As nearly $90 million sits in Measure P coffers unspent, Fresno arts leaders have been awaiting a Cultural Arts Plan to begin investing badly needed funding for the arts.
But now that the plan has been published, arts leaders say it is vague as to how any money will be spent. And, they fear the creation of a new division with the city of Fresno will supplant their role in overseeing the delivery of arts funding.
On May 15, the Parks, After School, Recreation and Community Service Department released its Cultural Arts Plan for public comment on how to prioritize the money awaiting a destination.
Passed in 2018, Measure P added a three-eighth cent sales tax to transactions in Fresno County to go to parks and the arts. Language in the tax designated 12% of the tax to “expanding access” to cultural arts. But before any money could be spent, a Cultural Arts Plan had to be published, said Stephen Wilson, president and CEO of Fresno Philharmonic.
City leadership denies that it has plans to downgrade the role of the Fresno Arts Council, a private, 501(c)(3) nonprofit established in 1979, in funding decisions.
But now, the Arts Council wants control over the creation and submission of the plan that would guide Measure P spending.
Watch: What Mayor Jerry Dyer Said About Measure P & Cultural Arts Last September
Plan Muddles City Money and Measure P Money, Arts Council Says
The first recommendation made in the plan is to invest in the maintenance of existing arts and cultural assets in Fresno, including both city-owned and non-city-owned assets.
Wilson said paying for city-owned assets falls out of the purview of Measure P.
“I don’t think Measure P was passed to absolve the city of its preexisting obligations in terms of deferred maintenance,” Wilson said.
In another recommendation, the plan suggests making grant funding available to restore city-owned arts and cultural assets.
Arts Council Sees PARCS as ‘Supplanting’ Their Duties
Members of the Arts Council also accused the PARCS department of trying to take over their job with its recommended creation of a city arts division. The plan calls for this division:
- to liaison between the different arts organizations;
- track data to ensure funds are furthering the goals of Measure P;
- and update the cultural arts plan.
However, these duties were delegated to the Arts Commission by Measure P.
“What’s troubling for us in the arts community is the idea of the city taking this on where it hasn’t developed that expertise or experience,” Wilson said.
Fresno City Manager Georgeanne White said she has taken the job of responding to the letter, as opposed to PARCS director Aaron Aguirre. She said she “unequivocally rejects” the idea the PARCS department would supplant the Arts Council.
White said city administration disagreed with many of the recommendations made in the plan. But being funded with public money, White didn’t want to be viewed as censoring any part of the plan, so it was published in its entirety.
And, the public comment period gives the Arts Council its chance to dispute any parts of the plan, which will go to the Fresno City Council for adoption, White said.
White said in an email City administration would be opposed to turning over the process to the Fresno Arts Council. The Council was paid $7,000 to run the selection process for the consultant. The commission was given regular updates on the process, White said.
But members of the Arts Council say the update on the plan were limited.
“These were not meetings of robust exchange and dialogue but point in time reports of what had been done and one initial and very short visioning session,” said Lilia Gonzalez Chavez, executive director of the Fresno Arts Council.
Fresno Arts Council Scores Coup with Control Over Grant Program
At Thursday’s Fresno City Council meeting, councilmembers gave the Arts Council control in developing the grant program, Gonzalez Chavez said.
City staff were directed to have the language of the agreement finished by the June 22 City Council meeting.
The Arts Council will then be able to create the rules for the nonprofits seeking funding from Measure P, Gonzalez Chavez said. The Cultural Arts Plan guides the grant program, which is why it is so important to have it finished quickly. With the plan expected to be finalized in August, Gonzalez Chavez hopes to have the grants plan ready for implementation.
Time is of the Essence: Wilson
Back in October, the Arts Council was originally told the plan would go before City Council this month.
Members of the Arts Council got their first view of the plan in March.
White said additional time was given to Arts Council members after they had requested more time to review the document.
But a responses to the plan were given March 6, three days after they received it, said Gonzalez Chavez.
Getting money out to local nonprofits in the arts world is the priority for the Arts Council, said Wilson, noting that many groups are still reeling from the pandemic.
Attendance for the performing arts is still not back to pre-pandemic levels, Wilson said. Meanwhile, they are still incurring expenses from the pandemic.
“The city of Fresno passed Measure P back in 2018 to get expanded access to arts and culture and that money needs to be flowing to achieve those objectives,” Wilson said.