Group charges City of Sacramento with arts funding bias

Group charges City of Sacramento with arts funding bias

A scathing new report accuses the City of Sacramento of favoritism, bias and fiscal irresponsibility in its distribution of funding for the arts. The study, published by the Latino Arts Network of California, a statewide group of California Latino arts organizations and communities, charges the City of Sacramento provided millions of dollars to organizations that “subsequently went bankrupt, failed to repay their loans and did not fulfill the conditions of their grant awards.”

The group also criticizes the city, which prides itself on its diversity and multiculturalism, for neglecting communities of color in handing out grants for the arts.

“From 1986 to 2013, the City of Sacramento has consistently provided the Opera, the Ballet, a Symphony and a large museum with taxpayer-funded grants, loans, lines of credit, forgiven loans, and capital improvement funds without making similar funding opportunities available to arts organizations rooted in communities of color,” the study, titled “The City of Sacramento: A Case Study in Municipal Support of the Arts,” found.

According to the report, four non-profit organizations have devoured the lion’s share of the city’s arts funding during the past three decades, all while maintaining a spotty record of fiscal accountability. Since 1989, Sacramento has provided $22.45 million in support to the Crocker Art Museum, $2.18 million to the Sacramento Symphony, $1.6 million to the Sacramento Ballet, and $601,000 to the Sacramento Opera.

Crocker Art Museum loan forgiveness

Earlier this year, the Sacramento City Council voted to forgive a $7.5 million loan to the Crocker Art Museum. The move raised questions about whether it was in the best interests of taxpayers.

“Everyone loves the Crocker Art Museum,” pointed out Raheem Hosseini in the Sacramento News and Review.But a plan to forgive the cultural hub a $7.5 million debt deserves a little vetting.”

The vetting, according to the new report, showed that the museum had at least $10 million in pledges.

While the Crocker Art Museum received the loan forgiveness despite its strong fundraising, other organizations have received support while experiencing “severe financial and organizational instability.” The Latino Arts Network report cited a 2000 City of Sacramento staff report that blasted the financial management of the Sacramento Opera.

“The Sacramento Opera has experienced severe financial and organizational instability in recent years that threatens its continued viability. Like some local arts organizations, the problems facing the Opera include: (1) use of deferred revenue, (2) borrowing from boards and endowments, (3) high accumulated debt, (4) no cash reserves or method to deal with annual cash flow shortages, and (5) no financial planning or plan to invest in its infrastructure,” found the city staff report on the Opera, which was published in 2000.

America’s “most diverse” city snubs some arts organizations

Meanwhile, Sacramento, which was once dubbed by Time Magazine and the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University as “America’s Most Diverse City,” has provided minimal support for Latino, Asian and African American arts organizations. Of the $2.4 million allocated for the arts in the most recent fiscal year, the City of Sacramento awarded just $53,130, or 2.2 percent of its budget, toward communities of color.

The report says, “With the exception of grants awarded by the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, the City’s allocations to nonprofit art organizations reflect a lack of coherent cultural policies, a failure to develop plans that take into account the residents’ changing demographics, and an elitist cultural investment strategy that makes no economic sense.”

Tomas Benitez, Chairman of the Latino Arts Network, hopes the analysis alerts the City of Sacramento.

“The findings in our report should be a wake-up call to other municipalities who are ignoring the huge demographic changes taking place in our state,” Benitez said. “Our hope is that this study, which took place over eight months, will encourage greater equity in the distribution of tax payer money and wiser investments in the arts. Sacramento deserves better.”

City of Sacramento promises to investigate the findings

For its part, the City of Sacramento says it will be investigating the findings.

“We received this report and we will be taking a closer look at the findings,” said Shelly Willis, executive director of the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission. “The timing of the report works well for the arts commission as we are embarking on a project that will fully examine how we work to bolster our cultural arts.”

Willis added, “We have a process in place for funding multicultural arts but we acknowledge the need to examine how we do that moving forward. We appreciate the report from the Latino Arts Network and it is our intent to continue to work with them closely as this plan is developed.”

Rebecca Nevarez, the executive director for the Latino Arts Network, hopes this study begins the dialogue necessary to change the inequitable distribution of arts funding.

“With this research, we’re hoping to create a dialogue about equity and inclusion for Latinos who make up almost 30 percent of Sacramento and 40 percent of the state,” she said.

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