City Council Debates Arts and Culture Master Plan

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“A city without arts and culture is a city without a soul.”

That sentiment stated by Mayor Ed Selich during the hour-long Master Arts and Culture Plan and Arts Funding discussion at the Newport Beach City Council Study Session on April 14 was echoed by other council members and arts commissioners.

While the city council agreed that the arts are important, not everyone agreed on the best ways to pay for the arts in Newport Beach.

According to the staff report, the city of Newport Beach contracted with Arts Orange County in May 2014 to develop Phase I of a Master Arts and Culture Plan. To gather community input as it developed the plan, Arts OC conducted one-on-one interviews with key stakeholders, held focus groups with community leaders, hosted a community forum, and conducted an online survey.

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The plan was completed by Arts OC and approved by the Newport Beach Arts Commission last November. Arts OC representatives first presented the plan to the City Council during its November 25 Study Session and heard comments about the plan.

Arts OC then developed a series of recommendations as to how the city could respond to the findings. Those recommendations include grow public investment in arts and culture, sustain current sources of funding for the arts, increase arts investment through a variety of funding mechanisms, establish an appropriately-staffed Division of Arts and Culture, and establish an arts manager position to implement the Master Arts and Culture Plan.

The discussion was continued to this study session so that newly-elected council members could weigh in on the plan, and help direct staff on how to proceed in implementing (or not implementing) the plan’s recommendations.

As noted in the staff report, the city of Newport Beach has four potential sources of revenue for funding any or all of the recommendations in the Master Arts and Culture Plan.

The city currently funds Arts and Culture programming through its General Fund. The Public Art and Cultural Facilities Fund (Council Policy I-13) earmarks two percent of the unallocated public benefit fees received by the city pursuant to approved Development Agreements for funding public art. The fund balance is currently $422,000.

In addition, the Newport Beach Tourism Business Improvement District (T-BID) is obligated to provide the city with $150,000 per year for 10 years to fund arts programming or for any other purpose, and the city could pursue private donation opportunities by developing a formal underwriting or sponsorship program.

Before the council discussion, Mayor Selich asked for comments from Newport Beach Arts Commissioners.

Arts Commissioner Robert Smith, who chairs the subcommittee on the sculpture exhibition in the civic center park, noted that Newport Beach funds arts and culture at about one tenth of one percent of the annual budget.

“Compared to other cities, that is a very modest amount of money,” he told the city council. “We have worked to get maximum benefit out of that. our of that. Whatever we do with the Arts Master Plan, we are lacking an arts professional as a funded staff position. I do not know of any city with any amount of significant arts and culture who does not have a professional to advise council and foster more arts and culture in the city. I encourage you to fund a position.”

Smith also noted that the sculpture exhibition in the civic center is in the middle of soliciting additional artwork, and it would send a negative message to artists and other people about the priority and value the city places on art.

Carmen Smith, president of the Newport Beach Arts Foundation, said “We are afraid of possibly reducing the support the arts commission and arts foundation receives. We love going to private organizations and getting contributions,” but they are small contributions.

When it was the council’s time to comment, Mayor Pro Tem Diane Dixon said she was pleased that the city was working on an arts master plan, and was surprised it took so long for such a plan to be created in the first place.

“City government has a role to encourage arts facilities and programing to enhance our community’s quality of life: she said. “I commend the commissioning of the arts and culture master plan, it is well conceived and thorough. My primary comment to the plan is that I want the arts commission to think bigger and strategically. I did not see a set of goal and objectives—where do they want to see the city in three years, five years, ten years. The elements of the programs are fine, but I would like to see it bigger. I would like to see a goal, a vision, to where the city should be.”

Dixon also commented that strong communities are built by joint efforts of private businesses working with public entities.

“This is the city of Newport Beach. We should not think small. We have a generous community,” she stated. “Come back and think creatively and think big. Come back with a target goal. Let’s use arts and culture in our communtiy to bring us together and take us far.”

Councilman Muldoon said he supported the arts, but that his hope was that this can be done without paid staff.

Councilman Curry said he supports efforts to raise private funds for the arts, but “it is a cop out to say it can be completed without public support and investment.”

“I agree on the vision that should be laid out for the arts,” said Councilman Petros. “It is not responsible that volunteers should carry the full weigh. I agree we need private investments and goals and an implementation schedule, and the way to do that is to start with a staff person, whether it is full or part time.”

“I am all in favor of thinking big, and my wife can drag me to art—I get that, but when we go to Chicago, we compromise and I do the art if she lets me go to science and history,” said Councilman Duffy, who suggested combining science and history with the arts “as an easier sell for guys like me who are not very good at art but appreciate it.”

“The idea of a public-private partnership—we have such a fantastic community that has patrons of the arts, that I am confident they will step up in a big way,” said Councilman Peotter.

Mayor Selich ended the council’s comments by stating that the arts are important for the life and vitality of the community, and that there needs to be a “substantial investment” by the city.

“I am in support of an arts coordinator, and I hope the rest of the council supports that,” he said. “The arts commission should take back the comments heard today and take another crack at the arts master plan. Bring it back (to the council) in the near future.”

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