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Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission gets creative to find funding

By Edward Ortiz
eortiz@sacbee.com
Published: Monday, Jun. 20, 2011

The past three funding years have been brutal for the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission.

But there may be light at the end of the tunnel.

Since 2008, SMAC’s budget has been trimmed by 62 percent because of steep drops in the funding it gets from the city, county and state.

The reality of diminishing funds, now seemingly permanent, has forced SMAC to adapt, assuming a more active role in searching out new funds and attention.

It is beginning to bear fruit.

An aggressive petition campaign started recently by SMAC Chairwoman Carlin Naify resulted in 600 emails that were tendered to the city and county asking that looming budget cuts for next year be reconsidered.

That campaign did not fall on deaf ears.

“I saw the diminishing resources for SMAC and felt compelled to say something about it in context of the budget,” said Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna.

The cuts, which are in turn reflected in what SMAC grants to arts organizations, were significant: In 2008 SMAC granted $700,623 to arts organizations. This year it granted $375,000.

The result of the email campaign was a 3-2 vote to restore $24,000 in county funding to SMAC in fiscal year 2011-12. That vote keeps the county’s allocation at last year’s funding level – $175,000. Although a victory for SMAC, that amount is a huge drop from the pre-recession $873,471 the county gave it in 2008.

“In a county budget the priorities quickly become public safety and social services, but I’m someone who prides himself on valuing the benefits that the arts give to a community,” Serna said.

The funds restoration may be a sign that the economic fund bloodletting may be over for SMAC.

However, the organization still faces challenges. Funding from the city of Sacramento will be cut by $120,000 next fiscal year.

“We’re small and getting smaller, but still mighty,” said Rhyena Halpern, executive director at SMAC.

Getting smaller means working with one less full-time staff member next year while looking for economic support in new ways, said Halpern.

One example is the agency’s first private home fundraiser, which former California Arts Council head Muriel Johnson hosts Wednesday. Proceeds will go to SMAC’s Cultural Arts Award program. Another fundraising event is planned for October.

“This is our first event like this and we’re planning on doing more fundraising and more revenue-generating,” Halpern said.

SMAC is actively seeking new sources of revenue from grants, corporate donations and partnerships, such as help with its Arts Open Daily marketing campaign. In that instance SMAC received the equivalent of $300,000 in media in-kind donations, including large ads on the sides of buses.

“In arts education we’ve been able to get grants, and we’ve been charging fees in order to generate revenue,” said Halpern.

For example, SMAC has helped roll out the Any Given Child program, a partnership between local school districts and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to bring arts education to area schools.

The drive to find new funding may portend a sea change in the way agencies conduct business, said Theresa Cameron, director of local arts agency relations with American for the Arts, a national advocacy organization.

“A lot of local arts agencies are becoming nimble,” Cameron said. “Some agencies that are based in city government are even doing festivals, and we’re seeing a lot of emphasis at the city and county level for public and private partnerships.”

The result is that, for some agencies, the share of the pie from private or corporate sources may get larger. But Cameron said public funding will always be key.

“While we’re seeing, in some communities, some fairly drastic cuts, in general we’re noticing that things are holding steady nationally,” said Cameron. “In some cases cities are putting more money into the arts because they see how important the arts are for their economy.”

Sacramento has 943 arts businesses, according to SMAC data. The arts sector in Sacramento generates roughly $1.35 million in local tax revenues.

Serna said the value of the arts to Sacramento is self- evident.

“In the midtown, downtown and North Sacramento neighborhoods there seems to be a renaissance, and a home focus interest on the arts and what it brings to a community,” Serna said. “And that’s despite us being in a recession.”

Read more: http://www.sacbee.com/2011/06/20/3712688/sacramento-metropolitan-arts-commission.html#ixzz1PwuW3sM9

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