San Diego County convenes arts and culture commission

For the first time in nearly 30 years, San Diego County will form an Arts and Culture Commission to manage funding and support arts activities in the region.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved the new commission through its consent schedule last week, directing staff to begin organizing the 13-member body.

Recent county studies found that nonprofit arts and culture organizations spend more than $1 billion a year and employ more than 35,000 people, the board letter said. In the 1980s, the council convened a Public Art Advisory Council, which sought and distributed state and federal funding for art.

The council was abolished in 1993, however, leaving the county without a clearinghouse for arts funding and ineligible for many state arts grants, according to the council’s letter. Since then, San Diego County has been one of only four counties in California without a dedicated talent agency.

Theaters, museums and organizations have been hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic, when public health restrictions have halted many performances and other cultural events. Last year, the board allocated a total of $5 million, or $1 million to each supervisory district, for “community improvement funds” and asked staff to explore how to expand this effort through to a new talent agency.

The commission will be managed by a full-time staff member and will consist of 13 members, including two appointed by each supervisor and three youth members.

The council also asked staff members to explore steps the county can take to directly support the arts, including the potential use of county properties as workspaces for local artists. He also asked staff to consider how to increase equity in the arts, noting that the arts are among the first programs cut from schools during budget cuts, and that low-income and communities of color “have historically used the arts and culture to navigate and survive systemic racism and oppression.

The board’s letter also instructed staff to focus on new and upcoming artists as well as established arts institutions.

“To promote greater cultural diversity and inclusion and to empower historically disenfranchised communities, it is important to elevate the worker of small emerging artists from communities who have not had access to artistic and cultural resources,” says the letter.

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