By a unanimous vote Thursday, City Council approved the Department of Arts and Culture’s new Cul-TÚ-Art funding guidelines, which are designed to better balance City arts funding between San Antonio’s larger “legacy” arts organizations and smaller groups.

After months of planning, including public discussion and input, the newly approved portion of the plan aims for a more equitable distribution of City arts funding between San Antonio’s larger “legacy” arts organizations, such as the San Antonio Symphony, San Antonio Museum of Art, and the Witte Museum, with smaller and medium-sized culturally focused groups such as Musical Bridges Around the World, SAY Sí, and the groups of the eight-member Westside Coalition.

“It is important to have a special category for those agencies whose mission is to preserve or promote a specific culture,” said Debbie Racca-Sittre, director of the Department of Arts and Culture.

City of San Antonio Department of Arts & Culture Director Debbie Racca-Sittre welcomes the audience to the Third Annual Distinction in the Arts honoree announcement at the Centro de Artes Gallery.
City of San Antonio Department of Arts & Culture Director Debbie Racca-Sittre Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

In advance of the vote, several Council members thanked Racca-Sittre for her hard work and openness to community input during the planning process.

“It’s not just the things that people see on brochures of San Antonio’s tourism industry,” District Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) said. “We want to make sure we’re really booming from the ground up.”

“The arts community has worked very hard to develop this policy,” Racca-Sittre said, and “the process has been transparent and inclusive.”

Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) voiced support for the guidelines but emphasized the importance of keeping arts organizations accountable. He noted that there are several arts organizations that are not classified as Latino and therefore do not receive special treatment, despite their strong support of Latino art and artists.

“I reject that our spending on Latino art is deficient,” Pelaez said. “Last time I checked, we’ve got symphony musicians who are Latino.”

District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry questioned Racca-Sittre on several of the metrics in her presentation, including a 25 percent maximum increase or decrease that could be seen by arts organizations as a result of the guidelines.

“A 25 percent increase [in funding for an arts organization] sounds like too much of an increase in one year’s time,” he said.

Perry also reacted to the “arc of brilliance” idea, presented by Urban 15  Director and Co-founder George Cisneros who spoke before the vote, that would showcase artists and venues in particular parts of town.

“I gotta say it, I am very disappointed that [Districts 8, 9, and 10], particularly District 10, isn’t included in this ‘arc of brilliance,’” Perry said. “If you take a look at the taxpayers around town, District 10 puts in quite a bit into this pot of money … but I don’t think they’re seeing results.”

Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3), and Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) were not present for the vote.

Racca-Sittre modeled the new equity funding plan on the plans of several other cities, including Phoenix, San Diego, Austin, and Chicago. The plans goals include cultural equity, accessibility to the arts, economic development of the creative industry, and collaboration among arts and culture groups.

“It is important that we move in this positive direction, so we can ultimately show the world our wonderful, unique, and authentic cultures,” she said.

Racca-Sittre detailed the next features of the Cul-TÚ-Art plan to be submitted for Council approval: a five-year public art strategy, expected for a Council vote in late March or early April, followed by a music plan involving a strategic planning process, and a framework for establishing cultural districts.

The entire plan must be complete before the City budget for fiscal year 2019 is adopted by August.

Avatar photo

Emily Royall

Emily Royall is the Rivard Report's former data director.