San Diego proposes slashing arts funding by half through 2022

Not the Finest Budget

San Diego proposes slashing arts funding by half through 2022

The San Diego Art Institute in Balboa Park. (Oleg Alexandrov/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0)

The office of San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria plans to preserve drastic cuts to arts funding—the same ones enacted during the height of the coronavirus pandemic—in the city’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year. As reported by The Art Newspaper, the arts funding-slashing austerity measure was enacted in part to offset tax revenues lost during the initial months of the crisis by former Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

Naturally, San Diego’s struggling nonprofit cultural institutions and arts organizations are dismayed by the fact that Gloria has proposed carrying over the measure, which reduces the city’s arts and culture budget by 50 percent. While things haven’t returned to normal completely, most major cities are on the rebound as both federal and local COVID 19 restrictions ease.

In response, Arts+Culture: San Diego, an arts advocacy coalition-led by the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership, which itself is a consortium of the 29 different arts, cultural, and science institutions located within the city’s famed 1,200-acre urban park-slash-cultural campus, has launched a petition urging residents to contact their local council members and demand that the city’s arts and culture budget be restored to at least pre-pandemic levels. The timeline to do so, however, is tight as council members only have until today, May 26, to propose revisions to the budget.

The petition reads:

The Mayor’s proposed budget is a disappointing and challenging budget for Arts and Culture as it maintains devastating cuts from the last fiscal year and provides inadequate dedicated recovery funding.

There are three specific priorities that we request you include and support, both in your revised budget memo and during budget deliberations, in addition to providing much needed formalization for Penny for Arts and Culture with a 5-year phase-in beginning FY22.

  • Priority 1: Drive community, jobs and economic impact throughout the city by allocating funding for operating support for nonprofit Arts and Culture partners at pre-pandemic levels.

  • Priority 2: Immediate creation of a Phase 1 Cultural Plan for all Council districts in the city

  • Priority 3: Drive economic recovery by rebuilding and enhancing the $671M economic engine inherent within the Balboa Park Cultural District experience.

“This continued funding cut will further reduce our ability to provide essential cultural and educational support services that help with mental health, environmental awareness, increased jobs, tourism dollars, and more,” The Art Newspaper reported Karen Gilbert, the board chair of the San Diego Art Institute (SDAI), as saying.

The SDAI saw its city funding plummet over the past fiscal year from roughly $46,000 during 2019-20 (14 percent of its $328,000 annual budget) to $17,000 during the 2020-21 (6.3 percent of its reduced $267,000 budget). Operating as a nonprofit institution, the SDAI is Balboa Park’s only contemporary cultural institution. Along with downtown San Diego, Balboa Park, which is also home to the San Diego Zoo, the Old Globe Theatre, and the San Diego Museum of Art, is located within a district that receives a hefty chunk of annual arts funding from the city.

In March of this year, SDAI announced it had officially merged with the Lux Art Institute in Encinitas to form a new nonprofit institution “dedicated to experimental art and learning” dubbed The Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) San Diego. Spread across two unified campuses, the ICA will open on September 10 under the leadership of executive director Andrew Utt. As noted by The Art Newspaper, discussions about forming the ICA predated the pandemic. However, COVID-era funding cuts did play a major factor in the decision to go ahead with the merger.

“We would have expected pre-pandemic funding at minimum to return this budget year,” Peter Comiskey, executive director of the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership, told The Art Newspaper. “The Mayor did not deliver that in either the first budget, nor the May revise. We trust that Councilmembers will deliver that in their deliberations of the budget moving forward in the coming weeks.”

In happier news relating to (non-city-related) funding for the arts in San Diego, the San Diego Union-Tribune recently reported that 11 local organizations have received a combined total of $203,000 in grants awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts as part of its spring 2021 funding program.