Newport Beach City Arts Commission once again doled out cultural arts grants last week, but this year more than half the funds went back to the Commission — for Concerts on the Green and other programming — and the rest went to only a handful of organizations.
At the Art Commission’s special Oct. 26 meeting, they were tasked with splitting up $40,000 as they saw fit. The grant money is provided annually for “specific cultural or artistic planning or projects.”
This year 14 organizations applied for the cultural grants, asking for a total of $85,500.
Ultimately, they granted $25,500 back to the Commission in order to expand their arts programming and enhance, and possibly add to, the popular Concerts on the Green series. The remaining $14,500 was broken up between four organizations.
Last year, the full $40,000 was divvied up between nine organizations.
A few commissioners suggested spreading out smaller amounts.
“Even a small amount would make a big difference,” said Commissioner Michelle Bendetti.
But others worried that there was no “in-between” amount for some of the groups that would be less than what they asked for, but more than nothing and yet could still accomplish the organization’s cultural arts plan or event.
Several commissioners had to recuse themselves from discussions and votes on a few of the organizations.
To narrow down the selection, they first eliminated Crystal Cove Conservancy, KOCI Radio, Kontrapunktus, MuseMe, Pacific Symphony, and the NB Public Library Foundation. They had various reasons including funding from other sources, not long enough track record, and not wide enough reach.
After more discussion and back and forth about what to do, a few other organizations were denied, despite some commissioners fighting for the smaller groups: Baroque Music Festival in Corona del Mar, Festival Ballet Theatre, South Coast Repertory, and Balboa Island Museum and Historical Society.
Commissioner Barbara Glabman wanted to emphasize to the organizations applying that they appreciate their work and encouraged them to apply again next year.
“It didn’t work into our budget this year,” she said, but it’s important they keep trying.
Most groups reapply, even if they didn’t receive funds the previous year, Bendetti pointed out.
The largest amount went to the Newport Beach Film Festival.
Chair Judy Chang suggested $7,500 — half of the remaining $15,000 of funds left after deciding to grant $25,000 back to the Commission — for the popular local festival. Bendetti suggested a little less because “that doesn’t leave us with much” to spread around to the other organizations.
A few commissioners recommended $5,000 instead.
The Film Festival receives other funds from the city to support the event, others pointed out.
“They do get a lot of money (from the city) but they bring a lot of people in,” Chang said.
They have a huge reach, she emphasized.
According to the Film Festival application, funds would go toward a multi-program series. Free seminars and panel discussions held at the civic center that bring in top industry professionals over several days.
The first motion from Chang for $7,500 failed 4 to 3. But there was some confusion and a re-vote passed 5 to 2. Commissioners Grace Divine and Miriam Baker dissented.
The Film Festival received almost the same amount last year ($8,000), when the Commission granted out the full $40,00. This year, NBFF asked for $25,000 in their application.
Receiving the next biggest grant was Orange County Museum of Art at $5,000.
Divine raised a concern about whether it’s appropriate to grant the museum considering the current litigation between OCMA and the city. She abstained from the vote.
There was some discussion and the Commission ultimately approved the grant for the museum. OCMA asked for $10,000, the same amount they received last year.
Grants for $1,000 each went to the Balboa Island Improvement Association and the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity.
Most of the discussion on any of the organizations that didn’t get a grant centered around two of the smaller events from Baroque Music Festival CdM and Festival Ballet Theatre.
Chang focused on the group’s reach and emphasized that getting the Arts Commission listed as a supporter of the bigger organizations was important.
She also pointed out that the Baroque group charges admission to the concerts.
“I’m just not comfortable with the fact that they charge for their performances,” Chang said.
The application explained that the grant would allow the group to offer discounted student tickets. It would also help pay the performers, commissioners noted.
Greer suggested supporting the Baroque group with $250, but she withdrew after failing to find enough support of the idea. Baroque received $2,500 last year.
There was a similar discussion for the ballet group.
Divine suggested a nominal amount that shows that they appreciate the work the Festival Ballet does for the city and residents.
Commissioners eventually agreed to eliminate the group, primarily because of the low reach of the program.
Last year the Festival Ballet Theatre was granted $5,500.
South Coast Repertory was another eliminated group that garnered a bit of discussion from the Commission. SCR’s donation pool is huge, already well-established and they already have a lot of community support, Bendetti said. The amount the Commission would be able to grant would be very small, she added.
“I would rather see the impact go to an organization where it would be a little bit more meaningful,” Bendetti said.
A drawback for the South Coast Repertory is that people are leaving the city and heading to Costa Mesa for SCR events, Chang added.