K.J. gets artsy

City’s new initiative will assist arts funding, outreach

The launch party for Mayor Kevin Johnson’s For Arts’ Sake initiative drew a standing-room-only crowd to the Crocker Art Museum’s new auditorium this past Friday. Many in attendance collaborated on the proposal for more than a year; the event marked the occasion to finally put paint to canvas.

“Once you have an action plan,” the mayor told the audience, “you’ve got to be able to implement it in a really significant way.” But the question remains as to whether Sacramento’s arts scene can grow with a stagnant economy and waning funding.

For Arts’ Sake aims to increase private endowment, improve access to education and invest in local artists. The goals’ execution falls on about a dozen volunteers.

Johnson told SN&R he firmly believes arts can boost economies. “I grew up in Oak Park, an underserved community,” he recalled, “and we opened an art gallery in there in 2003. Everyone said it was crazy … [but] it brought a coffeehouse in, it brought a bookstore in, it brought a theater, it brought a barbershop.”

“It transforms the neighborhood,” interjected Rocco Landesman, National Endowment for the Arts chairman, who was the featured speaker at the event.

Still, the gallery in question, St. Hope’s 40 Acres Art Gallery on Broadway and 35th Street, closed last winter and has yet to reopen. And this volatility is mirrored elsewhere in the local arts scene.

Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission executive director Rhyena Halpern, for instance, has seen her budget dwindle from $2.6 million three years ago to $1 million this fiscal year. Yet she’s optimistic that For Arts’ Sake will be a positive. “I think finding a new funding stream in the public sector for the arts is the most valuable thing that the mayor can contribute,” she said.

“The bigger, the better for the arts. The more energy, the more we have support.”

Halpern says her organization’s future hinges on its ability to partner with other groups, such as the Sacramento Area Emergency Housing Center, where SMAC curates arts programs for families and children.

The NEA’s Landesman has applied a similar strategy at a national level. His annual budget is a mere $160 million, he explained, so he must network with Obama administration Cabinet members, such as Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, to initiate new arts programs.

SMAC’s Halpern says the mayor’s program applies a similar “partnership model,” which she calls “key.”

For more information on the initiative, visit www.forartsake.org.