It is one of the worst kept secrets in Sacramento which most people in the general public weren’t aware of. Those “in the know” have kept it quiet for their own reasons: some for fear of retaliation by city officials and the City Council, and others because the revelation of the secret would mean acknowledging that a government that talks about celebrating the diversity of Sacramento doesn’t back up its words with actions. The story finally surfaced at least partially after the December 17th meeting of the City Council during the discussion to dedicate $5 million in city tax dollars to support the creation of a performance arts center at the former Fremont School in Midtown. Even with the media attention by local media including here in the Sacramento Press, the secret’s exposure continued to play second fiddle to the center’s final go-ahead. The Sacramento News & Review even thought the secret only worthy of a brief blurb.
The Latino Arts Network of California (LAN) released a report the same day of the Council’s action which looked at the support…actually, the lack of it…that has been provided to ethnic cultural arts groups in Sacramento while providing huge amounts of ongoing support for the Crocker Art Museum, the Sacramento Ballet, and the Sacramento Philharmonic both through the Arts Commission and directly from the City Council.
This publicly released report, highlighted at the Council meeting by the Chicano arts groups, La Raza Galeria Posada, is one of the first times that the issue has been discussed openly. “Ethnic art groups in Sacramento are aware of the details in the report but have been afraid to speak out about it for fear of losing what little money is provided to them by the Commission and the City Council,” a group spokesperson stated for this article.
While the city has been able to provide large amounts of money including the recently approved money to certain favored groups, SMAC provided just $350,000 split among fifty-five(55) ethnic cultural organizations in 2012-13. The report indicates that this type of disparity is the rule and not the exception.
Though Shelly Willis, Executive Director of the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Council(SMAC), was provided a copy on December 17th by KCRA News, she seemed unaware of one of the main findings of the report when contacted for this article on January 3rd. This finding was that groups such as the Crocker Art Museum, the Sacramento Ballet, and the Sacramento Philharmonic have received millions of dollars in city funding outside the normal request process run through the commission she heads as well as multiple loan forgiveness. Her comment was asked about this part of the report echoed her comments to KCRA, “I’ve been working with the arts commission to create a cultural planning process. And that cultural planning process begins right after the first of the year, and we’ll be looking closely at these items.” Ms. Willis added in her comments for this article, “The process should be completed in late 2014 or early 2015.”
It is puzzling that Ms. Willis believes there is a need to review the issue since as early as 1986, when the nascent Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission developed its first five year plan, the Commission advised the Sacramento City Council and staff to fund arts organizations that represent communities of color. The plan stated that “Special effort should be extended to involve and include traditionally under-served constituents.”
Subsequently, Dr. Thomas Wolf, in his 1992 report entitled “Strategies for Sacramento’s Cultural
Master Plan” wrote: “The allocation systems for the distribution of City and County money are not endorsed by most constituencies in the arts community….But race in particular has been the cause of great public divisiveness in the arts community. Several concerns have been expressed by members of the Black community: that the composition of the Metropolitan Arts Commission and the Arts Division staff are not reflective of the community, that the distribution of public funding does not address the needs of multicultural groups, that artists of color are inadequately represented in the Art in Public Places program, and that there is very little public recognition of art forms that are not based on European modes. If there is a forceful public policy on these issues, it is not being heard. There is also great concern that some organizations bypass regular grant procedures and make their cases directly to
the City Council or County thus further undermining the fairness of the system itself.”
When pressed on how it was that the she and the Commission was not aware of the specific issue of seemingly preferential treatment for the Crocker, the Ballet, and the Sympathy prior to the release of the report since City Council actions are a matter of public record, Ms. Willis offered no explanation. “The Commission has extended an invitation to the authors of the report to appear in front of the Commission to discuss it at our January or February meeting.”
One could easily believe at the end of the current process, the report created will go the way of the one done by Dr. Wolf a dozen years ago. It will become a part of history gathering dust on a shelf and not be acted upon.
Hopefully the City Council will not wait to not act but will immediately move to draft legislation that follow the recommendations of the LAN report. They are: (1)To distribute arts and cultural funds in a fair, equitable and transparent process by placing all monies dedicated to art and culture in one fund and should contract with an independent source to develop policies and procedures that will promote equitable allocations; (2)Immediately allocating significant resources to promote the development of culturally diverse small to midsized arts organizations; (3)Make a good faith effort to more closely align its grant allocations to the Census Bureau’s projections of demographic change; (4)Adopt and enforce a policy guaranteeing that all nonprofit arts organizations have equitable access to the City’s owned and subsidized arts facilities; and (5)Ensure that Sacramento’s arts landscape represents the variety of cultural traditions already present here and follow San Francisco’s lead by creating a Cultural Equity Grants Program that supports culturally diverse arts organizations and individual artists working in culturally-specific and historically under-served communities.