Creatives on edge

Sacramento City Council agrees to increase next fiscal year’s arts spending after public outcry

Sacramento arts advocates scored a victory last week when the City Council agreed to ramp up funding after an alert that local arts could lose big come July 1.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg and council members committed to $2.2 million in the 2019-20 budget for the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, up from the $1.3 million in City Manager Howard Chan’s draft proposal.

The commission oversees Creative Edge, the city’s long-term vision to make Sacramento an equitable, world-class arts destination competing with the likes of Austin, Nashville and Chicago.

In Creative Edge’s debut last year, the city gave approximately $500,000 in grants to 57 art projects through its Creative Economy pilot program, including the all-local arts weekend First Festival in Natomas and the Sac chapter of the surprise-concert series Sofar Sounds.

The commission’s new budget includes $580,000 in grant funds and $157,000 to create a Sacramento Film Office for development of the local industry.

The initial proposal for $1.3 million wasn’t enough, said Dennis Mangers, an adviser to Steinberg. Mangers and other arts advocates called for the $2.2 million.

Mangers had warned prior to the city manager’s budget release in April that without more money, Creative Edge would have to compete for the projected $50 million a year generated by the Measure U half-cent sales tax increase.

In a call to action to the local arts community, Mangers wrote that it would pit arts groups against more influential special interests competing for the same cash.

At the May 21 council meeting, the chamber was packed with prominent members of the arts community, many of whom wore red or held red fans in solidarity. During public comment, nearly 20 speakers pleaded the city to recognize the importance of the arts by adequately funding Creative Edge.

They included Trisha Rhomberg, who runs Old Gold, Makers Mart and Sac Made on the grid, where hundreds of neighborhood creatives sell their products. “My businesses are local, my businesses are Sacramento,” Rhomberg told the council. “They thrive when artists thrive. And Sacramento does not thrive without arts.”

Hip-hop artist Paul Willis argued that funding was essential to improving equity in Sacramento. “The current tools that exist don’t fully capture the depth and level of impact that the arts have in our communities to change lives and save others,” Willis said.

Others appealed to the pocketbook, including Buck Busfield, B Street Theatre’s artistic director.

“Investing in the arts is economic development,” Busfield said.

Each council member signaled support for matching the request, with the budget slated for a final vote on June 11.

But even $2.2 million isn’t enough, said Steinberg, who recommended more one-time funding for Creative Edge in the future. The plan, approved last year, projected costs of $6 million to $9 million a year to implement over the next seven years.

“It’s going to take increased investment, and it has to be sustained,” he said.