AN "ARTS" CITY WHICH DOESN'T FUND THE ARTS
Just $21,250 was allocated to Arts and Culture funding by Twentynine Palms in 2021-2022, almost as paltry as the number of women represented in the City's list of public artworks
Last weeks City Council agenda overview questioned the reduction in funding for new signature events and the lack of arts funding in the Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID) budget given the emphasis on both of these items in the City and TBID promotional materials. This week Desert Trumpet decided to dig a bit further into City arts and culture support.
One of the guiding principals of the Twentynine Palms General Plan reads: “Develop a strong and diversified local economy with a focus on arts, cultural, tourism, retail, job growth and overall quality of life for all community members.” “Arts, Culture and History” is 2nd in a list of “five key destination pillars” identified by the TBID. Additionally the City has promoted its artist community and support for the arts in its infrastructure and other City grant writing.
Yet, the City doesn’t employ any arts professionals and relies on guidance from a volunteer citizen’s group, The Public Art Advisory Committee. In 2021-2022 the total spent on direct arts and culture support by Twentynine Palms was just $21,250: $15,000 in support for the Public Arts Advisory Committee (PAAC), $3500 for the Joshua Tree National Park Exposition and $2750 by the TBID. This is especially surprising in a City promoting its new Project Phoenix development, where the primary feature is a STAGE.
During the August 23 City Council meeting, Council Member and Mayor Pro Tem MacArthur Wright countered my assertion that significant art support was missing in the TBID budget by asking TBID Marketing Director Breanne Dusastre to read a list of sponsored programs out loud. Since the report didn’t include the support specifics, Council member Wright was unaware that out of $29,900 in programming sponsored by the TBID in 2021-2022, just 9.1% went to direct financial support of arts programming.
In fact, the TBID budget for signature event development and event and program sponsorship, including arts and culture programming, is being cut from $50,000 in 2021 -2022 to $20,000 in 2022-2023, a 40% reduction. If the 9.1% allocation in sponsored programming holds, that’s $910 for sponsored arts events from the TBID. Add to that the $15,000 allocated to the PAAC and that’s a whopping $15,910 for the arts in the 2022-2023 City budget. Is this really something City Council wants to point to with pride?
When asked about arts funding, City Manager Frank Luckino pointed out that the City does provide passive arts and culture support by hosting “public art shows” in City owned spaces such as the Visitors Center and that Theater 29 and the Joshua Tree National Park Visitors Center are using City spaces rent free. He acknowledged that City arts funding is “tight” and that staff needs policy direction from Council in order to address it. But where would that direction come from if no one on Council or in the City has arts expertise?
AND IT GETS WORSE
The lack of a professional central authority for arts and culture management and funding also results in missteps and debacles in City approved and supported public art projects.
Although Project Phoenix opened with a celebration in March, still missing are several promised public artworks. This is due in part to one of the proposed works including representation of native people being produced by an artist lacking tribal roots, while at the same time the City failed to include artists from local tribes in their public art outreach for the site.
When City representatives did sit down with tribal representatives to discuss their participation in producing an artwork, they expected the tribes to fund the work themselves – a work on land that was stolen from them. This situation remains at an impasse.
There are of course numerous other public artworks in Twentynine Palms. VIsit29Palms.org links to a brochure promoting public artwork as a part of its tourism outreach. 42 works by 18 artists are listed. Just 3 of those 18 artists are women and only 7% of the 42 artworks listed were produced by women.
Of 42 public art works listed in brochure, 15 are by Simi Dabah, an artist located in Joshua Tree whose work is held in a Foundation directed by Larry Bowden, a prominent retired City employee. An additional artwork by Dabah was offered to the City and approved by the PAAC for the new bike path just a few months ago. Irrespective of the quality of Dabah’s work, one has to wonder if the City connection accounts for his work representing 36% of public artworks in Twentynine Palms. While many of these works are donated, Foundations have an obligation to donate a percentage of their holdings in order to maintain tax exempt status.
The City's lack of of a professional part time Cultural Affairs Director or anyone else in the City with professional arts experience means there is no central authority producing a vision for programming, qualified to be making funding decisions or able to research or write arts federal, state or foundation grants. The result is a haphazard approach to art and culture as evidenced by the avoidable public art fiasco at Project Phoenix, the alienation of tribal representatives, a lack of diversity in the public art that is installed and unnecessary cuts in arts / culture funding. These cuts could have been covered with grant funds had there been proper planning.
During public comment on the TBID item on August 23, Council Member Bilderain called out this author to become involved in the Public Arts Advisory Committee (PAAC). First of all, the PAAC doesn’t control the TBID budget or City funding. Secondly, I had actually attended a PAAC meeting and brought a California Arts Council funding opportunity to them, which they declined to pursue. And finally, Council member Bilderain's demand that I sit on the PAAC, a volunteer citizen board, is not a replacement for a paid position in the City dedicated to developing and managing arts and culture funding.
Cindy Bernard is an internationally recognized artist and the recipient of several grants and fellowships, including a Guggenheim. She has taught studio art at numerous colleges and universities including UCLA, USC, Art Center College and Northwestern and was the inaugural Ruffin Distinguished Artist-In-Residence at the University of Virginia. Bernard founded and ran SASSAS, an arts non-profit, for 20 years.
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