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Arts Commission shaping new funding strategy

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The Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission is developing a new fundraising strategy to help offset continued cuts in public funding that have slashed the agency’s primary financial sources by 70 percent in the last four years.

The strategy includes an expanded arts public service campaign, a donors’ "Walk of Fame" on K Street Mall and new types of fundraisers, such as one involving City Council members and a celebrated local restaurateur.

As of Friday, public funding for the joint city-county agency will be just under $900,000 for fiscal year 2011/2012 – down from $2.6 million each year in July 2008 and 2007. Last year’s public funding totaled $1.04 million. That doesn’t include money for public art, separately funded through public construction dollars. The agency’s total budget is higher due to that and secondary funding sources, the commission’s executive director, Rhyena Halpern, said.

The city has allocated about $700,000, cutting funding to the commission by $120,000 in the new city budget approved June 21. The county is providing $175,000, which is the same as last year but a large decrease from $873,471 provided in 2008.

"You’re seeing a huge decline in public funding for the commission and the arts groups and the artists. Construction is down, so our public arts funding is also down," she said. "We have some exciting ideas that I hope will pan out to help them."

The commission also gets about $22,000 in grant money from the California Arts Council each year.

Halpern, Friends of the Arts Commission Chairwoman Jan Geiger, SMAC Chairwoman Carlin Naify and other commissioners and Friends board members are working on a strategy development project. The goal is to fill the hole that’s been created in funding for SMAC and the other arts groups the organization supports with grants, Halpern said.

Naify also launched an email petition drive that sent 600 emails asking the city and county not to make planned funding cuts to the commission. County supervisors agreed to eliminate a planned $24,000 cut in funding to SMAC for the next year.

Through its grants programs, SMAC previously granted more than $700,000 annually to local artists and arts groups. In calendar year 2011, that amount was down by nearly 50 percent to $375,000. In 2012, SMAC is currently budgeted to provide $310,000 in public dollars to groups and individuals, Halpern said.

In the last four years, the commission has also lost half of its general-fund staff, down from 10 people to five, and its public construction-funded public arts staff, down from four to two people. The commission isn’t able to deliver the same level of programming because of the staff cuts and loss in funding, she said.

The fundraising strategy is being developed to increase funding through several mechanisms, including new types of fundraisers, product development, fees for services and grants. Some elements are still being worked out.

Former Sacramento County Supervisor Muriel Johnson, until recently director of the California Arts Council, helped raise more than $35,000 for SMAC by hosting the organization’s first fundraiser in a private home last week. More than 200 people gathered at Johnson’s home for the event.

Halpern, City Councilman Darrell Fong and chef Randall Selland, who co-owns The Kitchen Restaurant, Ella and Selland’s Market Café with his family, are also working on a new fundraiser idea that could involve city council members serving dinner to arts supporters at one of Selland’s restaurants, Fong’s district director, Noah Painter, said.

Councilman Rob Fong is already on board to help serve dinner and, following Darrell Fong’s lead, has started approaching potential donors about contributing, according to their staffs.

Fong is an arts patron and is really into food. He’s now talking with other council members to see if they will take part, Painter said.

"It’s one of the only organizations that we have that pushes arts in Sacramento," Painter said. "We can probably raise a good amount of money for them, especially since the budget has been so tragic."

In addition, SMAC staff members are looking at charging more fees for services, such as the arts education program provided to schools.

Halpern and her staff are also working on a new product that would package the agency’s arts marketing campaign, "Arts. Open Daily," for other California cities. The campaign promotes cultural tourism and aims to expand exposure and access to the arts.

Another idea is to create a “Walk of Fame,” akin to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, on K Street Mall, where two blocks are being redeveloped. Donors would buy art tiles that would be embedded in the sidewalks, Halpern said.

SMAC and Friends of the Arts Commission have already brought in $600,000 since 2007. But because much of that money was brought in through grants or fees for service – mostly for arts education or exhibitions delivered by SMAC – the funds must be used for projects or programs, rather than staff at the commission or arts groups.

Nonprofit arts groups, whose programs and arts projects add to the community’s vibrancy, have been hit hard because they, too, have lost staff, Halpern said.

"What they really need is dollars. They know how to run their businesses. They’re just really low on staff, like we are," she added. "We’re working on doing everything we can." 


Suzanne Hurt is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Twitter @SuzanneHurt.

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