About 200 people showed up for the 45th – and one of the last – mayoral forums before the May 9 City Election. Early voting began Monday morning, and will continue until May 5.
The traditional top four contenders including former County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, Mayor Ivy Taylor, former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, and former state Rep. Mike Villarreal were on stage, but they were joined this time by Paul Martinez, a San Antonio native and military veteran.
With thousands of votes already cast, five out of the 14 mayoral candidates gathered at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts to discuss their perspectives on the arts community and economy in San Antonio. An evening which started with the best of intentions spiraled into a spectacle of the mundane.
The Change the Vote forum began with each candidate stating their vision for the arts – each were, unsurprisingly, in favor of keeping the arts around and encouraged more private and public funding. This was followed by a lightning round intending to explore each candidate’s taste in the arts. Then Theatre For Change (TFC) founder Shannon Ivey and KSAT 12 Anchor Tim Gerber, who both served as moderators of the forum, moved on to questions previously submitted to the TFC website, many of which were softballs posed anonymously. Lastly, a few questions were posed live via Twitter.
This statement posted on TheatreForChange.org, essentially forms the premise on which Monday’s forum was founded:
The arts are responsible for a bold revitalization in San Antonio and cities throughout the U.S. and the next mayor of San Antonio must be interested in investing in the arts community to continue to stimulate the city and its economy.
“We invite you to be bold and ask truthful questions,” Ivey said. “It’s time that we unite as artists and be bold with our voices, even if they shake.”
Let’s be honest: who is going to take a stand against the arts during their political campaign? All of the candidates said nice things about the arts but a few seemed far more astute than the others, in my opinion.
Adkisson mentioned implementing STEAM (Science, Tech, Engineering, ARTS, Mathematics).
Martinez advocated for “dividing funding equally among all the arts, not just the ‘big business arts.’”
Taylor said “the arts are important to any vital community.”
Van de Putte was the first to mention the necessity of more corporate engagement. “What we need is a direct connection between our investment in the arts and economic development,” she said.
Villarreal reminded the audience that his family is engaged with many arts organizations and said no matter any child’s socioeconomic standing, “they (should) have access to art.”
The best and most relevant question of the evening came in from local artist Benjamin McVey, via Twitter: “How will San Antonio compete in the arts on a national level with other large cities like Los Angeles, New York, Miami and Houston?”
Most of the arts professionals in the audience understood exactly what McVey was getting at. We understood because we are all engaged in the challenges of being a professional artist: putting a roof over one’s head, providing for a family, advancing professionally – all the same concerns that any other professional would have. Except that these are artists and they do it all for the love and satisfaction, right? Right – try paying your rent with love and satisfaction.
Even more interesting were the statements and conversations that took place after the forum.
The consensus of the cognoscenti floating around the lobby was that the candidates didn’t really understand the question.
While it was good to have an opportunity to talk about the business of arts in a serious way, it fell flat because none of the candidates were overwhelmingly persuasive on the subject. None demonstrated a definitive grasp of the business of doing art.
Many audience members left the sparsely populated main auditorium with a nagging question: Do these candidates really believe in the arts as an economic generator, or are they all just paying lip service to the idea, getting through this last forum?
At the end of the evening, Robert Prestigiacomo, producing artistic director of AtticRep, had left them with even more questions. “Where is the audience? Where are the people?” he asked. “If I am sitting on that stage and looking out on that small number of people, I am thinking that not many people care. I am thinking this isn’t a real issue.”
SA2020 Interim President and CEO Molly Cox, who gave opening remarks, cited that only 7.61% of registered voters in San Antonio participated in the last municipal election in 2013.
“Just to put that into perspective, if we were to say that the Tobin Center is the City of San Antonio, that would mean that the first five rows here voted. The first five rows made all the decisions for the rest of the Tobin Center.”
Yes, 7.61% of registered voters are making the decisions for 100% of San Antonio’s population. How many of them are artists? Click here to find out more information about polling dates, times, and locations.
The next mayoral forum, which has invited the top four candidates, will take place on Tuesday, April 28, at the Shenandoah Homes Association Clubhouse, 4402 Ramsgate St. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the two-hour forum begins at 7 p.m.
*Featured/top image: (From left) Mayoral candidates Mike Villarreal, Leticia Van de Putte, Mayor Ivy Taylor, Paul Martinez, and Tommy Adkisson on stage at The Tobin Center during the Change the Vote mayoral forum. Photo by Page Graham.