SF arts funding prioritizes symphony, other stuff white people like

Michael Tilson Thomas directs the San Francisco Symphony. Are arts grants skewed towards art white people favor, like orchestras?
Courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony

Disadvantaged artists might be getting the short end of the paintbrush in favor of the city’s more affluent art community in Mayor Ed Lee’s proposed 2014-16 city budget.

That’s what a seemingly endless line of advocates expressed in a hearing in front of the San Francisco Budget and Finance Committee Friday [6/20] when given the opportunity to suggest ways to better apportion funding in the budget. According to a recent report from the Budget and Legislative Analyst’s Office, the dissenters might be onto something.

The report details the allocation of funding from Grants for the Arts, revealing that 76 percent of GFTA’s grant money will go to art organizations with primarily white audiences. This figure is right in line with the funding priorities from 1961, when the city’s population was 82 percent white.

Today, people of color make up 58 percent of the city’s population, while the white population has been nearly cut in half over the course of the five decades since 1961. But that hasn’t stopped GFTA from devoting more than three-quarters of its funds for art organizations whose audiences are predominantly white, the report found.

GFTA’s self-proclaimed goal is to “promote and support the widest possible variety of arts and culture activities in the City,” although it’s hard to imagine it had that in mind when devising the budget plan for the upcoming fiscal year.

This isn’t the first time GFTA has snubbed underprivileged artists. According to the Budget Analyst’s report, GFTA actually reduced its percentages of funding to arts organizations of color from 2006-07 to 2012-13, and the agency’s funding for those organizations has not improved over the last 25 years, despite the city’s radically shifting demographics and the lip service regularly given to diversity at City Hall. GFTA has no plans to improve its grant money allocation, according to the report. Officials at the agency declined to comment when contacted for this story.

arts grants

When the Budget and Finance Committee heard public comment today about the mayor’s proposed budget, a great deal of the discussion centered on cultural equity and providing increased funding for disadvantaged citizens in the arts.

Numerous speakers cited the city’s changing demographics and the reality that the city isn’t made up of an enormous majority of white residents anymore, calling for more art funding for people of color, despite the budget’s lopsided allocation of funds to the white demographic.

In particular, the budget proposal allocates 19 percent of the 2014-15 budget to the San Francisco Symphony, which was enough for one speaker to state that “a lion’s share is going to the traditional organizations.” The message to the committee, simply put, was to “consider how you invest the money you’re spending,” as another speaker said, and that “public funding for the arts is not supposed to disempower by taking away the voice of the underrepresented.”

Allocating more funding for the Cultural Equity Grants was an oft-mentioned method for better supporting disadvantaged artists, with the project-based grant system receiving 25 percent of the commission’s budget in the 2014-15 fiscal year. The number of grants awarded each year has remained relatively stagnant in recent years, with 94 grants awarded in 2012-13, a projected 100 to be given out in 2013-14, and a target of 100 in both 2014-15 and 2015-16.

The number of street artists supporting themselves by selling their work isn’t progressing much either. The city issued 176 new licenses for such artists in 2012-13, but is projected to dole out only 122 in the current fiscal year. The new proposal targets similar numbers to those from 2012-13 (179 and 183 licenses in 2014-15 and 2015-16, respectively), further affirmation of the sluggish advancement of the mission to ensure that all cultures of the city are represented.

But disadvantaged residents in the arts aren’t the only ones who stand to be affected by the proposed budget, a fact that wasn’t lost on many concerned advocates. Lee calls for a budget of $13.9 million for the Arts Commission in 2014-15, a relatively minor 2 percent decrease from the 2013-14 budget of $14.2 million. The real drop-off occurs in 2015-16, however, when the Arts Commission budget decreases by a full 8.4 percent from the previous fiscal year. The Mayor’s Office declined to respond when contacted for this story.

Needless to say, members of the art community as a whole weren’t thrilled about Lee’s sharply declining emphasis on the arts, and they voiced their concern toward the Committee on Friday. The city’s lack of aid for the general art community, in addition to simply underprivileged artists, had many speakers understandably up in arms.

Below we've embedded Harvey Rose's report on skewed arts grants funding.

"Arts inequity": San Francisco Budget and Legislative Analyst Report by Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez


those arts or on the skin color of those who like it?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 11:15 am

running theme with SFBG that non-whites are being displaced in SF by whites. They call it gentrification.

And yet the argument being expressed here is that we should divert more funding to non-white arts (whatever that means) because the white population of SF is declining.

Which is it?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 11:39 am

The article shows that the symphony and other art forms favored by rich white people are being subsidized by all city taxpayers to the exclusion of art realms of people who could actually use a little help. Let the rich pay for their own art, they can certainly afford it more than the rest of us these days. 

Posted by steven on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 12:49 pm

and SF symphony are no better than some crappy art that nobody is interested in but that just happens to be produced by or watched by someone who isn't white?

Why introduce race into this at all?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 1:02 pm

Street art is innovative and relevant, while opera is universally boring.

And h brown argued that his friend Krissy Keifer's dance troupe is as good as any Borishnikov or Nureyev. And he's a white guy!

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 9:42 pm

There is broad agreement on what constitutes good art.

The fact that you don't get opera doesn't change that.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 4:36 am

SFBG routinely claims that whites are replacing non-whites in SF, which you attribute as gentrification.

But now, when it suits you, you claim that whites are leaving

Which is it?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 4:39 am

the gentrification issue is addressing specific neighborhoods, like the Mission, but that has so far left the southern neighborhoods fairly alone in terms of displacement (not that there hasn't been any, just less). So I think there's more nuance, which seems to be eluding you.

Posted by Joe Fitzgerald on Jun. 27, 2014 @ 8:09 am

San Francisco is barely 50% "white."

Posted by marcos on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 12:11 pm

white, which saddens progressives who hope to co-opt them as victims.

And Asians often vote with whites, which makes them the model minority and nominally "white" as well.

The left needs to find a better strategy than card-playing and pandering to those whom they want to see as victims.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 12:27 pm

The census numbers and classifications are what I am referring to.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 1:10 pm

Not 40% as the SFBG is claiming here.

And certainly walking about the city, I see more whites than non-whites, unless I go to a few very specific areas.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 1:13 pm

41.7%: White alone, not Hispanic or Latino, percent, 2012


Posted by marcos on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 1:48 pm

white? Which is a considerable number.

But your data serves to refute those who claim that gentrification is a problem. Clearly if the white population is declining then there is no gentrification.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 2:00 pm

People have been complaining about the Asians taking over for at least 50 years. This is just more of the same. The whites are leaving town, so it can't be them.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 10:13 pm

People who have even a little non-whiteness in them often identify as non-white because it helps get you college places and jobs.

I'd estimate that three out of five SF'ers are mostly white.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 4:40 am

yes, asians are the model minority. I will even tolerate the incessant spitting, as long as they continue to "vote with whites".

Posted by ChristianPatriotLandowner on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 8:30 pm

Let me guess - Asians are crappy drivers and all look alike?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 4:37 am

all absurdism aside for a moment, do you honestly believe that asians are good drivers?

Posted by ChristianPatriotLandowner on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 9:38 am

say bad things about non-whites or good things about whites

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 9:56 am

Love the progressive attitude towards Asians. If a conservative or moderate said: "I'll tolerate blacks/Latinos even though they __________, as long as they continue to vote progressive", progs would be up in arms screaming "racism" to the heavens. But when one of them does it to Asian people? Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly?), silence.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 7:24 am

white progressives can save them.

Asians don't play the victim card so progressives have no use for them.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 7:59 am

For example, of the eighteen first violinists at the SF Symphony, five are Asian.

It is time we stopped funding all-white organizations like the SF Symphony!

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 12:36 pm
Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 12:45 pm

The Budget Legislative Analyst's report offers definitions for all identified ethnic categories of arts programs, and explanations as to why they're used, if you're curious. 

Posted by Joe Fitzgerald on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 12:50 pm
Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 1:02 pm

then their numbers are useless.

It's more like 60%.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 1:05 pm

Perhaps on the surface this seems startling, but it makes some sense. The SFS is an established organization that presumably uses funding efficiently, it attracts tourist dollars, and it puts a huge effort into outreach, especially in schools. Furthermore, race-baiting on this subject is a bit crass. Classical music can appeal to everyone and calling it a "white" art form is inaccurate. I try to get to Davies Symphony Hall once or twice a month, and I'm mixed, middle class, and in my late 20s, for what it's worth. We have an uncommonly awesome symphony.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 1:00 pm

divided. Art belongs to the world and not to a race.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 2:02 pm

Don't be ridiculous. Only white people like the symphony and minorities only like street art done by poor people.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 5:05 pm
Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 5:08 pm

By this article's headline people of color are uncultured for the fine arts.

Posted by GUEST on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 4:01 pm
Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 4:17 pm

As a multiracial individual, it really is off putting to see how obsessed progressives are with race. Their fixation (which is WITHOUT A DOUBT racist) is more rabid than ever, and their disdain for any minority group that's achieved a modicum of success is shifting from under the breath disgust to overt and unapologetic discriminatory attitudes.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 8:04 pm

I wonder, is the author of this article white?

Posted by Becky Backside on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 9:21 pm

White people can perceive white privilege too.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 9:43 pm

The rest of us know that it is a myth.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 4:37 am

The guilt that goes with an entitlement to tax money knows no bounds.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 5:56 am

How much money has gone to chain saw arts? Whens the last time you saw a guy cutting up a tree stump with a chain saw in SF?

The problem isn't race, its class. The Latinos need more new arty satin Scarface shirts. The under class needs to have better quality arty Che flags.

The author entirely misses the point. Memorial Elvis plates should be in every San Francisco home regardless of ethnicity. White privilege demands it.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 6:02 am

Even though there isn't much black art that anyone is interested in

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 6:13 am

We should remove all funding for all arts, unless we have a demographically-based, politically-correct funding method developed by a Blue Ribbon panel of non-professional artist "advocates" funded by the GFTA.

Posted by Awkward White Guy in Shorts on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 11:08 am

Don't forget that SF Symphony supports all SFUSD kids with a wide variety of high quality music education. Every year, my kid goes to 3 concerts at her school presented by the SF Symphony. It's not only symphonic music. They have latin and jazz groups. They provide educational support and materials so the kids are learning a ton while they have fun. Every year my kid goes to Davies Symphony Hall to hear a special symphony concert programmed just for kids. How special is my kid? Special enough to go to SFUSD where every child is supported by our San Francisco Symphony. Instrumental instruction and instrument repair is also supported by the symphony. The SF Symphony supports all of our kids with world class musical experiences.

Posted by Salamander on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 4:33 pm

Not even joking anymore, this rag is flat out racist. Seriously, by any definition, anyway you slice it, Steven and SFBG are just straight up racists. It's really pathetic and fucked up when you think about it.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 7:44 pm

It is sad to hear "a cultural pie is being divided up and fingers point to whitie getting a bigger piece..." 1st of all the very premise is flawed in that the bigger chunks of money are going to long established and institutions that are politically and culturally symbolic of the city- not white, just the establishment- like Ed Lee. So no surprise in an era of tax breaks for successful businesses, the city chooses to support not the avante garde or fledgling organizations but ones that have the full backing of the politically connected in S.F.: The Symphony, The Opera, The Fine Arts Museums The Asian Art Museum- these represent a reliable payback in terms of public relations than do smaller arts and cultural organizations. What do do? Fior onwe thing those of you complaining about all this could actually support the organizations like the Lab or Mission Cultural center,. Put your money where your text is....
And BTW the symphony is wonderful and supports many non white artists and composers, so try elevating the level of discourse in our town- we all deserve that.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 30, 2014 @ 3:27 pm

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