San Diego Arts + Culture Challenge Fund launching with $1.25 million to aid coronavirus-challenged nonprofits

The Lyceum Theatre has been dark since last month because of the coronavirus. The venue is home to performances by the San Diego Repertory Theatre and the San Diego Ballet, both of whose current seasons abruptly ended because of the coronavirus pandemic. A newly launched initiative could help both organizations.
The Lyceum Theatre has been dark since last month because of the coronavirus. The venue is home to performances by the San Diego Repertory Theatre and the San Diego Ballet, both of whose current seasons abruptly ended because of the coronavirus pandemic. A newly launched initiative could help both organizations.
(Photo courtesy San Diego Ballet
)

New initiative seeks to provide $2 million to help local arts organizations struggling to overcome fiscal challenges fueled by the pandemic

In a move to help creative artists and nonprofit arts organizations across the county deal with critical financial needs during the coronavirus pandemic, the city of San Diego and area arts and culture leaders are teaming with local philanthropists to provide up to $2 million in economic assistance.

The San Diego Arts + Culture Challenge Fund, announced Thursday afternoon, April 16, by San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, has been established to provide monetary support to the individuals and organizations in San Diego County’s creative workforce.

“San Diego’s once-bustling arts and culture scene has been put on hold because of COVID-19 and that’s left many of the artists and organizations that enrich our lives struggling to make ends meet like countless others right now,” Faulconer said in a statement.

“The value of arts and entertainment has never been higher as we all follow stay-at-home orders, and that’s why we are launching this partnership to raise money and help local artists and nonprofits get through this crisis.”

The fund is launching with $1.25 million in seed money from the city, the San Diego Regional Arts and Culture Coalition, the San Diego Foundation and private donors. It hopes to raise an additional $750,000 in donations, for a total of $2 million.

That amount could prove doubly significant, since Thursday’s announcement of the fund comes on the heels of Faulconer’s Wednesday, April 15, proposal to cut the city’s annual arts funding approximately in half to $5.6 million for the next fiscal year. Regardless, the timing is purely coincidental, according to City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture Executive Director Jonathon Glus.

“The minute that the coronavirus struck, we started working on this new funding initiative,” Glus said Thursday, April 16.

“Separate to that, the city’s entire budget was being impacted by this pandemic. So, regardless of what would have happened to the city budget, we would have moved forward with this initiative because of the situation arts organizations and individual artists here are facing at this time of crisis.”

The challenge fund is being seeded by $200,000 from the San Diego Foundation and $50,000 from The Clare Rose Foundation. That money will be used to provide grants to individual artists and nonprofit arts organizations.

“This challenge is for the whole county and all our nonprofits. I hope we’ll be able to help every nonprofit that sends in a grant, as long as they qualify,” said Jill Hall, who helped spearhead the fund and chairs the San Diego Foundation’s Creative Catalyst Grant program. “It’s been quite a coalition effort with the whole steering committee.”

‘Unique private and public partnership’

Mayor Faulconer hailed the cooperative effort.

“We want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to help San Diego arts and artists get through this crisis. The city can’t do it alone This will be a really unique private and public partnership,” he said.

“We have an ambitious goal to get to $2 million. ... San Diegans who want to donate (to this fund) know how important arts and culture are, and know how important it is when we get on the other side of this (pandemic) to have a thriving arts scene.”

The $1 million that the city is contributing cannot be used to provide grants. But it can be used to purchase existing art works and to commission new works.

“As soon as we saw the onslaught of the pandemic, we started working internally to look at sources we had that we could reallocate in a more expeditious way, most primarily to keep artists and creatives working right now,” Glus said.

“So these funds could not legally be used to grant programs even if we wanted to use them for that purpose. What we can do with these funds is provide opportunities for San Diego artists, through direct acquisition of existing arts works or commissioning (new) art works for installations for public spaces. The idea is we’re preparing the city for re-opening in a big way (after the pandemic), and art and artists will be a part of that.”

On March 12, some of the city’s largest arts organizations — including the San Diego Symphony, La Jolla Playhouse, La Jolla Music Society and San Diego Opera — announced they had canceled or postponed all of their remaining March events. All of them have been dark since then. Also closed, for now, is every live performance venue in San Diego and every museum.

According to a March study by The Nonprofit Institute at the University of San Diego, 41 percent of nonprofit arts and culture organizations here are currently not operating at all because of the pandemic.

“Overall, we have nearly 12,000 nonprofits in San Diego County of all types — not just arts — but only a third of those are active now,” said Emily Young, the institute’s executive director.

“On average, 46 percent of total revenue for arts and cultural organizations comes from their (ticketed) programs. We know the economic impact of arts and culture in our community is substantial. The most recent study found that $1.1 billion is generated annually by arts and culture here, but that’s not the only thing arts and culture does. It also contributes to our overall well-being, whether we’re talking about older adults, children or families. There are so many ways arts and culture enrich our lives.”

Is the aesthetic and economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the arts in any way comparable to the impact of the 2008 recession?

“What is markedly different now that we didn’t have during the recession was stay-at-home orders, which disrupts the actual delivery of arts programming,” Young replied. “Not to mention the myriad risks associated with a highly contagious virus.”

San Diego Ballet Executive Director Matt Carney, who is also co-chair of the San Diego Regional Arts and Culture Coalition, is part of the steering committee that created the San Diego Arts & Culture Challenge Fund. He can personally attest to the urgent financial needs of San Diego’s arts community.

“We had to lay off all 25 of our dancers. We also had to cancel the last two productions of our season at the Lyceum Theater, plus our annual fundraiser,” said Carney, who joined the San Diego mayor, Glus and Pacific Arts Movement founder Lee Ann Kim at Thursday’s press conference.

“Often times, artists have a second or third job, in the restaurant or hospitality field, to support their being able to live in San Diego,” he continued. “What is is unprecedented right now, because of the coronavirus, is that their primary artistic jobs are shut down right now and also their second and third jobs.”

Grant guidelines and applications will be available in late April at sandiegoracc.org. The same website can be used to make donations to the challenge fund, or donations may be made directly at sandiegoracc.org/challenge.

Impact of arts and culture in San Diego

$1.1 billion annually in the city of San Diego in 2015, the most recent year for which statistics are available.

$553.6 million of that is generated by nonprofit arts and cultural organizations, with $546.4 million coming from event-related spending by their audiences.

That income supports 35,914 full-time equivalent jobs, generates $894.4 million in household income to residents, and brings in $48.12 million in local government revenue and $67.88 million in state government revenue.

Total attendance at San Diego arts and cultural events in 2015: 8.69 million residents and 3.67 million tourists, for a total of 12.36 million.

Source: Arts and Economic Prosperity 5, conducted by Americans for the Arts

— George Varga is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune


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