Smaller SA Arts Groups: Love the Symphony, But What About Us?

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The mural titled 'La Veladora' by local artist Jesse Trevino located outside the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center.

In public, support for the struggling San Antonio Symphony among city arts leaders is nearly universal. But privately, directors of smaller arts organizations in San Antonio worry that with so much attention — and money — given to the Symphony, their own fundraising and marketing efforts might suffer.

Facing a major campaign to raise funds for the Symphony, based on a Bexar County matching grant of $350,000, one arts group responded by writing a letter to County Commissioners and the office of Mayor Ron Nirenberg.

Roberto Espinosa, new board chair of the Classical Music Institute, sent the letter detailing his nonprofit organization’s concerns. City and County money recently reallocated to the Symphony, Espinosa wrote, “may affect, divert, or detract support for many of the smaller organizations that rely on these sources.”

To date there has been “no official response” to the letter from the Mayor’s office, Espinosa said, but that informal conversations have taken place.

Nirenberg pointed out in a text to the Rivard Report that no City funds have been reallocated, and that “The symphony money was already appropriated.”

Espinosa clarified the intent of his letter, which also called the Symphony “the pinnacle of classical music in our city,” in a phone interview.

Roberto Espinosa, Classical Music Institute Chairman of the Board

“We don’t want [the Symphony] to be less successful, or not raise the money they need,” Espinosa said. “But for our part, we want to make sure our mission is also funded.”

Espinosa said that reacting to immediate problems like the Symphony’s near-collapse can distract from the overall goal, which is “to generate the audience that’s going to appreciate, attend, become members and patrons and supporters of all the different [arts] organizations [in San Antonio.]”

Leaders of other San Antonio arts groups have been raising similar concerns for years. Graciela Sanchez, director of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, has long agitated for better balance in City funding, particularly for fellow members of the Westside Arts Coalition, who feel they have been historically underfunded.

Graciela Sánchez, executive director of the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Graciela Sánchez, executive director of the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center.

In 2014, Sanchez and the Coalition prepared a study of City arts funding trends dating from 1980 to the present, which demonstrated that funding for Latino arts organizations has hovered around 17 percent of total funding for city arts organizations since 2007. The study found a low of less than four percent City arts funding in 1980, with a high of 36.8 percent in 2004.

Along with the Esperanza Center, coalition members include American Indians in Texas – Spanish Colonial Missions, Centro Cultural Aztlan, Conjunto Heritage Taller, Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, Jump-Start Performance Company, National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures, and Urban-15.

“They keep on keeping us small,” Sanchez said of what she sees as indifference from the City towards smaller groups, as well as from major private foundations.

A graphic prepared by Esperanza Peace and Justice Center compares overall Department of Arts and Culture funding for San Antonio nonprofit organizations, to amounts granted to Latino organizations over a period from 1980-2016. The graphic is available to the public on the City's Cul-TÚ-Art Plan website.

Courtesy / Esperanza Peace and Justice Center

A graphic prepared by Esperanza Peace and Justice Center compares overall Department of Arts and Culture funding for San Antonio nonprofit organizations, to amounts granted to Latino organizations over a period from 1980-2016. The graphic is available to the public on the City’s Cul-TÚ-Art Plan website.

The Department of Arts and Culture’s new Cul-TÚ-Art Plan is meant, in part, to address these perceived inequities. One major feature of the proposed arts funding guidelines under the new plan is to provide funds for “cultural-specific” organizations and programming, a category that would apply to the Westside Arts Coalition member groups, and potentially influence the programming goals for other organizations.

Cultural-specific programming, as defined in the City plan, is specific to a cultural community, or “a group of people united by shared experience of oppression and cultural resilience, based on past discrimination. These are defined in policy as gender (women) and the following racial minorities: African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, Native Americans.”

The other main category for City arts funding is operational support, which is vital to the survival of many smaller arts groups, particularly those without large donor bases, endowments, or historical funding support in amounts large enough to build stable operating funding bases, Sanchez said.

Another issue is that more groups are drawing City operational support from essentially the same percentage of city funding. Operational support funding has grown modestly from 29 percent of the overall budget in 2008, to 33 percent today. That means that 10 years ago, 15 smaller groups each received an average of $86,000. Today, 25 groups average $76,000 each.

Espinosa said that the one hopeful effect of the Cul-TÚ-Art Plan is encouraging San Antonio’s diverse arts groups to work together more than they have traditionally. The plan, he said, “presents a good opportunity for cultural organizations to learn from each other,” in terms of leveraging information on governance and administrative issues, programming, and shared marketing.

Indeed, one feature of the new City arts funding plan is a requirement for collaboration between arts groups in order to qualify for funding, Racca-Sittre said Friday during City Council’s Arts, Heritage and Culture Committee meeting. The Committee voted to move the Cul-TÚ-Art Plan’s arts funding guidelines forward for a full City Council vote on Feb. 15.

Anya Grokhovski, artistic director and chief executive officer of Musical Bridges Around the World, said she is working on an open letter to the community along the same lines as Espinosa’s that will be signed by all San Antonio arts groups.

“This letter would be in support of the Symphony,” Grokhovski said, in part to show unity, but also because “the San Antonio Symphony is like a cultural aquifer of the city” in its influence and effect.

Establishing a Symphony endowment of $100 million would create a stable base for the orchestra’s continuing operations, Grokhovski said, echoing other board members and arts leaders in the city, and “would make us all prosper,” freeing up more public and private money to help support smaller arts groups.

Anya Grokhovski, founding director of Musical Bridges, introduces Musical Bridges Around the World's program "Gems of China" at San Fernando Cathedral.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Anya Grokhovski, founding director of Musical Bridges, introduces Musical Bridges Around the World’s program “Gems of China” during a recent performance.

For his part, of the Classical Music Institute letter already signed and sent, Espinosa said “it’s a starting point to engage in a conversation about a paradigm shift in the arts.”

Sanchez spoke in support of Racca-Sittre’s Friday presentation of the new Cul-TÚ-Art Plan’s arts funding guidelines.

“I think all of us in the Westside Arts Coalition will see an increase in our operational support. We’re really excited about it,” Sanchez said.

Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) thanked the Westside Arts Coalition for their advocacy work. Instead of merely shifting funding from one organization to another, Viagran said, “We want to make sure we’re setting all of us up for success here.”

For city officials, Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said, “our No. 1 job is to always make sure we’re understanding the bigger picture, and how that bigger picture moves us forward, together.”

Perhaps ironically, the Symphony’s rescue may have been the catalyst for the paradigm change Espinosa seeks. Treviño said that discussions about the Symphony’s future have centered on building meaningful connections with the entire community, including the smaller organizations.

“It’s a ‘we’re all in this together’ attitude,” he said.


8 thoughts on “Smaller SA Arts Groups: Love the Symphony, But What About Us?

  1. I like math, it’s what I do. You shouldn’t manipulate statistics to skew your story. You omit an awful lot of data and numbers and write in terms of percentages but never say what they are percentages of. It’s very unclear.

    What is the “Total Municipal Arts Budget” of which “Latino arts” gets a specific slice as shown in the graph? Hovers around 17% … of what?

    “Arts [operational support] funding has grown modestly from 29 percent of the overall [Arts] budget in 2008, to 33 percent today. That means that 10 years ago, 15 smaller groups each received an average of $86,000. Today, 25 groups average $76,000 each.”

    Possibly true, but meaningful?

    15 x 86,000 = $1.29 million; 25 x 76,000 = $1.9 million. That “modest growth” of only 4% as a portion of an undisclosed larger number, is really a 47% increase (1.9/1.29 = 147%) in overall funding of $600,000; but the number of groups slicing up that 47% larger pie grew even faster, 25/15 = 167%.

    The pie is 47% larger, but you’re asking for it to cut into 66% more slices, so yes, obviously each of those slices is going to be smaller.

    Or are you simply talking in “averages” and some of those new 10 groups really get small amounts of money (e.g. $5-10,000), and nowhere near the “lower average” $76,000. Perhaps the real story is that the budget has grown and supported a larger, more diverse set of smaller groups than it used to, while maintaining a high level for some mid-size groups? You make no case and have no data to contest that interpretation.

    Present better data and numbers to inform, not mislead, the public.

    Do better.

  2. Complaining about data part II:

    And that 17% figure in your chart uses 4 year old data (2004-2014), but the topic of the article is recent changes due to impact of the symphony, so who really cares what the percentage was for a specific unspecified sub-slice of an undisclosed number 5 years ago?

    What has been done in the RECENT 2014-2018 budgets?

    Do some actual journalistic research, crack open the City Budget and do some homework. Don’t just recycle someone else’s dated talking points: are they telling the truth? Is this current and relevant, and most importantly, accurate?

    Again, do better.

    (That lecture goes for you, too, fellow readers, and, naturally the RivardReport editors.)

    • Joe, thanks for your attention to the details of the article. It’s meant to connect current developments with historical data and trends, thus the 2014 data, presented to the City, remains relevant. While the amount of overall funding for smaller arts groups has risen, along with the number of groups funded, the average amount shows that groups tend to receive less. This point was mentioned in the City’s presentation to the Committee.

      • I had a detailed analysis on the 2018 budget vs. the 2014 budget but I lost it.

        Suffice to say, the numbers don’t match the assertions. The average funding for “groups” in 2018 is over $165k, or more than double what was claimed in the article. If you include all performances, it drops to $124k; or still a lot higher than listed here.

        Overall, there were more groups getting lower averages in 2014 than 2018; or basically the direct opposite of the article’s assertion.

        But when focusing on the 8 groups listed from the Westside Arts Coalition (one of which is actually a NALAC grant), 6 of them were in the 2014 budget. Of those 6, 5 of them have seen increased funding only Jump Start has been reduced.

        At $276k, the Esperanza Center’s budget is $76,000 higher than in 2014; or 38% larger. Not bad for being “kept small.”

  3. I feel that there are too many nonprofit art groups in San Antonio including the city-funded PASA – they provided oppuntinuties to all artists, some? With so many art organizations grabbing for funding, it’s impossible to follow our tax dollars. And the people in the position of the selection process have been in place way too long they lose sight of what is the new creative vision. I can now see how secured funding can get lost in the disbursement dance. San Antonio is a mixed group of people of all colors, like a painting that holds no “Clear Colorful Concept”. And the leaders in this city keep appending new “Business NAMES” like the latest Cul-TÚ-Art Plan. Let’s rebrand our art program that’s the best way “to make good”. Start with a new name, really again! And just maybe the old business will just go away. Art funding in this city is a mix of many groups; I feel some are self-serving. I should inaugurate a nonprofit organization myself and get in on this deal. I might create a nonprofit group and even change my name as some people have in this city for funding purposes. I might even create my style of displaying art and on unselfish occasions showcase my work, but on second thought I think I will be just an artist! There are heaps of creative people who can’t seem to have higher opportunities in San Antonio. I have not received any support from any of the art organizations for my creative efforts, and I have applied many times. The arts are a click club and getting information is always late, lost opppotunities! There needs to be a NEW CLEAR APPROACH, interjecting fresh stock, keen eyes, rational minds who are desiring to support all artistic organizations. We need increased income for a healthier lifestyle. We’re bored donating our work and time towards other nonprofit events. As productive individuals, galleries, and charitable agencies we strive for proper future funding and to make this “city painting” inclusive of every vivid color otherwise this city of brilliance will transform into shades of grays. Mr. Mayor we have a huge problem!

  4. According to a report from Headlight Data, an Austin-based company, San Antonio has the third-fastest growing economy in the U.S., behind only San Jose, CA, and Austin. Yet it appears that in some views, the city of San Antonio has a fixed-size (smallish) pie to divide up among arts organizations. In this view, city support for the arts is zero-sum and what is gained by one group (for example, the Symphony) must necessarily be lost by another (for example, member groups of the Westside Arts Coalition). San Antonio is growing and thriving; there is no reason why the pie of city funding should not also be growing.

    • The pie is growing, and grew significantly in post-2007 budgets with changes to the distribution of funding accrued via the Hotel Occupancy Tax.

      Based on a presentation to the Arts Commission on Jan 23, (slide 14) Operational Funding for the Arts grew 28%, or $1.25M, from 2008-2018; up to $5.68M from $4.43M. It was not 4%, as the author contends but fails to support with any total values.

      More small groups got the lion’s share of that increase, or $610,000 of that $1.25M, or 49%.

      But some groups appear to feel that they always deserve the same proportion of funding that they used to get in the past, even while their overall budgets get more support – and also the data they use to support that “historical underfunding” contention is quite flawed.

      A little research goes a long way, but sometimes preconceived notions just can’t be changed.

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