Short-sighted on the arts

Art is an economic driver, so further diminishing the city Arts Commission was a bad move

Last week, during the City Council’s regular meeting, a host of heavy-hitters in Chico’s arts world, including the director of University Public Events at Chico State and the dean of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, spoke not only on the vibrancy of our fair city thanks to the arts, but also its economic benefits. One of the speakers, a retired director of Chico State’s Music Industry Program, drove that point home during discussions on whether to support or suspend the City Arts Commission. To dissolve it, he charged, the city would be “biting off its nose to spite its face.”

Indeed, Chico’s rich arts identity is a magnet. People come here for workshops, to view public and private art, and to see cultural events not available elsewhere in the North State. Those from afar sleep in local hotels and motels, eat in our restaurants and cafés, and pick up souvenirs and other goods. To be sure, they contribute significantly to the city’s coffers by way of the transient occupancy tax and sales tax—the latter of which is the biggest contributor to the city’s general fund. That’s the fund that pays for operational costs, including our public-safety personnel.

Yet, the council—the new conservative majority, anyway, whose members voted ideologically—reduced the number of times the panel meets, from six meetings annually, to twice a year. What those council members aren’t grasping is that civic leadership is about more than filling potholes and public safety. And the fact is, support for the arts also spells support for those things.

We’re glad the city didn’t get rid of the group entirely, which would have eliminated a guarantee of public participation in the arts. Still, we think it was a mistake to scale things back. The city is in better shape this year than it has been since the start of the Great Recession, so keeping the status quo would have been wise. Moving forward, when the city has repaid its budget deficit, which staff expects to happen in a year or two, the council must reinvest in the arts. After all, that’s a large part of what makes Chico special.