Jon Hinojosa, SAY Sí executive director, (pictured here) along with Kathy Armstrong, outgoing director of Luminaria, Mary Heathcott, executive director of Blue Star Contemporary, and Elyse Gonzalez, the new curator of Ruby City, drafted a letter to Mayor Ron Nirenberg and City Council on June 2 titled “Creativity Counts." Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

This article has been updated.

The San Antonio arts sector can finally start on its road to economic recovery, in the form of the new $2.6 million SA CARES 4 Art emergency funding relief program.

Nonprofit arts organizations are now eligible to apply for grants ranging from $4,000 to $112,500, depending on annual budget size, from a pool of $2 million, according to an announcement last Friday by the Department of Arts and Culture.

The remaining $600,000 will be dedicated to individual artists, who may apply for grants up to $5,000, depending on lost income resulting from cancelled business between March 13 and Dec. 30 due to the coronavirus pandemic shutdown.

It’s much-needed relief for a segment of the community that has seemingly been left out of the funding conversation since the City announced it was doling out federal funds for individuals, businesses, and entities who were trying to weather pandemic-induced hardships. 

In late March, the City of San Antonio was awarded $270 million as part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. However, that money was immediately slotted into four focus priorities: workforce development, small business grants and loans, housing security, and closing the digital divide.

At the time, Councilman Roberto Treviño said arts relief funding would be forthcoming eventually, “but it’s nuanced in that we’ve got to prioritize from the most vulnerable to the larger population as a whole.”

Following the shutdown, the Department of Arts and Culture and Luminaria developed the Corona Arts Relief program, which was immediately overwhelmed with applications. The fund initially distributed 49 emergency grants averaging $569 to individual artists, then collected and distributed further funding through an internet telethon that raised $5,200. To date, Luminaria has distributed $62,464 to more than 100 artists, thanks to grants from the San Antonio Area Foundation and Brown Foundation, according to Kathy Armstrong, outgoing executive director.

Less than a month after the City received word of its CARES allocation, the Department of Arts and Culture saw its funding halted. The department uses the HOT, or Hotel Occupancy Tax, to fund nonprofit arts organizations and individual artists. But with the pandemic severely impacting tourism, the City of San Antonio withdrew arts funding because of overall revenue losses. Organizations lost their promised third and fourth payments for annual funding, totaling $1.2 million, and January discussions between the Department and community members about providing additional funding for individual artists — who requested $1 million beyond pre-pandemic funding levels — came to a halt. 

The perceived disregard for the arts prompted Jon Hinojosa, SAY Sí executive director, Kathy Armstrong, outgoing director of Luminaria, Mary Heathcott, executive director of Blue Star Contemporary, and Elyse Gonzalez, the new curator of Ruby City, to draft a letter to Mayor Ron Nirenberg and City Council on June 2 titled “Creativity Counts,” which was signed by 46 people representing an array of arts organizations. The letter cites economic figures related to the arts economy and states, “during this time, we have all recognized that the arts are necessary for a functioning society.”

The letter also explicitly asked for funding far beyond the $2.6 million allocation: “We strongly urge that every effort be made to focus significant additional resources (at a minimum of $10 million) to nonprofit arts organizations, as well as designate a separate amount specific to supporting individual artists in our community.”

Consequently, Hinojosa has concerns with the money and the disbursement. Hinojosa said “bureaucratic barriers” bedevil the application process, particularly for smaller organizations and individual artists not well-versed in grant writing.

“They want to support gig artists with funds, yet need and expect them to complete a complicated grant application,” Hinojosa said. Having attended January workshops held by the department to explore individual artist funding, Hinojosa pointed out that one key element of those meetings was artists asking for professional and entrepreneurial development, specifically to help secure funds through grant writing and similar application processes.

The workshops were halted along with most other department activity once the pandemic struck in March.

For organizations, Hinojosa said the application timeline is unrealistic. Due July 30, groups have “less than three weeks to review and amend 2020 budgets and adopt new 2021 budgets that again must be board approved.”

Budgeting is project-driven and complicated, he said, and “takes time, energy and effort.” He described the expectation to get all this done by the last day of July as “crazy.”

Still, Debbie Racca-Sittre, executive director of the Department of Arts and Culture, expects at least 120 individual artist relief grants to be disbursed, and at least 40 nonprofit organizations will receive funds, with all funding to be disbursed by Sept. 30.

Hinojosa said despite his objections, he’d still do what he could to help with applications.

“As an administrator for the Supporting Artists of San Antonio Facebook page, I will let artists know I will help them, but this is sorta disappointing on many levels.”

The application window opened July 10 and closes July 30. Beyond Hinojosa’s help, questions regarding the grants will be accepted through July 28, and can be directed via email to the Department of Arts and Culture. Detailed grant descriptions are available for download here.

Nicholas Frank

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...