The arts are alive

City Council votes to maintain link with Chico Arts Commission, thanks to Orland

Chico Arts Commission members Muir Hughes (left) and Monica McDaniel say arts organizations would stand to lose support should the commission cut ties with the city.

Chico Arts Commission members Muir Hughes (left) and Monica McDaniel say arts organizations would stand to lose support should the commission cut ties with the city.


All things considered, supporters of the arts walked out satisfied following the Chico City Council meeting on Tuesday (May 19), because the city body that promotes public art and Chico as an arts and culture destination still lives—albeit in a beleaguered state.

The city has progressively cut back its support of the Chico Arts Commission over the last two years as it continues to grapple with a general fund deficit and the constraints of a reduced staff. In that time, the City Council has reduced the regularity of commission meetings from once a month to every other month, and then to just twice a year. Further, during a meeting in December, the council directed city staff to explore cutting ties entirely despite pleas from art lovers and members of the commission.

“Maintaining a link to the city is critical for the opportunity for resident participation and a facet of city government that oversees one of our strongest economic drivers,” argued former Arts Commission Chairwoman Muir Hughes.

Indeed, on Tuesday members of the council weighed the significant financial considerations of supporting the arts on top of the cultural and quality-of-life benefits they bring to Chico. In March, an independent study revealed that 54 Chico nonprofit groups spent $8.7 million producing artistic and cultural events in 2014, and audiences spent $8.9 million attending them, for a total of $17.7 million. That money supports 451 full-time jobs and generates $519,000 and $1.8 million for local and state government, respectively.

But that doesn’t change the constraints on city staff, said City Clerk Debbie Presson.

“When you have an Arts Commission meeting, there’s an agenda, there’s compliance with the [Ralph M.] Brown Act, there’s staff time, there’s recording costs,” she said.

Presson has been overseeing Arts Commission meetings to provide those clerical and administrative services, but her office is already struggling to keep up with its existing workload, she said. That was a factor when the council directed her to research alternative arts commission models in December.

“It’s clear that the council is looking for a new approach, a new delivery mechanism,” Presson said.

To that end, in December Councilman Andrew Coolidge suggested merging the commission with a regional arts entity, and Presson subsequently determined the logical candidate would be Friends of the Arts, a nonprofit that oversees annual art events such as Artoberfest, Chico Palio and the Oroville Salmon Festival. Redding found success in merging its arts commission with the Shasta County Arts Council, Presson said.

But Councilwomen Ann Schwab and Tami Ritter questioned why Presson’s staff report did not include examples of nearby municipalities that have maintained their own arts commissions, such as Orland and Oroville.

“This report seemed like it was completely focused in one direction,” Ritter said. “I don’t feel like I got the information on what the impact would be if we lose the commission.”

During Presson’s explanation of the models in Orland and Oroville, an interesting detail emerged—the seven-member Orland Arts Commission is almost entirely self-reliant. It compiles and posts its own agenda and then submits minutes to Orland City Council for approval. The only financial support provided by the city of Orland is renting the space for its meetings and fundraisers.

Following the public comment period, Councilman Randall Stone motioned to direct staff to pursue a system based on Orland’s. The Chico Arts Commission would maintain its link to the city but operate largely on its own to reduce the burden on city staff.

Stone’s motion passed 4-3, with Mayor Mark Sorensen and Councilmembers Coolidge and Reanette Fillmer dissenting.

That means Presson will produce another report, this time on the feasibility and legality of applying the Orland model to Chico.