By EMMA BROWN
More than 30 artists and supporters of the arts gathered in the Mission today to find out how they might get their hands on a piece of the federal-stimulus pie. Clues were not forthcoming, however, during the 90-minute “webinar” put on nationwide by the DC-based advocacy group Americans for the Arts and broadcast locally at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts.
“I was kind of hoping we would get a sense of how the stimulus package is going to change the landscape of arts funding in San Francisco,” said Olivia Sears, president of the Center for the Art of Translation, a nonprofit that promotes international literature and bilingual education. “But that depends on the [National Endowment for the Arts], and the NEA isn’t allowed to talk about it.”
The stimulus package includes $50 million for the NEA to preserve and create arts-related jobs. It’s a sizeable chunk given the agency’s $144 million annual budget, and NEA officials said they don’t yet know how they’ll prioritize projects and funnel money out the door to state and local arts agencies.
Even if they do know, they aren’t telling.
“Stay tuned,” offered Patrice Walker Powell, acting chairman of the NEA and the first speaker of the morning. The agency cannot release any information until its spending plan is approved by the Office of Management and Budget, and that won’t happen until April at the earliest, she said.
Since there was no real information about how the stimulus money might trickle down, there was no concrete advice about how needy creative types might siphon some of it off. The folks at Americans for the Arts used the webinar to instead outline “items of interest”—pieces of the stimulus bill that (with the right spin) might be spent on the arts.
Those include an extra billion dollars in community development grants from Housing and Urban Development (HUD), billions of dollars for education, and a provision for unemployment insurance modernization that would allow people seeking part-time work to get unemployment checks. Until now, laid-off workers had to at least pretend they were looking for full-time work to get bennies.
All good information, but it didn’t keep Sears in her seat. She left early, as did many others, including Lola Fraknoi, who was looking for grant opportunities to support an in-the-planning-stages senior community center in the Mission, and Keith Gidlund, a Berkeley photographer who works in a Mission darkroom. “I was hoping,” he said, “we would have more instructions on how to get funding.”
But the idea that an independent artist toiling away in his studio might come into a pile of money thanks to the stimulus package—well, that’s probably not how it’s going to be, said Luis Cancel of the San Francisco Arts Commission, which sponsored the free session. More likely, he said, money will trickle to arts education and renovation of community arts centers.
Hopeful artists, however, can keep up to date with breaking news about the stimulus in San Francisco, Cancel said, by checking the arts commission’s website or signing up for the Arts Providers Alliance of San Francisco email listserv. “As we get information,” he said, “we’ll send it out.”