that will manage the program, which was designed to provide grants to musicians and promoters interested in organizing live music events throughout the community.

The memo notes that a staff proposal this spring that called for a two-year award cycle with large $20,000 grants to fewer recipients would have allowed staff to handle the program’s execution with a shorter timeline. Instead, the Music Commission pushed for a one-year rollout with smaller awards between $5,000 and $10,000, which would have created more administrative work than EDD staff could handle.

That shift resulted in the need to search for an outside program administrator that will be paid using some of the funds from the program that otherwise would have been used to award contracts to hopeful applicants. The delay in launching the initial Live Music Fund, and the need to use program funds for an outside party, has already caused criticism from members of the Music Commission.

The Cultural Arts Fund is slated to launch the first portion of a three-tiered funding structure in October after a multi-year process of restructuring the contracts in a way that prioritizes equity and underserved arts groups.

The Nexus, Elevate and Thrive contract groups will address different goals and demographics in the local arts ecosystem, with different award amounts ranging from $5,000 to $150,000 per contract. Thrive is slated to launch in October, with Elevate and Nexus launching in the 2023 fiscal year, though slight adjustments to the overall funding framework are possible until the Arts Commission closes its community feedback process and votes for a final package in the coming months.

The Historic Preservation Fund is expected to return to close to normal activity levels after cuts to capital improvement grants caused by drastically reduced hotel tax collections through most of the pandemic. The fund’s grant program will begin recruiting members to its award panel in the third quarter of this year, with a priority placed on directing awards to underrepresented communities for needs related to capital, planning, education and marketing.

The memo notes that changes to the program include prioritizing outreach to first-time candidates, permitting optional expenses such as management fees and insurance to be covered by awards, and offering mandatory training of tourism marketing for contractors in cooperation with the Cultural Arts and Music and Entertainment divisions.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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