Arts funding should reflect Sacramento's diversity

Jeff vonKaenel

How much public funding should go to arts programs? What criteria should be used to fund art programs? Are the programs that are currently being funded the ones that should be funded? These are the thorny questions raised by the Latino Arts Network when looking at the City of Sacramento's arts funding.

And the answers are even more thorny, according to Marie Acosta, executive director of La Raza Galería Posada and board member of Latino Arts Network of California.

In her report “The City of Sacramento: A Case Study in Municipal Support of the Arts,” Acosta makes the case that the city has a “startling history of making very large expenditures to just a handful of Eurocentric art organizations and awarding very small allocations to art organizations whose work reflects the lives and experiences of people of color.”

Acosta told me that while the most-recognized public-arts funder, Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, or SMAC, does fund culturally diverse art organizations, most public-art funding does not go through SMAC. Instead, it goes through “taxpayer-funded grants, loans, line of credit, forgiven loans and capital improvement funds.” In this way, the lion’s share of arts funding almost exclusively goes to the Crocker Art Museum, the Sacramento Opera, the Sacramento Ballet and, previously, to the Sacramento Symphony.

After adding up both the SMAC grants and the other subsidies in the 2012-13 city budget, Acosta’s report found that the city allocated a total of $2,403,406 to the arts. But arts organizations reflecting “communities of color” received only 2.21 percent of the total, or $53,130.

The Latino Arts Network believes that art funding should reflect the population’s diversity. What’s more, it believes that dollars spent on emerging cultural art would have more impact on our local art scene, would be more successful in bringing in tourist dollars and would touch more people.

The Latino Arts Network has made a series of recommendations to improve art funding. It believes that all art funds should go into one bucket “with an independent source to develop policies and procedures that will promote equitable allocations.” It recommends that the city should make “a good faith effort to more closely align its grant allocations to the Census Bureau’s projections of demographic change.” And that the city “should follow San Francisco’s lead and create a Cultural Equity Grants Program that supports culturally diverse art organizations and individual artists working in culturally-specific and historically underserved communities.”

The best art shouldn’t just show us what we already know, it should expose us to cultures outside our own experiences and invite us to discover new truths and gain understanding through that exposure.

We would clearly benefit from encouraging and funding a wider range of culturally diverse art organizations. In fact, Sacramento would benefit from more arts funding altogether. I would certainly support a small increase in sales tax to accomplish that.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.