Article by Rebecca Romani
May 12, 2020
With everyone social distancing and public spaces, restaurants, libraries, art galleries, etc. closed, the San Diego region is starting to resemble one of the ghost towns in California Gold Rush County. Talk to anyone and you will hear concerns about lost jobs and businesses potentially closing.
But the region is also home to several hundred non-profits arts groups whose shuttering has been felt in large and small ways from cancelled theatre openings to arts programs for kids. When distancing restrictions lift in the region, will there be plays to go to, concerts to attend, screenings to discuss, and arts projects to make?
Arts groups large and small around the San Diego area fervently hope so, but with attendance non-existent and programming cancelled or put on hold, the future is looking for more and more uncertain.
It’s a vision that can be unsettling for a region known for its diversity and excellence in the arts. From shows that move on to Broadway, to artists who show their work abroad, to cutting edge creativity that straddles the border, the San Diego region has been growing into an arts and cultural center appropriate to the region’s metropolitan status.
A study done by the San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture in 2015 shows San Diego’s nonprofit arts and culture sector has been significant, generating more than $1.1 billion in total economic activity. Add to that the fact that the arts employ thousands of people on a full and part time basis, from costume designers to ticket takers, and the arts take on a considerable regional role.
But with the current shutdown, arts and culture organizations have had to make tough decisions. Major film festivals like the longtime San Diego Latino Film Festival and one of the new kids on the block, the Arab Film Festival, have either cancelled or postponed their festivals scheduled for this spring. The Museum of Photographic Arts is shuttered, and the San Diego International Fringe Festival as well as ComiCon, slated for this summer, are off the table. Even groups like Moxie Theatre in La Mesa, who have taken some events on-line, are seeing their programming in peril.
The University of San Diego’s Nonprofit Institute recently found that almost half of all local arts entities have shut down their programming well into the next six weeks. With a significant loss of income, less than 40% of the over 250 regional groups will be able to make payroll in a few weeks, even if quarantine procedures are lifted soon.
Alex Goodman, Managing Director of the New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad, is concerned the theatre may be barely hanging on. “We’ve cancelled various things and more than one third of our operating revenue is gone,” Goodman said.
Will the arts and culture scene in San Diego survive the pandemic? The San Diego Regional Arts and Culture Coalition (SDRACC) hopes so.
A new relief fund for artists called the San Diego Arts + Culture Challenge was recently launched and in just a few weeks, has already secured $1.25 million in public and private funding to help artists and nonprofits affected by COVID-19. The effort is launching with funds from the San Diego Regional Arts and Culture Coalition, The San Diego Foundation, the City of San Diego and private donors.
“Budgets are so strained that government can’t help arts alone and donors can’t do it either, so we’re joining together to amplify our impact and help locals who have been hit hard by this crisis,” said San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulkner.
The City of San Diego joins other cities such as Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles in securing emergency funds for the regional arts scene.
“It’s not a panacea,” said Goodman, who is also part of the Steering committee overseeing the Challenge, “but it is a piece of relief for small and medium-sized groups to plan for the immediate future.”
The idea, said Goodman, is to create a Challenge Grant to support some of the most vulnerable organizations- the mid-sized organizations with budgets of between $150,000 and $1.5 million.
“The smaller groups can hibernate and regroup later,” said Goodman, while larger groups often have major funders or endowments.
According to Goodman the SDRACC has identified over 200 mid-sized groups in San Diego County.
“Patio Playhouse and Write Out Loud are on the low end of the scale,” said Goodman, with entities like The Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) and Lux Art Institute further up the scale.
Goodman stressed that the funds are available to groups countywide, especially to those that are “passionate about their mission and have the potential to make a significant impact on the region.”
According to Goodman, the Arts + Culture Challenge Grant is seeking to raise about $2 million to provide assistance to artists and groups, with $250,000 being made available for the first round of applications. In addition, the San Diego City Commission for Arts and Culture has two initiatives designed to direct funds to individual artists. $500,000 has been identified to acquire new or recently completed artwork by local artists to expand and diversify the City’s collection. The other initiative of $500,000 will be available to area artists to produce temporary, ephemeral or performative public art in public spaces as part of a “welcome back” to public space.
What could this mean to an organization? For Cecelia Kouma, Executive Director of the Playwrights Project, which uses creativity and theatre to promote community and communication across a broad spectrum of groups through writing and performing, the impact of a grant would be enormous.
“It’s been a real challenge keeping programs going when schools, community centers, correctional institutions, and theatres suddenly had to close their doors. We’re working to find new ways to provide programs, but it takes time, resources, and focus to regroup and learn new ways to deliver programs,” said Kouma, who added that additional grant monies would offset the loss of income the organization has experienced and help “find creative ways to serve vulnerable members of the community, who need creative outlets for reflection now more than ever.”
While Creative Capital funds have been repurposed and private entities such as the legacy of the late contemporary artist Thomas O. Rasmussen via The San Diego Foundation have made sizable contributions, Goodman and the Steering Committee also encourage the public to become invested as well, by make a donation, no matter how small.
“If you have a favorite group,” said Goodman, “by all means, donate to them.” However, Goodman pointed out, “a direct donation to the fund itself would also impact a larger number of groups,” and support the artistic and cultural life of the San Diego region.
The Arts + Culture Challenge Grant is currently accepting applications from qualified groups for the first round of funding. The applications are open until May 15, after which a selection committee will choose the grantees to be announced May 22. A second round of grants will open, funding permitting, later during the summer. This round will only be open to those who were not selected or did not apply to the first round.
“We need to come together as a community and find a way to support our artists, performers and culture workers,” said Alessandra Moctezuma, Gallery Director and Professor of Fine Art at San Diego Mesa College. “I’m hoping that when this quarantine is over there will be a huge renaissance of the arts… This will only be possible if we can sustain our fellow creative professionals during this time.”
To learn more about how to apply or to make a donation, please CLICK HERE.