It’s been an interesting year for art in Newport Beach, particularly regarding how it’s funded in the city, and that was at the heart of the conversation during a meeting this week.
Discussion during the City Arts Commission annual retreat Tuesday revolved mostly around what the commissioners were and weren’t allowed to do, in terms of fundraising.
The special meeting also focused on the commission’s role in the city, its relationship with the Newport Beach Arts Foundation, and ideas about how to raise more funds and awareness for the arts in the city.
Library Services Director Tim Hetherton explained that the commission is meant to encourage art and cultural programs in the community, on behalf of the city, as well as perform other duties that the Newport Beach City Council requires.
Staff broke down the Arts Commission’s budget, allocated from the general fund. About $35,000 goes toward programming, $40,000 for professional and technical services (art installation, event coordination, etc.), $40,000 in awarded cultural arts grants, and $12,500 in administrative costs (office supplies, music rights, etc.).
Other funds used for the arts include a portion of the Visit Newport Beach Transient Occupancy Tax funds (used recently for the sculpture exhibition and the Pacific Symphony concert) and $175,000 from the now-dissolved Balboa Performing Arts Theater Foundation (only allowed to be used for performing arts on the Balboa Peninsula). Council approval is required to access both funds.
Including the funds from Visit Newport Beach TOT and Balboa Theater Foundation, the City Arts Commission budget for fiscal year 2017-18 is $342,500.
Council has recently directed the commission to find other sources of funding, emphasizing that the foundation should be raising the money to pay for some of the programming.
Earlier this month, Council also voted to eliminate council policy I-13, which tagged a small percentage of developer fees (that go into the city’s general fund) to support the arts. The decision was part of the in-depth review of all council policies, and resulted in eliminating 32 policies and modifying many more.
Both Arts Commission Chair Judy Chang and Vice Chair Arlene Greer spoke in opposition to the removal of the policy during the meeting on Aug. 8.
Councilman Will O’Neill explained that the I-13 policy was originally created for arts and cultural facilities, which the city does not have.
Another policy “sets the floor” for arts funding at $55,000 every year. The previous council allocated “substantially more” than that by sending the portion of developer fees to the arts.
So the 2 percent of “public benefit” developer fees has been diverted from the general fund into the arts and away from “core infrastructure improvements,” O’Neill said. He added that there is not a “pro-development mindset” in the city right now, so there are less of those funds coming in.
“We’ve got to have a focus on the ‘must haves’ not the ‘nice to haves,’” O’Neill said. “We’ve got to see those hundreds of thousands of dollars going back into the community for the core infrastructure that we are seeing a dwindling amount of funding for.”
Along with the other policy changes, this will provide “more freedom to the Arts Commission,” than how it was previously written, O’Neill said at the time. The charter called for a “fairly generous and general set of powers” for the commission, but another policy specifically designates what they are and aren’t allowed to do, he explained.
At the Arts Commission retreat this week, Assistant City Manager Carol Jacobs confirmed those funds would go toward building a new Lido fire station on the Balboa Peninsula.
Commissioner Marie Little questioned how the council was able to transfer money earmarked for the arts into another area.
Council has the authority to set up, change and eliminate council policies, Jacobs explained.
“When a new council comes in, they (may) have a new philosophy and a different way of thinking of things,” Jacobs said. “The new council, they made a decision that they had other priorities, other than the arts, and they decided that they would prefer to use that money that was in that fund… and use it for other programs.”
There are residents that support the arts, Councilman Brad Avery noted at the Aug. 8 meeting, and they should “step up” efforts to reach out to those citizens and encourage them to contribute.
Several Arts Commissioners noted that they are in a tough spot, between what they are legally allowed to do in their position and what is being asked of them. They expressed frustration about being asked to raise money for the arts so the city doesn’t have to, but being very limited in how they can go about doing that.
“It’s a catch 22,” Commissioner Barbara Glabman said.
The rules about what they are allowed to do have changed, Chang pointed out.
Commissioners directed staff to get clarification regarding fundraising and what they are permitted to do in order to help with that mission.
They also agreed to work at being more visible in the community (and with City Council), talking with citizens and promoting arts and the city programming.
“We really need to re-energize the foundation,” Commissioner Grace Divine said. “The foundation needs to actively pursue fundraising while we are limited because of our position.”
They can only do so much with the programming budget provided by the city, Chang responded. Better programming will result in more donors, she noted.
Other commissioners seemed to agree.
“Programming drives funds and vice versa,” Greer added.
The bottom line is they need more funds for programming, Chang added. Staff recommended commissioners approach council, possibly before the next fiscal year, and ask. Several noted that this didn’t seem likely with the existing council lineup.
“Even beyond the foundation, I think it has to do with City Council, they have to be more welcoming to support the arts,” Chang said. “I don’t get that feeling from the current council.”
Divine suggested showing council the importance of the arts in the city by getting the community more involved.
At the Aug. 8 Council meeting, several council members said they supported the arts and its place in Newport Beach.
“This is a City Council that supports the arts,” O’Neill confirmed at the meeting.