Arts, culture take a hit
City looks to cut funding to local organizations
Last year around this time, community organizations and arts groups were frantically working on proposals to request city funding. The process takes time and effort, but often it pays off. The total amount allotted to community and arts organizations last June was $207,243. Among them, the Chico Creek Nature Center received $34,492 and 1078 Gallery was given $8,919. This year, anything close to that amount of funding is unlikely.
During a recent meeting of the city Finance Committee, the city manager’s office recommended that arts and community funding amount to no more than $25,000 for 2014-15. Total. Additional monies were earmarked for the Chico Branch of the Butte County Library, and for Team Chico, a local business collaborative.
The reason for the cuts seems fairly simple—the city is in financial crisis.
“The city has been going through some really difficult times with the budget,” City Manager Brian Nakamura explained. “The reality is we have to do everything we can to hold the money or utilize the funds we have for current services we offer.”
He pointed to police and fire as critical services that had to be prioritized. He said he looked at what he believes are the City Council’s priorities when making the recommendation to the Finance Committee, which approved it. Among those priorities, he said, were increasing jobs and increasing revenues (taxes).
“The general fund is predominantly generated by sales and property taxes. If we can grow those two, the more money we can generate faster,” Nakamura said. That’s where Team Chico comes in. As a collaboration between the Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Chico Business Association, the city and other partners, its main focus is on providing services to local businesses. Nakamura recommended it receive $108,100.
When it comes to the library, which is slated to receive $100,000, Nakamura said, “I’ll take responsibility for that recommendation.
“Education is a way to enhance opportunities for jobs, and the library plays a critical role in education.”
In addition to budgetary concerns, though, Nakamura said there’s also a lack of city staff to administer the funds. In the past few years, several positions have been eliminated, including that of arts coordinator.
“We’re trying to streamline, to do more with less,” Nakamura said. “It sounds cliché, but we just don’t have the resources anymore to staff and monitor these organizations in terms of the reporting requirements.”
Folks in the arts community understand that the city is under a lot of financial pressure. But they’re worried that cutting arts funding will have a negative impact on Chico as a whole.
“I’m really concerned about the organizations that are already doing a lot of fundraising,” said Muir Hughes, chair of the city Arts Commission. “The little bit of money they get from the city carries them through.”
She pointed to 1078 Gallery as a prime example. The nonprofit is a hotbed of arts activity, from visual art shows to theater performances to live music. But its focus is not on selling art, but rather on celebrating it. Because of that, income is minimal.
“Their primary mission is to serve Chico, not necessarily to sell a painting,” Hughes said.
Other organizations like Blue Room Theatre, which received $8,491 last year, and the Museum of Northern California Art, which is trying to get off the ground, also will struggle, she added.
“Some are in better shape than others,” Hughes said. “But I don’t know if they’ll all make it.”
Erin Wade recently took the reins as president of the 1078 Gallery’s board of directors. Without city funding, which it uses primarily for promoting shows and other events, 1078 will have to get creative. As a worst-case scenario, she said they’d look at relocating because rent is their biggest expense. But that would affect more than just the group of volunteers who run the gallery and the artists who display and perform there.
“If we have to close here, it will affect everyone else on this block,” Wade said.
Hughes echoed that sentiment.
“It may seem like no big deal right now, but there will be areas of blight where galleries once were,” she said.
During last year’s budget talks, the city approved spending $5,250 on a survey to determine the economic impact of the arts on our community. That survey, which will be conducted by an organization called Americans for the Arts, is scheduled to begin this summer. Hughes and Wade question the timing, but Nakamura said it might be just what the city needs come next year when determining whether to reinstate arts funding.
“Hopefully it will provide us with additional background to incentivize different determinations for funding programs and services in the future,” he said.
The proposed funding cuts affect more than just arts organizations. Local groups that provide public services also will lose out on city funds they’ve become accustomed to receiving. Last year, Rape Crisis was allotted $17,796; Innovative Health Care Services received $19,693; and $14,410 went to the Chico Community Children’s Center.
“If the city proceeds as is planned, the situation for the Nature Center will not be sustainable,” said Caitlin Reilly, executive director of the Chico Creek Nature Center. “We will have to make dramatic changes, and potentially even turn the new building back over to the city.”
Wade and Hughes worry that so many organizations vying for such a small amount of money will turn into a negative situation for everyone.
“We don’t want to be fighting among ourselves,” Wade said.
From the city’s perspective, there’s not much to be done. The Finance Committee’s recommendation still must come before the City Council, however, for final approval. That likely will happen in May, Nakamura said.
“Unfortunately, I believe they [the organizations] are going to be adversely affected. There will be a reduction in services and programs,” Nakamura said. “We’ve done the same here in the city. They, like we did, will have to regroup and start thinking outside the box.”
It’s clear some are already doing just that. Local arts advocates are working on establishing the nonprofit Chico Arts Foundation to support art in the community. The 1078 Gallery is looking at other ways to boost revenue, including holding more events and fundraisers. And the Nature Center is looking at other strategic partnerships that would allow it to continue to offer programs and services for the public and the park.
“It’s going to come down to more individual support—people will have to step up and support the things they want to see in this town,” Wade said.
“Chico is a great community,” Reilly added. “But people don’t stay in cities because there are police and fire departments—they stay because of the quality of life.”