15-Member Group : New Art Commission Plan Backed by Council Panel

Times Staff Writer

A new 15-member Commission for Arts and Culture should be created to funnel millions of dollars in hotel bed tax money to local performing arts groups and museums, a San Diego City Council committee agreed Wednesday.

The council's Public Services and Safety Committee voted, 5-0, to give preliminary approval to the creation of the new commission, which would require a new staff of four at a cost of $210,000 a year.

Forming the commission represents a fundamental change in the way the city will dole out public money to local artistic endeavors, such as theaters, museums, and dance and musical groups.

In the past, the groups pursued a variety of avenues for the funds. They put in applications either to COMBO, a private arts-funding agency; the City Council's Public Arts Advisory Board; the city manager's office; the Public Services and Safety committee, and directly to the San Diego City Council.

Process Confusing

But the process became so confusing that it created friction among arts groups. COMBO announced late last year that it would no longer distribute the hotel tax money because so many arts groups were bypassing it and going directly to the city. This fiscal year, COMBO was scheduled to hand out about $800,000 to 30 organizations.

Meanwhile, City Council members formed a special task force to study arts funding and come up with a recommendation for changing the way hotel tax money is distributed.

Their suggestion: A 15-member city Commission for the Arts and Culture.

As proposed, the commission would evaluate all applications for arts funding and present its recommendations directly to the City Council, thus bypassing the Public Services and Safety Committee. Although prohibited from engaging in private fund-raising, the new commission would be charged with advocating for additional public funds from state and federal governments.

Deputy City Manager Jack McGrory told council committee members Wednesday that such advocacy is needed, especially to get more money out of the California Arts Council. Although San Diego County has 10% of the state's population, he said, it receives only 3% of the $16 million currently available through the Arts Council.

McGrory also said the city was justified in spending $210,000 for the extra staff members it would take to support the commission, which would handle nearly $4 million in tax money. He said the new entity would require four new employees--two in the city manager's office and two more in the mayor's office.

Seattle Example

By contrast, the City of Seattle uses 12.5 full-time positions to support an arts commission that distributes $1.9 million--half of what goes to San Diego arts groups.

Council committee members voted preliminary approval for the new arts commission, but they also expressed concern over how the commission members will be picked. The city manager has proposed that Mayor O'Connor nominate seven members by herself, and then choose eight others from a list of at least 24 nominees provided by council members; each of the eight council members would submit at least three names to the list. The council will select the panel members.

Council members also were assured that those who serve on the commission would adhere to a strict conflict of interest code. The commission members, drawn from the local arts community, would be prohibited from voting on funding applications submitted from their respective groups.

McGrory said it would be too much of a rush to set up the commission by May, when recommendations for arts funding are made to council members.

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