By Claire Harlin
Could San Diego someday join the other metropolitan areas of California in forming its own county arts council? That was the question of discussion Dec. 1 at a community forum held at Solana Beach City Hall.
Hosted by Art Pulse, an arts services organization with a mission to support the health of the arts countywide, the forum featured two arts council veterans — Arts Orange County executive director Richard Stein and former Arts Council of Long Beach grants director Ed Fosmire — who shared the models that made those arts councils successful.
“We don’t have to invent anything,” said Art Pulse Executive Director April Game. “There are working models that we can implement here.”
San Diego County is the only metropolitan area in the state that doesn’t have an official arts council. There is a working Commission for Arts and Culture that serves the City of San Diego, however, there is not an entity that unifies the “arts ecosystem,” as Game calls it, which encompasses the many cities around San Diego.
Of the 58 counties in California, a total of seven don’t have an arts council. Of those seven, four are in the central valley and have low populations. Remaining are San Bernadino, which Game said is “more industrial than cultural,” Kings County, which only has 150,000 people living within 1.5 million square miles, and last but not least, San Diego County.
“[Kings County is] known for its sand dunes,” said Game. “They don’t need an arts council, but we do.”
Some outlying cities in San Diego County have city staff members who handle arts-related coordination and outreach. For example, the City of Solana Beach employs arts coordinator Anita Edman, who plans public art exhibitions and events such as the annual Arts Alive!, which took place Oct. 2 on the Coastal Rail Trail.
Solana Beach Mayor Lesa Heebner is a supporter of the arts and the creation of a countywide arts council. Heebner said she has a passion for art which stemmed, in part, from her sister being an artist and her father being a musician.
“Art is extremely valuable in our lives, whether is be poetry, literature, jewelry or fashion,” she said. “It touches us at all levels of our lives and it’s the fabric of our community.”
Art is a universal language, she said.
“It reminds us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves and it’s imperative to our experience here on this Earth,” Heebner said.
Solana Beach approved a Master Art Policy in 2007 that utilizes a half a cent from every dollar made via the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) to art-related projects and causes. But not every city in San Diego County has such resources, Game said. Some lack an arts staff member and utilize the manpower of parks and recreation or library employees to help with art-related projects. She said this is something a county-wide arts council would be able to help with.
Game said a county arts council could be either a nonprofit or county agency, but she would rather the council be a nonprofit so it won’t “end up on the chopping block” one day. She said finding private sources of funding would be most viable, however, other options include: implementation of a tax; state, local or national grants; contracted services; fundraisers; and earned income.
She said an arts council would serve as a coordinator, service provider, advocate and event producer. She said she would like to see Art Pulse, which is already an organization serving the entire county, become the recognized county arts council.
Community engagement is vital at this stage of the process, but the major next step will be getting a designation by the County Board of Supervisors.
Three out of five supervisors must approve, and Game said this seems within reach because she does not plan to ask the board for any funding.
“The board has to make the decision,” she said. “They need to say ‘This is what we want,’ and tell us under what terms they want it.”
For more information on Game’s initiative or to contact her, visit www.artpulse.org.