I’ve only lived in Santa Cruz for 2 ½ years, but I find myself already taking for granted just how special our arts community is. I’m grateful every day, to be sure, that I get to work here and live here and know the incredible creative people I know; but I think it would be all too easy to forget just how lucky I am.
Last week, I spent 24 hours in San Diego, on the invitation of April Game at Artpulse, where she and her team are working to create an arts council for the county of San Diego. It’s hard to believe that one doesn’t already exist there. The arts commission that serves the city of San Diego has long been robust, but the other 17 cities and large unincorporated areas have no umbrella agency, no arts infrastructure, no public funding streams, and no real way to connect on a larger level.
Here’s the amazing thing: the Artpulse team has been working on this for over a year, and what they are trying to do is get the County Board of Supervisors to simply approve the creation of the Council – with no funding stream attached. It won’t cost the county a dime, and yet, there has to be a tremendous movement simply to get a stamp of approval.
This is the second time I’ve traveled to San Diego to speak at a community forum about the structure and many benefits of a local arts council. At the forums, we encourage all attendees to speak up about their struggles, their needs, and what they think an arts council could accomplish for the county. Both times, I heard stories of isolation, frustration, and competition. Artists don’t know how to find each other, or how to find patrons. Arts organizations are competing and often won’t agree to speak with each other, let alone find power in collaborations. It all sounds very lonely.
And yet, in San Diego, there are thousands of artists, and hundreds of arts organizations, many of which are doing great work and which are seeking a way to get connected and thrive. And that is where an arts council can make all of the difference.
I had the great fortune of being able to share Santa Cruz’s successes: that the Cultural Council was formed by the cities and county, and that all jurisdictions have funded our Grant Program for 33 years. We bring the arts to thousands of children and have educated whole generations of creative people. We get inspired every other month at Cultural Council Associates meetings, where fifty-plus arts organizations share their great work and find ways to collaborate and support each other. Our Open Studios program is a national model that supports the livelihood of hundreds of artists while connecting tens of thousands of community members to the creative process AND their neighbors. And we have the opportunity to learn from our mistakes, make corrections, and strengthen our impact in the community.
San Diego deserves this. All counties deserve this, particularly in California where we are supposedly known for our creativity and innovations – even though we are dead last in the nation for per capita arts spending (now that Kansas has wisely re-funded their Arts Council – or are we now neck-in-neck for last place? Hard to say.) I don’t know if my contributions to these forums will help power this movement; and I also think that it is the duty of public entities to designate funding for the arts, so I wish there was a way to attach some kind of support to this request. Regardless, the artists and arts organizations in that community deserve a strong arts council, one that can serve them, advocate for them, and connect them.
In the meantime, I will count my blessings here in beautiful Santa Cruz; I’ll be grateful that our challenges aren’t quite so dire; and I’ll find ways to make sure the Cultural Council is of even more service to the artists and organizations which depend on us.