The Briscoe Western Art Museum and Opera of San Antonio, two high profile newcomers to San Antonio’s growing arts and culture universe, apparently will secure city funding for the coming year despite low grades from the City’s Department for Culture and Creative Development (DCCD) and an independent panel assembled to review and rate funding applicants.
City staff ultimately recommended six-figure support for both organizations, deciding that the museum and performing arts organization scored poorly because of their applications and not because of any deficiency in the quality of their professional work.
The annual scoring process by City staff and the City Council review is a trying rite of passage for many arts organizations and institutions, which rely heavily on City support and often leverage that financial foundation with donors, patrons, and foundations to reach the break even point. Each year, inevitably, there are winners and losers, with some winning increased funding, others enduring reductions, and some simply not making the cut.
The additional recommendation to City Council to fund the Briscoe and Opera is not uncommon after the arts funding process by the Cultural Arts Board is complete, said DCCD Director Felix Padrón.
The City is finalizing budget planning and funding commitments for the 2014-15 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. Padrón presented the department’s $13.3 million 2015 budget during City Council‘s B Session on Wednesday.
“We found some savings in the current fiscal year (2014) budget to carry forward to (the 2015 fiscal) year,” he said. “That does not impact the 62 agencies that are in line to receive funding in 2015.”
Proposed funding for the Briscoe and Opera would add $225,000 to the Cultural Arts Operational Support Program budget, and bring the total to $6,195,296. Sixty-two entities, ranging from the city’s major arts and cultural institutions to individual artists, won financing out of 80 applicants.
Entities that won Cultural Arts Board approval scored 75 or higher on a scale of 1-100 on their applications. The Briscoe and Opera scored 66 and 58, respectively. The DCCD staff recommended funding of the Briscoe and Opera.
Applications were reviewed by seven-member panels made up of one Cultural Arts Board member, two local peer experts, and four experts from outside of the San Antonio area. Panelists judged the applicants on the quality or “excellence” of the artistic/cultural experience, community engagement, and audience development. DCCD staff, in turn, graded for financial strength and administrative capacity. The process, from informational workshops, application review, and final funding decision, took about four months, Padrón said.
District 10 Councilmember Mike Gallagher asked Padrón why the Briscoe and Opera seemed to be given special treatment even though they “didn’t meet the cut … Next year will they have to get back in the game with everyone else?”
“Yes … their application was not bad, but it didn’t ring well with (panelists),” Padrón said, who added that DCCD staff will work with the Briscoe on how to craft a better application in the future.
The proposed budget includes $100,000 for the Briscoe, the same amount it received in 2014, and $125,000 for the Opera, $57,000 less than 2014. The Opera celebrated a rebirth in 2013 after a former iteration, San Antonio Opera, filed for bankruptcy in 2012 with listed assets of $1,500 and debts of about $900,000.
Opera Piccola of San Antonio, a smaller, nonprofit organization started by San Antonio Opera founder Mark Richter in 2012, received $36,892 in the proposed 2015 budget.
“At the heart of what we do is to help nurture the growth of the city’s cultural well being…this applies to small and large agencies,” Padrón said. He told the Council that both the Briscoe and Opera are relatively new and operating in challenging environments, with the Opera transitioning into the newly opened Tobin Center for the Performing Arts and the Briscoe opening amid substantial downtown revitalization. “These are two very important institutions that also play a key role in enhancing the downtown experience – thus a good investment to make.”
The Briscoe opened its doors to the public in October 2013, so this is the first time Briscoe staff has applied for DCCD funding.
“We’re very fortunate here at the Briscoe Museum to have diverse sources of funding, but the public-private part that built this museum is very important to us so we are thrilled to have the support of the City of San Antonio DCCD through this staff funding recommendation,” said Briscoe Museum Senior Head of Advancement Jennifer Wijangco on Thursday. “We invested a lot of staff time and resources into completing our application for this year, and we look forward to working with the DCCD to learn how we can better meet the expectations of review panelists.”
The bulk of the museum’s funding comes from individual donors.
“In a city that’s built on tradition, we have unique challenges of being a brand new institution,” she added. Briscoe staff has not yet had a chance to dissect the panelists’ and DCCD staff comments, but will certainly do so.
Mel Weingart, Opera San Antonio board chair, said that the Opera’s followed the same format it had followed in the past but the new process “proved to be a bit complicated.”
Changes to the DCCD funding guidelines were approved by City Council earlier this year and included the creation of new categories that would be more accessible to more artists.
“We’re extremely appreciative to the DCCD and to the City for the funding that they have provided for the past two and a half years,” Weingart said. “I’m certainly not complaining … (but) that change in a sense complicated the application process for us.”
Weingart is confident that as a resident company in the Tobin Center and a partner with many organizations, including the San Antonio Symphony, the Opera will meet and exceed expectations. Opera funding “comes from everybody – foundations, corporations, individual, the City, the County, local businesses … ticket sales only account for a very small portion of that.
“We’re very fortunate here that the City has provided funding to various performance arts organizations – not every city does that.”
The 2015 list of Cultural Arts Operational Support Programs includes 25 agencies and artists that are new to DCCD funding as well as new program categories.
The stART Place program ($64,550) will fund 12 different creative agencies and individual projects that “provide meaningful community enrichment and transformation” in urban neighborhoods. These are unconventional projects that enrich neighborhoods as a whole, like the Martinez Street Women’s Center ($7,000), Sistas in Business ($2,750), Picture Your World Youth Photography Program ($4,300), and more.
A new category was created for festivals. The International Accordion Festival was the only festival funded in the 2014 budget. This year sees the addition of eight more agencies that host festivals including Avenida Guadalupe ($13,633), San Antonio Parks Foundation ($13,600) and Contemporary Art Month ($1,368).
The highest-scoring applicants this year were The Magik Theatre (95) and the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center (94), both receiving two of the largest funding increases. The Symphony Society of San Antonio earned the largest funding increase of $73,792. Live performances represent the largest chunk of the proposed program budget with $281,616. Community groups finished second with $272, 521.
Funding under the Cultural Arts Operational Support Program is reviewed every two years through the application process. Organizations that apply for funding must match the award by a ratio of at least 1:1.
Padrón outlined the DCCD’s major initiatives for 2015. The Hotel/Motel Occupancy Tax and General Fund will provide $482,000 for improvements and addition to programming, staff, event coordination, and marketing for the Mission Marquee drive-in theatre and La Villita.
Market Square will be allocated $492,000 to upgrade bathroom facilities and to increase programming.
The DCCD is the main operating arm of SA2020 Arts and Culture initiatives that aims to increase arts funding, event attendance, the economic impact of artistic and cultural events, the number of national/international press mentions of the arts in San Antonio, and ultimately the number of people employed in the creative sector.
“We are 100 percent aligned with SA2020,” Padrón said. With 44% more artists and agencies funded and a 15% increase in dollars invested, the DCCD is certainly an important piece to obtaining the fast-approaching 2020 goals.
“The environment is thriving,” Padrón said. “We can celebrate how healthy the arts community is here.”
*Featured/top image: The large John Coleman bronze sculpture in the Briscoe Museum lobby depicts a traditional cowboy and native American with respective cascades of cattle and bison. Photo by Iris Dimmick.