Save the arts? At the expense of what, exactly?

So, tonight the City Council hopes to finally pass their second budget for the year and close the $42 million deficit hanging over our heads. The biggest point of contention tonight is likely to be suspension of the Cultural Arts funding program.

What program, you ask? Here’s the deal. Every year, we award grants to roughly 70 non-profits and individual artists to, well, make art. We started doing this back in 1985 (with a total in $295,000 of funding), and paid for it with a combination of General Fund and Redevelopment Agency money. The amount of the awards steadily increased over time, rising to a height of $1.6 million in 1992. During the mid-nineties, budget troubles whittled away funding, and the Redevelopment Agency stopped contributing to the program. For the last several years, grant funding has held relatively steady at a little over a million dollars per year.

So how does that break down? Well, this year we awarded 70 grants totaling $1.14 million (PDF). 20 of those were small grants (under $5,000) awarded to individual artists so they can do things like perform music at Mountain View Cemetery, play Greek Folk music, hand-sew dolls with terminally ill children, make movies, and photograph seniors exercising at the Y. Then 16 larger grants (up to $17,000) go to local non-profits for specific art projects. Stuff like a concert for 250 people at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center, the music program at Covenant House, the Prescott Circus, and the Chinatown Street Fest. Larger grants (up to $63,000) went to 21 non-profits for general support – these help fund organizations like the Oakland East Bay Symphony, the Friends of Peralta Hacienda Historical Park, MOCHA, and Oakland Leaf. Finally, we awarded 13 grants (up to $18,000) for projects at Oakland schools. Stuff like teaching kids African dance or to play traditional Chinese musical instruments or helping them write and perform short plays.

It all sounds great, right? Why on earth would anyone want to eliminate such a thing? Well, let’s take a second to remember how we got here. The City has to close a $42 million deficit, and they have to close it as soon as humanly possible, because every single day that goes by and we don’t do something about it, we’re spending money we literally don’t have, and the deficit gets bigger. Since there’s only $110 million in discretionary funds to work with, there is absolutely no way to do it that isn’t going to hurt. A lot.

When the Mayor finally submitted his budget proposal at the end of September, he used a combination of one-time fund transfers, parking ticket and meter fee increases, and elimination of vacant positions to close about three-quarters of the deficit. Oh yeah, and laying off 84 people. The budget included deep cuts to basic city services with massive reductions in staffing for libraries, parks and recreation, and public works. It meant we were going to have to do things like shut down community gardens, close parks, eliminate the Bookmobile, and end the City’s adult literacy program.

Now, even after doing all that, the Mayor’s proposal still wasn’t going to close the entire deficit. He left a final $10 million in cuts up to the Council, although he did supply a couple of options for doing it. His preferred plan would have slashed city services even further by closing the City every Friday (and cutting the pay of all City workers by 20%). If the Council didn’t want to do that, he suggested, we could slash services in a different way, by just laying off 120 extra people (remember, that’s on top of the 84 layoffs in the budget he submitted).

So…clearly, both options are unacceptable. Basic City services, already cut to the bone, have no room to be reduced any further. You might as well just dissolve the City at that point. So Councilmembers Jean Quan and Ignacio De La Fuente came up with an alternative plan for cutting the remaining $10 million that would stop some of the worst service cuts in Dellums’s budget (we’d get to keep the existing Park Rangers, we wouldn’t have to cut quite so much from our already decimated Animal Shelter, we’d get to keep one of the Oakland Museum positions slated to be cut, the Bookmobile would still operate, but at reduced service levels). They slashed mostly from the top (asking departments to eliminate administrative positions paying over $100,000 per year rather than direct service positions, ending management leave, professional development allowances, stuff like that). They cut their discretionary funds in half and their salaries by 5%. And for the most part, everybody seemed okay with it. Except, of course, for the part that involved suspending funding for the Cultural Arts grant program. (Oh, and people need to be clear about this. This is a suspension, not a deletion. The program would be gone for the rest of this fiscal year, but nobody is proposing to cut it permanently. )

Look, I love the arts. I really, really do. And I love arts subsidies. The greatest city in the history of the world became so half a century of its founding largely (in my opinion, anyway) because of the eagerness of its leaders to heavily subsidize intellectual and creative culture. Where there is a thriving culture of ideas and arts, commerce follows. (Also, it probably helped that they stuck a Port in the most well-positioned place for trade in the entire Mediterranean world, something that, for reasons I will never understand, apparently never occurred to anyone in the whole of Egypt over the course of multiple millennia. Anyway.) And if we had, not even lots of money, but, really, any money, I would be fulling supportive of giving lots and lots of grants to artists. But the fact is that we don’t.

People keep telling me things like “art is not a luxury.” And I agree. Art isn’t a luxury. But you know what else isn’t a luxury? Parks. Also, libraries. Also, streetlights. Abatement of nuisance properties. Sewer maintenance. Street repair. Fire services. And we have had to cut all of these services to barely functioning levels. In some cases, below barely functioning levels. They are all being decimated in this budget. So what’s left?

If people want to keep the Cultural Arts grant funding, they need to identify what they think can be cut even more to preserve it. This is a value judgment. Do you think that Covenant House Records is more important to Oakland than our public libraries? Is ProArts more important than our parks? I don’t. I’m comfortable saying that. And if you’re going to stand up and say that we can’t afford to suspend these grants, then you need to acknowledge that this is the choice you’re making. You need to be able to look in a mirror and say, “Yes, I think it’s more important to provide grants to the art community than it is to keep libraries open.” Because that’s what you’re asking the people of Oakland to give up.

Subsidy is hardly the only way to promote a thriving arts culture in a City – Oakland could do a great deal more to benefit artists as a community by relaxing nightlife and cabaret restrictions than by throwing money their way. So I hope the Council has the courage to hold firm tonight on the suspension of the program, in spite of whatever angry speakers might show up or angry e-mails they get, because it’s the moral thing to do. Hopefully, some of these organizations and programs will be able to find other ways to say afloat until we can restore funding, through private philanthropy, from the business community, with support from foundations, or whatever. Because you know what, at least there’s some money out there for stuff like this. I’m aware of no foundations that run around repairing sewers.

40 thoughts on “Save the arts? At the expense of what, exactly?

  1. Max Allstadt

    V, it isn’t a “suspension” of the program.

    It’s the elimination of the entire program.

    If you take an office and completely empty it, it can’t restart without a tremendous effort. Calling this a suspension is like dismantling a car and saying you just parked it.

    I can’t stand in the mirror and say words that I don’t mean that you want to put in my mouth to weaken my case.

    But I can say “A lot of this money is youth money and a lot is community development money.”

    I can say “There’s been insufficient communication with the arts community about this, and it amounts to an ambush.”

    I can say “Jean Quan is using a chainsaw where she needs a scalpel.”

  2. V Smoothe Post author

    Max, who told you that? Because I have seen no proposal anywhere that would eliminate the entire Cultural Arts & Marketing Department. I have seen a proposal, at last Thursday’s special budget meeting, that would suspend the Cultural Arts grants for the year.

  3. V Smoothe Post author

    Max, let’s see that scalpel, then. I keep asking where you think we can afford to cut in order to preserve this program, and you still haven’t provided an answer.

  4. Max Allstadt


    It takes more than three days to get that kind of alternative together. And the council can’t exactly take the time out to make detailed compromises tonight. They rarely do anything like that in session. That’s why we need them to VOTE NO on this entire amendment and take a little time to fix it.

  5. dto510

    Max, what do you expect? The Council has to go and ask permission from everyone whose funding they want to cut? And at a time when every day counts, you think they should wait around for people to mobilize against their proposals? They simply are not deleting the Cultural Arts program, they are not even getting rid of all the grants for this year (because some contracts have been signed), they are only suspending the General Fund portion of arts funding for this fiscal year. I don’t know why artists insist on being very disingenuous about what’s going on, that certainly will not help their cause with the Council.

    Speaking of artists being disingenuous, I really don’t like that email that’s circulating around. Not only does it say that all arts funding is cut, which is not true, it says that three councilmembers support the art grants. But none of those three have offered an alternative budget proposal, so their “support” for grants means absolutely nothing.

  6. dto510

    Also, let’s not forget whose fault this is. It’s Dellums’s fault. Not only was his budget late AGAIN, but the reason the cuts are so deep is because the last two budgets his office submitted were just completely wrong. The Council is being forced to clean up his mess. Don’t blame the Council for being fiscally responsible, blame Dellums for being utterly incompetent.

    This is a reason for a recall if I ever saw one.

  7. Max Allstadt


    I was told at a meeting last night by someone who’d been in touch with John Russo’s office that grants that have already been signed can still be cut because of the way the agreements are worded.

    I do agree that the Councilmembers (besides Nadel, Brooks and Brunner who support the arts grants) have had their hand forced somewhat by a Mayor and City Administrator who made a hell of a mess. I still think the action against the Arts funding is overkill, and far too much of a surprise. Three days notice for a single reading, up or down will make everybody who’s on this 10 million dollar chopping block more combative and more resentful if it passes.

    I’m really interested to hear what Desley Brooks has to say about this in particular. Not because I’m not glad to hear that Nadel and Brunner are on board, but because DTO and V are always talking about how they really like Desley’s voting record. You guys even talk up her fiscal responsibility fairly often. I bet Ms. Brooks will have some points worth noting.

    My biggest appeal to the Council is that I don’t think they’ve had time to investigate the potential impact on these cuts, particularly cuts to grantees that use the arts as a vehicle for youth and community initiatives. I hope they also consider that some of these cuts amount to enough of their recipients’ operating budgets that we will have doors closing.

  8. Max Allstadt

    V, the council is not required by force of law to finish the entire budget tonight. They don’t HAVE to make all of these cuts.

    And I still don’t get why WW or OO shouldn’t affect this year’s budget. If we know either of those measures has passed, we’ll be able to justify some cuts and reshuffling this year because of mandated boosts and burdens next year.

  9. V Smoothe Post author

    Desley’s comments on Thursday indicated that she mostly wants to cut police funding.

    Max, you seem to be confused about a lot of things. First of all, the entire Council has had their hand forced because the Mayor submitted a late and incomplete budget. Brooks, Nadel, and Brunner have made no attempt to address the problem. Quan and De La Fuente did the hard work of finding a way to fill the $10 million deficit the Mayor left in his budget proposal. If anyone on the Council has objections to what they came up with, they are welcome to propose alternatives. So far, that hasn’t happened.

    Second, no, it isn’t law that’s forcing the Council to pass a budget, it’s finances. The deficit grows larger every single day we spend money we don’t have. That means that for every day we don’t pass a new budget, the cuts we do have to make are going to be even bigger.

    And where on earth are you getting this idea that Measures WW or OO have anything at all to do with this year’s budget?

    And the deficit is $42 million, not $10 million like you keep saying. Remember, that’s $42 million that has to be cut out of $110 million discretionary budget. So I’m going to ask you for the zillionth time, what do you think should be cut instead?

    Frankly, I’ve about had my fill with this self-righteous “three days notice!” and “ambush!” whining. This budget process has been going on for a month, there was plenty of public notice, plenty of media attention – on TV, on the radio, in the newspaper, on this blog, in Council newsletters. The Mayor and the Council have all made it very clear repeatedly that all options are on the table, nothing but sworn police and fire is safe, and yes, that includes arts grants. Why would you think it didn’t? They repeatedly begged people to come forward with balancing ideas and share their priorities. Begged! I didn’t hear a word from the arts community at any of the meetings I watched. It’s really difficult for me to feel sympathy for people who choose not to participate in a process and then get all upset when they don’t like the result.

  10. dto510

    How, exactly, are Councilmembers Nadel, Brunner and Brooks supporting arts grants? What do they want to cut to fill the $1.4m hole? Saying they want to keep them but offering no means to do so is really hollow, even for Ms. Nadel.

  11. Max Allstadt

    DTO, they’re supporting the art grants by refusing to vote for a budget that didn’t try hard enough to save them. A little more time and examination of the grants program would have shown the rest of the council more clearly where this money is going, and how valuable it is.

    Grants for arts in schools are being cut in a school system that already has trouble maintaining an arts curriculum. Grants for youth arts programs means losing after school services. If these grants were simply administered out of a program with a different name, like “Youth Arts Grants”, it would be more difficult to put them on the chopping block.

    V, as for WW and OO, let me explain it, AGAIN. If WW or OO is passed, the make up of next year’s budget may be radically altered. Waiting until Nov. 5th to finalize this years budget would allow us to adjust funding this year in anticipation of alterations next year due to these ballot box budgeting initiatives.

  12. V Smoothe Post author

    Max, once again, the passage or failure of Measures WW and OO will have no impact on Oakland’s budget for this year. I still don’t understand where you got the idea that they would. We have to balance the budget now, because we’re spending money now, and we have to pay for things now. Not in the future. I don’t know how to say that any clearer. Nothing that happens on November 5th will have any impact on this year’s budget.

    Also, where did you get the idea that Nadel, Brunner, or Brooks won’t vote for the budget? They said they don’t think we should cut arts grants, but none of them said anything at last week’s meeting to suggest they weren’t going to vote for the budget.

  13. Max Allstadt


    Let me explain WW and OO with a metaphor.

    First, WW:

    If you really want a new house plant, and you know your uncle Willy might be buying you a house plant for your birthday, would you go out and buy the plant, or wait and see what Willy gives you?

    Now OO:

    If you’re thinking about buying lunch for your uncle Oliver’s kids, but you know Ollie might bring the kids over and raid your refrigerator next week, you might wait and see whether or not they eat all your salami before you decide to take them out to lunch.

    Get it? The Mayor has created a mess by delaying the budget by refusing to make viable suggestions. But he’s delayed it so much that in a mere two weeks, we’ll have concrete information about the following year’s budget. If we know what the ballot has set us up for in the future, we can pre-emptively compensate in some ways in the present. How is it possible that you didn’t understand me the first three times?

    Maybe Nadel, Brunner and Brooks will vote for a flawed budget along with everybody else. Maybe they’ll compromise. Maybe they’ll postpone. I don’t know. I hope they act to solve this mess in a less imprecise way than the workshop arived at.

    I do know that in the interest of democracy, the arts community has to show up tonight and be heard. The damage that could be done by this budget far outweighs what would happen if we paused for a moment and got it right.

  14. V Smoothe Post author

    No, Max, that isn’t how a municipal budget works. Not even close. I really don’t know how to make this any clearer. You can ask me to explain it in person next time you see me, but the short answer is, you’re wrong and we can’t do that. Nothing that happens on election day has anything to do with what the Council is discussing tonight. And OO doesn’t even have anything to do with next year’s budget, I’m not sure why you keep bringing it up.

  15. SF2OAK

    I’m such a luddite but I read thru the arts paper- 1st it could probably be administered by a college student- so let’s get fte Oakland full time employee off of it and not spend 1 more minute of city time on this- Outsource it (& go to the private sector for funding. I’ve lived in OAK for a yr and never heard about any of the institutions other than the Crucible and Oakland Symphony. If I want to see the Symphony I go to SF, which is where I suspect most people go, which is probably Oakland Symphony’s problem. Perhaps OAK could make a commitment to a movement like Gustavo Dudamel but really these piddling amounts of $4,999 for paper mache masks and other scattershot approaches are really not impactful. sorry but unless the arts are persistent and sustained it’s pretty much a waste. It also seems like each of the grants is pretty much pandering to 1 group. Let those communities raise those moneys – like the latin american mural project & the chinese instrument project. The Mayor said in his 3 pt response to the budget that there are more artists per capita in OAK than (I think he neglected to say where) but fine this grant project probably hits 200 artists of 1,000′s so what are the rest of the artists doing?

  16. Patrick

    Uh, we all know that WW is simply an extension of 1998′s Prop AA and that OO doesn’t take effect until 2011? V is right…neither of these Props affect this years, or next years, budget.

    The $42M deficit is now. Prop WW is deficit neutral (and relative to inflation, probably deficit-); Prop OO is deficit +, but only in 2011 and beyond (and that assumes that revenues increase less than 1% in that period of time).

  17. Art

    I think it’s also important to bear in mind that cultural arts funding is not just about concerts and clay. If the choice were no arts versus no parks, or no arts versus no libraries, of course I’d choose libraries or parks (or streetlights or other services). But I’d prefer the Council come up with a solution that includes some libraries and some parks and some streetlights and some arts—a budget that doesn’t include as much of these things as we’d like, perhaps, but that does not cut them wholesale. Max is right about one thing: freezing the arts funding entirely, even if it’s only for a year, is tantamount to killing the program, because many of those organizations rely on that funding, and may not make it till we have money for them again. And that’s a huge step backwards for a city that is working hard to build its reputation as a city that fosters the arts, one of the few trump cards we have over other nearby communities. Think of Uptown and the community that is growing there, or of West Oakland and the youth arts movement. Think of the Oakland Museum and its cultural programs and events that draw people to downtown Oakland at night, which was virtually unheard of a decade ago. Think of the public art programs that provide outlets for graffiti artists to create murals for neighborhoods. Are these luxuries? I’d say not—not for a city that is perennially living on the brink. I’ve done municipal budgets before, and when you have to get to the bottom line, it’s tempting to take the hatchet approach because you can make a lot more progress a lot more quickly that way. But this really is a case where we need a scalpel approach if we’re going to make it to the other side and still have a city that people want to come to and stay in. It’s about more than music and murals—it’s about our city’s future.

  18. angela

    I guess that $54.5 million subsidy from the city to Forest City would come in handy right about now. Not to mention subsidies requested by developers such as your acquaintance Phil Tagami for the Fox and other developments. Who else got fat subsidies (not to mention raises among city staff)? Mount Davis at the Oakland Coliseum costs taxpayers $20 million annually last I heard and there are some hefty development projects coming up like the Army Base. I know they projects are/were supposed to be key to reviving Oakland but if the city is in a budget crisis then developer subsidies are worth talking about.

  19. oaklanderbybirth

    You are missing the picture here. The council and the latest proposal from IDLF should be looking into cutting staffing position from the council. Legislative Analyst that is $100k per year alone not including benefits. And some of the council members have about 3 people in staff ranging from $50k for schedulers to $90k for ‘aides” So, there you have it. If you want to make a meaningful impact on this budget doesn’t fight for the pennies and crumbs, cut were money can make a difference. I take issue on the cutting of basic services like Fire and Police Department or closing one day per month. Cut the council staff.

  20. oaklanderbybirth

    Angela –

    Correction, Forest City got $74 million dollars not $50 million dollars. But at least in Oakland, we get things done!

    Now, on Tagami, he just made a request for an additional $11 million dollars in order to deliver the Fox project. Some say that he has held the project hostage because of the $22 million dollars already invested. And our tax dollars have basically delivered to us #1, a over budget project #2 a delayed project.

    And now, Phil and his pals in the council are walking around town saying how he has the ARMY base project on his pocket. So there you have. Now, Phil you read this blog can you give us some light into this?

  21. David Oertel


    And didn’t the city also guarantee a profit on Forest City, so that if it really loses the projected 100 million, taxpayers will have to come up with that too?

    We need the Fox to make up for the many venues that were shut down. Venues that were heavily connected to the community, were not subsidized by the taxpayer, provided local jobs that people actually wanted, but did not fit in with a sanitized developer vision of some future Oakland, that is really a nightmare for many of the long time people.

  22. V Smoothe Post author

    Art –

    There’s been a lot of misinformation going around about this, and even though I have tried to correct the record over and over again, nobody seems to be listen. Nobody was ever proposing to cut all of the city’s arts funding. They were proposing to cut one part of it, and lots of the things you mention as important in your comment were to remain. I’m happy for the arts community that they got their grant money back, I guess, but I have no patience for people who go out of their way to lie about what’s happening in order to generate support.

    Angela –

    How can the Fox Theater have a subsidy when it’s owned by the city? We’re paying a subsidy to ourselves? That doesn’t even make sense.

    In any case, this isn’t how the city’s budget works. What we’re talking about is a General Fund deficit right now. Those were redevelopment agency bonds anticipating a tax increment brought by the development. Perhaps with the increased revenue generated by projects like this, the City will be more fully able to fund the arts subsidies you seem so attached to. But it isn’t an issue of one or the other. The money isn’t like, just sitting around, the way some people think it is. And frankly, I don’t see a single thing wrong with the City paying for the remediation on a blighted and toxic site in my neighborhood when it leads to a complete transformation of the area, the way the Uptown Project has.

    David –

    What venues are you talking about?

  23. Max Allstadt


    You’re right, there was a lot of misinformation. Part of the reason that happened was that we only had three days to get our shit together. Artists aren’t super wonky in general, so with such a tight looming deadline, factchecking fell by the wayside here and there.

    As far as what has happened, this is my understanding of the compromise:

    Most of the grants (except for parade and festival $) have been saved. Instead of cutting a total of four city arts jobs, they’re cutting one. They’re also shuffling 2 or 3 positions from one department to another, raising questions about whether these folks will be able to continue their current work without violating their new job descriptions.

    I don’t regret any of the inflammatory stuff I said on this blog and in other places leading up to the meeting last night. Sometimes you have to scream and yell to rally the troops.

    When the troops got to Council Chambers, they showed as much respect as I’ve ever seen from a group that large. I’ve seen the CLC, lead by a paid professional organizer, show up and boo and hiss and chant. I’ll take partial credit for the civility last night, but the only reason I feel like I can is because I made sure everybody on our mailing list read and redistributed a valuable list of guidelines: that list is V Smoothe’s article on how to speak at city council.

  24. V Smoothe Post author

    Factchecking fell by the wayside “here and there”? I’m sorry, Max, “short notice” is absolutely no excuse for arts funding advocates running around telling thousands and thousands of people that the entirety of the City’s arts money was being cut (totally untrue) and that the arts department was the only thing being cut in the budget (again, totally untrue). The fundamental claims they were making were outright lies calculated to generate sympathy. That’s irresponsible and bad for civic participation. It isn’t about being “wonky,” it’s about being honest.

    A look at the public comment at last night’s meeting versus the e-mails and petitions flying around over the last week illustrates the difference between responsible and irresponsible advocacy. The speakers were organized and polite, and made honest, coherent arguments to support their cause and explain their contributions to the community. When what you’re asking for is worthy, there should never be any need to resort to deception in order to generate support.

  25. Max Allstadt

    Again V,

    What you saw online leading up to the Council Meeting was panic. When people get scared, it’s very hard to keep the facts straight. There were dozens of people looking at catastrophic grant cuts. Misinformation, exaggeration and hyperbole are all common byproducts of fear. Artists can be hotheaded, what can I say?

    I even got a few things wrong when I spoke to the council. Brooks, Brunner and Nadel didn’t “vote” against arts cuts in committee, they simply said they were against them. Their sentiment was the same, but their action, I got wrong.

    The first large meeting of heavy hitters was Monday night, and people were confused about the totality of the cuts when the got there. My role was to facilitate and coach this group, to set up a strategy for speaking at council. Margo Dunlap and David Huff of Pro Arts did most of the recruiting for that meeting. Recruiting is geometric, so folks like Michael Sturtz of the Crucible, Anyka Barber from ALICE, and Patricia Hannum of MOCHA certainly amplified our efforts. As did many others, I don’t mean to leave out names, there were a lot of very important arts leaders involved in this.

    By the time we finished on Monday, I thought we were going to be totally coherent and on message, but there are so many artists and arts groups in this town that you simply can’t bring everybody on to the same page in 72 hours. I regret the misinformation that was floating around, but I understand that fear can make that happen. If you want to give us a B instead of an A because of a few sloppy emails, that’s you’re prerogative. Maybe next time, I’ll call you to factcheck along the way, and you’ll give us an A+. By and large, the effort was forthright and cohesive. We did about as well as we could have.

    The result was what you saw in Council Chambers: a genuine outpouring of support for the arts. 200 speaker cards and 3000 petition signatures in 72 hours is a pretty good indicator that this city cares deeply about the arts, and that slashing the grants budget won’t fly, not this year, not next year.

    I hope to be able to tap into this sense of unity so that we can find permanent mandated funding sources for Oakland arts that are outside of the City’s general fund. We need a permanent solution, particularly so we don’t have to pack the council again next year.

  26. Art

    I don’t think anybody was ever claiming that all of the arts funding would be cut, or that it was the only thing being cut. The few emails I saw circulating about it were pretty upfront and accurate about what was and wasn’t on the chopping block. What would have been suspended—yes, temporarily, but suspended nonetheless—was all funding for the cultural arts program’s grants program, plus a few staff positions (no, not all) and some additional funding. That’s not an exaggeration; it’s what the Council was (not unreasonably) considering in light of a very large deficit. And yes, grant recipients include the Oakland Museum, galleries and events in Uptown, youth programs in West Oakland, and many more. Saying that these programs would have remained intact after freezing the grants program is simply not accurate. Is that the only funding those programs receive? Of course not, and you’re right that it’s not even the only funding that some of them receive from the City. But taking it away creates a hole in their budgets nonetheless, and some organizations simply can’t afford to operate with a budget hole. In better times we might look to the County or foundations to fill a gap like that, but realistically I don’t see that happening in the current economic climate.

    If you want to argue that these programs should not have been prioritized over other programs and positions that were also being considered for cuts, that’s fine by me; to each his own. While I personally think these are essential programs for Oakland, I don’t expect everyone to agree with that. But they would absolutely have been affected by a temporary suspension of grants funding and staff support.

  27. angela

    Rather, I should have said the City Council office budget hike, as one of your commenters pointed out above. And the council didn’t go back to the pre-Edgerly sums despite the $1 million cut proposed, from what I understand. And as far as the Fox, Forest City and other development goes, it’s not about money sitting around available to plug the holes. Between two, we’re talking about close to $100 million city money. It speaks to the way the city is handling its budget and where one should look for excess fat. How much money was spent that needn’t have been? And why wouldn’t I be attached to the arts? I kind of like eating, too. Anyway, this city owes a lot of its revival to artists.

  28. dto510

    Angela, it was the work of the Council staff that found money to restore the arts grants. And the city made a decision a long time ago to buy the Fox and restore it, which comes from redevelopment funds (not the fund with a deficit). I guess we can all think of something wasteful (my pet peeve is the printed-and-then-scanned city reports), but the budget was difficult and pointing fingers at the Council or random city projects really isn’t fair just because a popular program was threatened.

    The business community was silent on the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, which was axed (it’s also part of Cultural Arts and Marketing), but supported the restoration of the arts grants, and I think that’s a good example that folks can be satisfied with a balanced budget even though it involves cuts.

  29. Max Allstadt

    The next step if you want to keep the arts funding is to vote no on measure OO.

    They call it Kids First, but that downplays the fact that it’s really NGOs first. Measure OO is a ballot-box budgeting action that will suck 16 million dollars out of the general fund. If it passes, you better believe that the arts will be back on the chopping block.

    There is no elected official or major local candidate that supports measure OO. For a simple reason: anybody who understands even a little of the technicalities of the city budget knows that MEASURE OO IS A HORRIBLE HORRIBLE IDEA.

    Even if it was wise to hack into the general fund via the ballot box (it isn’t wise), now is the absolute worst time to do it.

    The problem with OO is that it sounds innocent and beneficial when you see it in the voter guide. It is not. That’s why about the only place you’ll see a pro-OO sign is on David Kakishiba’s lawn. He spearheaded the measure, and guess what, he’d also directly financially benefit from it. Kakishiba does good work, but his measure is bad bad bad plan.

    Is my man Charlie Pine in da house? Can I get a little support here, C-dawg?

  30. David Oertel


    So what about NN? Shouldn’t you apply the same logic to NN?

    I saw part of the council meeting on KTOP and I caught your wizard-of-Oz moment in front of the great and powerful city council. So congratulations on keeping the arts funding. However, doesn’t taking money from the city for arts lead to your expression being dumbed down by pedestrian, banal interests from so-called religious people, the business community, cultural bigots, etc? Personally, I support the arts at every opportunity, but I had to ask this devil’s-advocate question.

  31. Max Allstadt

    Wizard of Oz? That’s giving me WAY WAY too much credit. The emails probably solved the problem before we even got to council chambers. All I did was go to one meeting at Pro Arts, regurgitate V’s speaking tips, and pass around ceded speaker cards to key people last night.

    NN doesn’t take from the general fund, David. And remember, I finally came around and voted no on that one.

    As for the devil’s advocate question… I encourage you to get out and look at what some of the grantees are doing. That’s all the answer I feel I need to give. Nobody likes all art, but if you went looking at what private money does in Oakland, and what public money does in Oakland, I’d bet you’d give thumbs up to at least an equal percentage of public and private projects.

  32. David Huff

    V Smoothe,

    Thank you for hosting this dialog on your site.

    I think some of the what what may seem like mis-representation over the call to save arts funding in Oakland has been in what we mean by ‘funding’.

    When I talk about last night’s budget eliminating art funding in Oakland, I am talking about the elimination of Oakland as a funding source for artists and organizations. It is true that the “percent for art” public art program was not being shut down, but that money is specifically purposed for commissioning site-specific artworks. It also, as I understand it, has no stipulation that the money be given to Oakland artists. So while it can be called “arts funding” in that it is money that is going towards increasing the amount of art in Oakland, it does not “fund the arts” because it does not necessarily support Oakland’s artistic community.

    The truth of the matter is that, the city of Oakland’s cultural funding program is the only avenue individual artist projects, artists in schools, and arts organizations have of getting support from Oakland. With every dollar we receive, we are able to leverage an average of $9 form funding sources outside the city. Without the city’s support over a dozen organizations like mine would be forced to close our doors.

    We can disagree as to how relatively important the services provided at those arts organizations are compared to other programs that were in danger of being cut, but for the the vast majority of artists, art is school programs, and arts organizations, the Cultural Funding program is the only support available to us from the city of Oakland. I’m glad they made the decision to reduce, rather than eliminate it.

  33. V Smoothe Post author

    Again, accuracy is important. David, the Council did not make a decision to “reduce” the grants available through the Cultural Arts funding program, they preserved them in their entirety. I understand that people want to make everyone excited about their cause, but that doesn’t justify being casual with the truth.

  34. Max Allstadt


    I think you and Dave might be differing here on wording or line items, not the effect.
    Didn’t the parade and festival funds originally come out of Cultural Arts Grants? If it did, there’s a net loss of grants.

  35. Max Allstadt

    ok, a technicality. Parade funds are grants. They come from the Cultural Arts Department, but they aren’t part of the Cultural Arts Grants program. I can see how anybody could muddle that up.

  36. David Oertel


    About the wizard-of-oz moment. It seems like whoever designed that whole 2-minute experience, with the entire city council sitting behind that massive desk and kind of towering over you and the clock ticking away, to make sure that you only do that once and never come back. Even I broke into a cold sweat and I was only watching on KTOP! Anyway, good job pulling it off. The artists usually get kicked around by the cops, developers, businesses, you name it. It was surreal to see you artists wield some actual power for a change.

  37. Mike Spencer

    When I read about “arts” I would like to see a breakdown vs. other areas. I am a home owner/tax payer, guess we all are. What exactly is/are the “arts” that the City funds? I coach a high school rugby club and we can’t even get field space where our kids live, Fruitvale. $42 million is a huge hole. Everyone has to feel the pain, from Police union to the arts to Council staffs to the Mayor’s office to other unions.

  38. Kevin Cook

    I think Mike brings up a good point when he asks what exactly are we getting in the way of publicly accessible art for our 1.4 million. It appears that at least half of that money goes towards what I would term arts education as opposed to actual art creation by either individual artists or artists organizations. As a teacher, I’m all in favor of providing further opportunities for arts education, especially for young people. However, as DTO510 points out in his comment in the No on OO post, it would seem that some of these arts education non-profits should be able to get some of the $10 million Kids First money.

    I’m suggesting that its easier to rally people to the banner of the arts than it is to the banner of arts education. The endless rhetoric of how much working artists add to the cultural strength of our city motivates “the troops” as Max calls them, far more than the telling people that the Prescott Circus Theater won’t be getting their 35 grand to teach kids clowning or that Attitudinal Healing Connection won’t be receiving 15 grand to teach kids to draw superheroes that reflect their self-esteem. No doubt these programs have tremendous value for the children, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that I don’t think they add much to the arts/culture scene that your average citizen might want to check out during the evening (However, I’ve seen First Friday shows that look like they’re more about the artists attempt at juvenile self-affirmation than a sophisticated engagement with the question of art)

    Mike, I’m betting that the guys on your rugby team are getting much the same value on the pitch that those kids under the big top are. However, “sports grants” don’t play as well as “arts grants” do in this town. Moreover, I’m betting you volunteer your time right? If you had a whole non-profit structure set-up upon which your livelihood depended (as do many in these arts education organizations) you’d also be more motivated to head down to City Hall and claim that if you don’t get your grant than the cultural life of the city would wither on the vine (as would your salary)

    Finally, what does the Crucible need with 50 grand of our money? If you want to learn to weld you can head down to Laney for a fraction of the cost of the Crucible. Whenever I get invited to one of their events the price tag is always like $50 which doesn’t seem especially community friendly. Besides, teaching people fire performance doesn’t add to the cultural scene in the City of Oakland; it contributes to the scene at Black Rock City, which doesn’t need any encouragement as far as I can tell.