In a 6-0 vote, the City Council has sent back more than $500,000 in requests for special arts projects to the Commission for Arts and Culture.
Money for 69 projects--which range from a video documentary for KPBS to a national touring exhibition about the Holocaust organized by the Children’s Museum of San Diego, to a festival of African-American music by the Spreckels Organ Society--was to have come from transient occupancy taxes (TOT) through a program approved by the City Council last July.
The council’s reaction to the request came as a surprise to staff members at the arts commission, who said they have been working for six months on the projects applications with the understanding that the program followed guidelines established last year for similar projects.
“We were relying on the council’s having approved last year’s model,” Victoria Hamilton, executive director of the arts commission said Wednesday. “We felt they were
comfortable with the criteria.”
To change now, she said, might mean the delay or even cancellation of arts programs that must take place between January and June in order to qualify for the program.
Without rejecting the requests outright late Monday night, the council members made it clear that, in their view, the requests do not fit guidelines originally set by the mayor and the Hotel-Motel Assn., which provides the TOT funds.
The council will reconsider the program in January, after the commission has responded to the council’s questions, Assistant City Manager Jack McGrory said.
Mayor Maureen O’Connor emphasized that the funds were intended to “enhance our tourism opportunity,” and that the projects recommended do not fit that goal. Councilman Bruce Henderson said, “We want to fill up our hotel rooms.”
Both argued that the requests, which range from less than $2,000 up to $39,000 would not, for the most part, attract visitors. O’Connor argued that she wanted the funds allocated for blockbuster programs, such as the Faberge eggs exhibition held last year at the San Diego Museum of Art.
Although many of the recommended projects include marketing and promotional aspects designed to draw in outside visitors, none of them could be called a blockbuster event.
During 1991, $89,615 was spent on 27 programs, which included performances of Shakespeare in the Park sponsored by the Bear State Theatre/Ruse, an exhibition of artworks by San Diego’s African-American artists and multicultural festivals at the San Diego Museum of Man.
Hamilton argued that many of the projects recommended involve outreach to neighboring communities, and, though some of the projects are small in scale, they would attract audiences from beyond the city limits.
“The No. 1 tourist visitor is from the Southern California-Tijuana area,” Hamilton said. “That’s our primary market.
“People want to go to cities, and they want to participate in what’s special to that community. Lot’s of times that means the community festival” in addition to, or instead of, the blockbuster show.
Besides O’Connor and Henderson, voting to send back the requests were council members John Hartley, Judy McCarty, Linda Bernhardt and Ron Roberts.