City Council

Despite budget crisis, arts groups get funding

ARTS DYNAMO<br>With a barrage of data and testimonials, Friends of the Arts Director Debra Lucero succeeded in convincing City Councilmembers to restore funding for Artoberfest that Chico’s city manager wanted to cut.

With a barrage of data and testimonials, Friends of the Arts Director Debra Lucero succeeded in convincing City Councilmembers to restore funding for Artoberfest that Chico’s city manager wanted to cut.

CN&R file photo

We’ve known Chico is an arts town for a long time. This week, for all practical purposes, the Chico City Council made it official.

The council didn’t issue a proclamation or anything like that, but it took steps during an all-day budget session Tuesday (June 3) that left no doubt. At a time when councilmembers are dealing with the worst budget crisis in city history and cutting positions in every department, they not only fully upheld their Arts Commission’s recommendations on funding arts groups and individual artists, they doubled the recommended funding to the Chico World Music Festival.

And, in a separate action, they ignored City Manager Dave Burkland’s recommendation to eliminate further funding for Friends of the Arts’ annual Artoberfest project—a series of arts events that Friends coordinates and markets—after this year.

The councilmembers’ vision was clear: They see the arts as a central part of the city’s new economic-development strategy. The arts, they said over and over, bring people to Chico, and those visitors spend money and generate tax revenue here. The arts are good business.

What was equally clear was that in the future arts groups are going to have to quantify the impacts they have—by tracking the number of out-of-town attendees, for example—to validate their economic worthiness for funding.

For example, Councilman Scott Gruendl’s first question when the Artoberfest funding came up was, “Have we determined the impact of this program in terms of our economic-development strategy?”

That gave backers of Artoberfest like Paul Friedlander an opportunity to explain how transient-occupancy tax (TOT) revenues—the 10 percent tax on hotel and motel rooms—in October had gone from $120,000 in 2005, when Artoberfest began, to $168,000 in 2007. “Artoberfest almost paid for itself in TOT income alone,” he said. Friends of the Arts had also used city funding—$50,000 annually—to obtain some $43,000 in matching grant money, he added.

He said Artoberfest is outcome-based and committed to obtaining and providing more data showing its beneficial economic impact on the community. More than 10,000 people attended Artoberfest events, he said, and many if not most of them ate in local restaurants and shopped in local stores.

The executive director of Friends of the Arts is Debra Lucero, and she’s a dynamo. She inundated councilmembers with examples of publicity Artoberfest had garnered all over the state, new arts groups that had joined in, and businesses that supported the festival.

Councilman Steve Bertagna was convinced. “This fits to a ‘T’ what we’re trying to accomplish [with the economic-development plan],” he said, adding that it would be foolish to cut it off after it had been growing and building momentum for three years.

The council eventually agreed unanimously to fund the program at its requested rates, minus 7.5 percent—the same across-the-board cut all city departments are absorbing—for two years: $46,250 the first year and $37,000 the second. It will review Friends’ data in two years to determine whether further funding is warranted.

Afterwards, in the foyer, Lucero said her goal was to see a continuous series of attractive events from fall through spring, including the Snowgoose Festival, the California Nut Festival, and others.

Two of the five groups considered for funding in the economic-development/tourism category were University Public Events, which was seeking $20,000 in support of its annual three-day Chico World Music Festival but had been allocated only half that, and a new organization called the Upstate Community Enhancement Foundation.

The latter group wants to host a conference of glass artists and teachers in October and present “Chico Glass Fest 2008” along with it, and was requesting $25,000 in support. The city is famous in the art-glass world for Chico State’s art-glass teaching program that has generated many famous artists and studios, including Orient & Flume and Satava Art Glass in Chico.

Several people in the audience spoke to the value of the World Music Festival, which offers three days of eclectic music from around the world on the university campus and is largely free to attendees. (For more on this, see Days of Lore.)

After much discussion, the councilmembers agreed to approve all the arts funding recommendations as well as restore the music festival’s full funding. To pay for the music festival, Councilman Scott Gruendl proposed that a $19,000 request for a permanent exhibit at the Chico Museum be reduced by $2,000; a $4,000 request from the Chico Economic Planning Corp. for the one-time cost of a new Web site be eliminated; and $4,000 be cut from the Chamber of Commerce’s funding for “as-needed publications.”

That was an interesting twist on the whole day’s consideration of community-based organizations. Most got what they wanted, less 7.5 percent to 12 percent, but the chamber—historically the largest single beneficiary of council largesse to fund its visitor bureau—took a big hit. It had requested $95,000, a big drop from this year’s $125,685, but the Finance Committee recommended only $80,000.

Now that figure is $76,000.

When it comes to tourism, apparently, the arts and other cultural events are where it’s at now.