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Our View: Commission or no, arts need attention

Our View

Posted: January 10, 2009 9:18 p.m.
Updated: January 11, 2009 4:55 a.m.
What is the best way to promote the arts in Santa Clarita?

The question has vexed our municipal leaders and the arts community for a number of years - although the arts community is fairly united in the belief that Santa Clarita needs a full-blown Arts Commission.

The issue came to a head in October when Councilman Bob Kellar proposed just that.

Elevating arts governance to the level of Santa Clarita's two existing commissions - Planning and Parks - would raise the stature of the arts in the community, support struggling arts organizations and lead to the creation of more "public art" for all to enjoy.

Or so the thinking goes.

A staff-generated report to be presented to the council Tuesday night suggests that merely creating a new, city-run leadership body for the arts wouldn't necessarily yield the desired results.

"There have been several claims that a commission will result in everything from more grant opportunities to a sudden rise in the importance of arts in the community," the report states.

"(However,) staff resources and funding requirements will increase without any guarantees that the desired result will be achieved."

The report examines the way 25 other cities provide leadership for the arts. They run the gamut.
General-law cities like Santa Clarita tend to have few commissions; some of the 20 general-law cities in the study have arts commissions, but some don't.

Charter cities usually have lots of commissions, so it's no surprise that four of the five charter cities in the study - Glendale, Irvine, Pasadena and Ventura - have a commission for the arts.

Santa Clarita's staff report discusses a number of options for local arts leadership, from one extreme - merely boosting the role of the existing Arts Advisory Committee - to the other - creating a commission.
The report addresses the pros and cons of each approach without making a recommendation.

One rather obvious answer is buried between the lines.

The biggest problem arts organizations face anywhere is funding, and the story is no different in Santa Clarita.

Some groups have had great success, such as the Canyon Theatre Guild, which raised more than $400,000 to move back to Newhall, much of that money coming directly from City Hall. Others have felt the crunch of a soured economy, such as the Santa Clarita Symphony, which had to cancel its 2009 season because corporate donations have dried up.

Arts funding typically comes not from the public sector but from corporate donors and private foundations, which give to nonprofit organizations, not to government agencies.

So when the city of Santa Clarita, in partnership with College of the Canyons, hired a grant writer last year to find private-sector money for city arts programs, the result was predictable: He didn't find any.

"In the past year, the grant writer has applied for more than (sic) 150 grants for the city, the college and for local nonprofit arts organizations, but has yet to obtain any grant funding directly for the city."

Most arts organizations in Santa Clarita are on their own when it comes to writing grants. It takes money to make money, and most nonprofits can't afford to hire a grant writer to bring in the bucks.

So ... the city has a professional grant writer who can't raise money for the city because foundations don't fund cities, and the nonprofit arts organizations can't bring in much private foundation money because most of them don't have professional grant writers.

We told you there was an answer hiding here.

Take the "middle" approach between the two extremes and form a new 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with the mission of supporting all of the various arts groups in Santa Clarita. The city could assign its grant writer to this new organization and because it's a nonprofit, it could go after the private foundation money.

That's something an arts commission wouldn't be able to do. It couldn't do the one thing our arts groups seem to need most; it couldn't directly solicit private foundation money because it would be part of the city.

Whatever the council decides to do Tuesday, it will be a step in the right direction. The arts in Santa Clarita need more attention from City Hall, and one way or another, they're going to get it.


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