Equity a top value in county arts plan

04/17/2019

In an effort to rejuvenate arts equity and programing in the county, Marin’s Department of Cultural Services, the Marin Cultural Association and local arts leaders have developed a new arts and culture master plan. 

“Arts, Culture, Action, Marin!” is the first such initiative in 25 years. A draft is now available online and the organizers are asking for public feedback before the final plan is presented to the Board of Supervisors in May. 

The plan puts forward three goals: to support arts programming both broadly and within local communities, to improve equity in and access to the arts, and to sustain and grow arts resources through services, space and funding. While it notes that Marin is rich in artists and inspiration, the plan cites widely dispersed communities, limited public transportation and high costs of living as threats to arts access in the region. 

The plan’s goals and focus grew out of community input: 21 discussion groups, 28 interview sessions, five district forums, a launch event and three surveys. Earlier this month, the county held a town hall meeting to review the draft; residents who were unable to attend can still provide commentary through an online survey. 

At the meeting, which took place in San Rafael, attendees voted on long-term and short-term initiatives they felt were most crucial for each of the plan’s three goals. The most popular long-term initiatives were providing cities with assistance to develop arts within local communities, ensuring that cultural equity was included in all aspects of implementation, and supporting efforts toward diversity and inclusion within arts organizations.

Short-term initiatives included increasing awareness of the arts and supporting equitable access to art education in Marin’s public schools. 

“If you’re at an amazingly well-to-do school, then they have enough funds to have their own private foundations and access to arts teachers,” said Miko Lee, executive director of the arts education group Youth in Arts. “We have low-income kids who don’t have access to any of those things: 67 percent of principals surveyed [in the county] said they didn’t have access to arts education. Schools in the Canal, Marin City, Novato, and some of the rural schools don’t have access.” 

That lack of arts resources in low-income schools funnels directly into issues of racial equity in the arts; the plan raises concerns that prominent arts groups in the county “at times fall back on ‘safe’ programming geared toward Marin’s majority, white, affluent and aging population.” 

Ms. Lee has helped create an arts education plan, an addendum to the master plan that recommends a host of actions aimed at increasing arts offerings in public schools and creating greater opportunities for children of color, particularly those in low-income areas. 

Attendees at the town hall also said that increasing funding for the arts was crucial in both the long and the short term. Gabriella Calicchio, the county’s director of cultural services, noted that such support would produce cultural and financial dividends. Currently, the county’s arts funding is devoted largely to a $1.6 million subsidy for the Marin Center and small community grants of roughly $35,000 a year. Although several grants went to West Marin organizations, none went to dedicated arts groups or were intended specifically for arts programs in the area. 

“The arts are not a charity: they are an economic driver in Marin County,” said Ms. Calicchio, who spearheaded the plan. According to the plan, attendees of nonprofit arts events spend $31.47 per person per event. An economic impact survey conducted in partnership with Americans for the Arts found that nonprofit arts groups in the county created 1,648 jobs and brought in $2 million of revenue at the local level and $5.6 million at the state level. Much of that comes from arts purchases as well as from spending on food, lodging and gas. 

The county is now looking at each of the long- and short-term priorities and creating implementation teams to address each one. Specific initiatives suggested in the plan include creating a countywide culture pass for low-income families, developing an artist residency program focusing on civic practice, and increasing funding resources for the arts community by exploring taxes on property or cannabis. 

Ms. Lee said that of all the counties in the Bay Area, Marin is the only one that does not have a tax for the arts or arts education.