After becoming interim director of the Department of Arts and Culture in 2016, Debbie Racca-Sittre led a community meeting at Centro de Artes to determine the future of the largely dormant exhibition space.

That meeting served as a guide for her five-year tenure as executive director, during which Racca-Sittre continually sought community input for her departmental initiatives.

On Sept. 8, Racca-Sittre left the department she led to become San Antonio’s interim City Clerk, leaving behind a significant roster of accomplishments, including implementation of a five-year strategic plan.

Former Marketing, Film and Music Administrator Krystal Jones has stepped into Racca-Sittre’s role, now interim director of the department until a permanent replacement can be found.

A cultural legacy

Racca-Sittre identified the Cul-Tú-Art five-year strategic plan as her proudest accomplishment, citing community buy-in as key to its implementation. The multi-part plan lists successes in each of its component areas: re-enlivening Centro de Artes, returning funding of nonprofit arts organizations to pre-pandemic levels, and establishing a new grants program for individual artists.

Under her leadership, the department also helped establish the new Westside Cultural Arts District, distributed eight $10,000 grants during the pandemic for arts groups to refurbish their facilities, and along with former District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño, initiated a potential .5% increase in the percent-for-art program, which could result in $16 million over the next five years for public art if approved as part of the 2022 municipal bond.

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.
Debbie Racca-Sittre has been appointed as Interim City Clerk. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The Cul-Tú-Art plan areas of film and music have been specialty areas for Jones, and will receive her attention as she begins leading the department. Grants for production costs are a possibility for arts groups, and communicating with music venues about the City’s emphasis on sound ordinances is a priority, Jones said.

“We will certainly be there at the table to research what next steps we need to take to ensure our music venues and musicians are in on the conversation so that they can be engaged in the process,” Jones said.

As to the struggling San Antonio Symphony, one among more than 40 arts groups that receive city funding annually, Jones said, “we hope that there is a resolution on the immediate horizon for the benefit of everyone in our community.”

More for art

Other challenges facing Jones and newly appointed interim Assistant Director Diana Hidalgo include re-opening Centro de Artes to the public in January, advocacy for the restoration of film incentives, and carrying the initiative to increase the percent-for-art public art funding program to 1.5% “across the finish line,” Racca-Sittre said.

“I know that the staff that I built under Arts and Culture … are ready for this challenge,” she said.

Most immediately, Jones will focus on advocating for the allotment of $5 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to the arts sector, out of a total of $229.4 million coming to San Antonio.

Eight community input sessions will help City Council decide how the ARPA funds will be spent, including funds for the arts. Jones said the sessions will help San Antonio residents register how important the arts are to the city.

“These community engagement sessions will continue to collect feedback and [create] an opportunity for arts organizations, individual artists and residents alike to communicate the value of art,” Jones said.

The first two sessions are on Saturday, 10:30 a.m. at the Palo Alto College Legacy Ballroom, and 3 p.m. at Las Palmas Library.

More information on the community input sessions is available on the city’s COVID-19 website.

The marketing and communications experience Jones gained over six years working with the Convention and Visitors Bureau — now Visit San Antonio — will help in her new position, she said.

“Part of the city’s contract includes Visit San Antonio having dedicated marketing efforts focused on arts and culture, and making sure that artists and arts organizations are at the forefront of that messaging,” Jones said.

Her focus will be not only on the tourism sector, but on local businesses and residents in search of arts resources, and “making sure that anyone who at any point can engage with the arts can do so. So it’s making sure we have those avenues that can amplify our message.”

Racca-Sittre said she leaves the department in good hands with Jones and Hidalgo in leadership roles. “They know the program, they know the plan. Krystal and Diana know how to lead, and they know the community and the community knows them,” she said.

“I have utmost confidence in them. It’s time for folks to step up and move into new roles and get some fresh ideas.”

Nicholas Frank

Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with an indie rock...