Bucking the Trend: Securing Affordable Spaces for the Arts


By Shelley Trott, Director, Arts Strategy & Ventures, Kenneth Rainin Foundation

I’ve spent a good part of my life in the arts—as a dancer and choreographer, teacher, filmmaker, and now a funder with the Kenneth Rainin Foundation. The Foundation invests in visionary artists and small to mid-size arts organizations in the Bay Area that push the boundaries of creative expression. So when we began seeing their work threatened by a volatile real estate market, we had to seek a solution.

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The Art of Advocacy

By Demone Carter

Online Commons Contributor

Tension are high within the arts sector with the news of the Trump administration’s credible threat to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Both institutions were founded in 1965 as independent agencies of the federal government to ensure that millions of Americans would have access to arts and culture. Inherent within their creation is the belief that the arts and culture are important to civic life.

Both the NEA and NEH represent a tiny fraction of the federal budget, receiving only $148M in 2016, or 0.0003% of the overall federal budget. Therefore, their proposed elimination would not signify a significant savings for the government. Rather, the rationale for putting the NEA and NEH on the chopping block is grounded in the cynical ideology we have come to expect from the Trump administration.

As a result, the current political context brings to the forefront the need for artists to engage with politics. If we do not, we risk being steamrolled to the margins of American society. Simply put: it is time for arts professionals to engage deeply and in more meaningful ways with the political system that affects the work we do and the communities we serve. Advocacy is the order of the day.

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Theatre Bay Area: Letter on President's Budget

 Urgent Letter from Theatre Bay Area to the theatre & arts community.


March 17, 2017

Dear Friends,

I am sure many of you have received the alarming, but not unexpected, news that the President’s budget proposes to eliminate the nation's cultural agencies, including the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Institute for Museum and Library Services.

First, let me be clear: the cultural heartbeat of our nation is in crisis.

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#ArtsDayOak Social Media Kit

On Tuesday March 21st, in conjunction with the National Arts Advocacy Day (Americans for the Arts), Oakland artists and advocates are launching a campaign to implore Oakland City Council members and Mayor Schaaf to take a real stand for development without displacement by investing in arts as a cultural preservation strategy, starting with $3 million to increase the Cultural Funding Program (keeping artists creating, working, teaching in Oakland) and to develop a deep community leadership process for the 2017 Citywide Cultural Plan.

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Be media ready for March 21st! #ArtsDaySF



Join an all-day campaign to reach out to your local elected officials through social media to thank them for their continued public investment in arts and culture, to encourage them to increase resources to the arts across SF, and to remind them of the value of cultural and creative expression as core to San Francisco values and identity as a city.

The goal is to have every SF Supervisor hear from #ArtsDaySF advocates in all 11 Districts, from every corner of the city, representing a myriad of arts disciplines and project sizes!

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Emerging Bay Area Arts Organizations Face Unique Challenges

Re-granting, crowdfunding, cultural data, and funding transparency promise greater equity

 By Kelly Varian, Communications Specialist at Sustain Arts 

Six months ago Sustain Arts launched a series of free cultural data resources tailored to meet the needs of arts organizations in the Bay Area. The online platform provides data for everyday strategic decision-making. For example, users track funding connections between grantmakers and grantees, search for arts organizations by budget size, discipline, and county, and explore audience participation rates and demographics. Yet Sustain Arts does much more than supply data. 

At Sustain Arts, we endeavor to tell a story about the Bay Area arts sector that is grounded in facts and to facilitate community dialogue informed by a shared understanding of the health and sustainability of the local arts ecosystem. To this end, Sustain Arts published a Bay Area Key Learnings Report analyzing 17 highly relevant national and local data sets. The report highlights unique challenges and opportunities facing small arts organizations in the Bay Area. 

At first glance, Sustain Arts data suggests sector-wide prosperity. Compared to the rest of the nation, the Bay Area arts sector recovered rapidly from the 2008 recession. Revenue jumped 30% between 2009 and 2012 (compared to a 7% national average), attendance increased 4%, and both earned and contributed income went up for non-profit organizations. Most impressive of all, board giving spiked 222% in the same period. 

Yet despite sector-wide success, a deeper dive into the data reveals this narrative of resilience may not ring true for all. Financial gains for the Bay Area’s largest arts organizations inflate sector-wide averages and smaller, emerging organizations lag financially. Organizations with annual budgets under $10M show negative margins and have a .3% deficit on average, while organizations with budgets over $10M enjoy a 23% surplus. Finally, very small arts organizations are most likely to fail. Those with budgets under $100K have a 69% survival rate, and those with budgets of over $1M have a 90% survival rate.   


To many in the arts community, these statistics may not come as a surprise. Conversations about creating equity have become ubiquitous at Bay Area arts sector conferences and coalition meetings, and cultural leaders increasingly advocate for policy to protect the arts. Sustain Arts data provides insights into the specific factors destabilizing small organizations.


1. Bay Area arts and cultural funding patterns favor large organizations. Less than 15 percent of Bay Area arts nonprofits have budgets over $1 million, but they receive over three-quarters of foundation funding for the arts in the Bay Area.  


2. Smaller organizations have limited geographic reach. The larger a nonprofit arts and cultural organization, the further Bay Area residents will travel to visit it. Participants will travel over 15 miles on average to visit an organization with a budget of $8M, and only ten miles to visit an organization with a budget under $8M.  


While small organizations face many challenges, Sustain Arts data reveals a promising number of opportunities for increased sustainability, namely re-granting, crowdfunding, access to cultural data resources, and greater funding transparency.


1. Re-granting supports small organizations. More than half of dollars re-granted by intermediary organizations such as Sustain Arts partners Theatre Bay Area, Dancers’ Group, and Silicon Valley Creates, support arts and cultural organizations with annual revenues of less than $100,000.


2. Alternative giving vehicles provide a new revenue stream for small for-profit and nonprofit entities. More than $24.6 million was raised on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter for arts and culture related projects in the Bay Area in 2013 alone. The vast majority of recipients were for-profits, while unincorporated entities, nonprofits, and individuals raised less. 


3. Sustain Arts levels the playing field in terms of access to cultural data. Arts and culture organizations in the Bay Area increasingly rely on data for critical fundraising, strategic planning, marketing, partnership development, and general operating activity; yet obtaining high-quality data can be prohibitively expensive, time-consuming and challenging, particularly for small to mid-sized organizations with limited resources. Sustain Arts seeks to create equal opportunity for all organizations by providing free and easy-to-use online cultural data resources to the public. 

4. Increased funding transparency promises a more equitable arts sector. The Sustain Arts/Bay Area platform enables users to examine the interrelationships among organizations and their funders, shifting demographics, and participation trends. By bringing these types of data together, we can begin to see how sector growth and development does or does not align with demographic changes or emerging cultural preferences. And we can begin to see whether capitalization flows favor large, established or small, emerging cultural organizations and how broadly (or narrowly) they serve the cultural needs of the community. 

Whether you are part of a small or large organization, nonprofit or for-profit, Sustain Arts would love to hear from you. Do our observations ring true to your experiences? Are you taking advantage of re-granting, crowdfunding, or Sustain Arts’ free cultural data resources? Would you like to incorporate Sustain Arts’ Key Learnings into a conference or event? Please email me at kellyvarian(at)gmail(dot)com or take this brief Sustain Arts survey.

Take a few more minutes to read the Bay Area Key Learnings Report 

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SNAPSHOT: Cultural Equity Statements

Mark Sabb is the Director of Marketing & Communications at the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) and Sarah Pritchard is the Director of Communications at SOMArts Cultural Center. They recently sat down to discuss organizational statements on cultural equity in the arts. Here’s an excerpt from their conversation, including quick links to more resources on crafting a cultural equity statement that fits your organization.


  • With organizations like Americans for the Arts adopting Cultural Equity Statements, it seems like there is growing momentum behind arts organizations adopting statements that detail their approach to cultural equity. What do you think is motivating this trend?
  • Increasingly, arts organizations are understanding their responsibility to the communities they service. I think Americans for the Arts did a great job offering a definition of the term as embodying “the values, policies, and practices that ensure that all people—including but not limited to those who have been historically underrepresented based on race/ethnicity, age, ability, sexual orientation, gender, socioeconomic status, geography, citizenship status, or religion—are represented in the development of arts policy; the support of artists; the nurturing of accessible, thriving venues for expression; and the fair distribution of programmatic, financial, and informational resources.”
  • Cultural Equity takes into account that we all have valuable stories and complex histories while also recognizing that certain communities have histories which have been historically repressed. I think it is important for every arts organization to have these ideals as a part of their core values. 
  • We were asked to create a template for Bay Area organizations interested in creating cultural equity statements. After talking it over, we decided that we would rather provide a list of resources so that organizations could be more intentional about crafting statements that are a good fit for their unique settings. We didn’t want to encourage a copy-and-paste approach to addressing systemic issues of inequality in organizations’ cultures. 
  • Along with the direction Sarah stated above, we believe that it is important to remember the cultural perspective and history of the community you serve when creating cultural equity statements. As arts organizations we should do all we can to encourage strength in diversity and collaboration.
  • As part of ABBA’s work, we are committed to promoting a just and fair arts ecosystem in the Bay Area — working together to eradicate systemic racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia when they manifest in the arts world. If adopting a cultural equity statement at your arts organization will help achieve those goals, see below for some of the resources we were able to find and contact ABBA if you would like to connect about how to implement a cultural equity statement. We would love to work with you!

Example cultural equity statements:

Resources to support organizations adopting cultural equity statements:


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Vote S to Stabilize Artists and Homeless Families

By Rebecca Bowe


Mayor Ed Lee recently approved a whopping $9.6 billion city budget, reflecting tremendous economic growth in recent years — as one newspaper pointed out, that’s more cash flow than the entire state of Iowa has to work with. But it would come as a shock to no one that the benefits of abundant wealth floating through San Francisco aren’t equally distributed.

Among others, artists and homeless families are two groups acutely impacted by the pressures of San Francisco’s sky-high cost of living. To balance the scales for them, an unlikely coalition of advocates has come together to carve out a life raft of funding assistance. Their measure on the November ballot promises to offer help to families facing housing loss and artists who find themselves in precarious situations, and it won’t require a heavier lift from taxpayers. To achieve this, the measure would allocate funds from the city’s hotel tax.

San Franciscans will have a chance to bring greater stability to homeless families and artists by voting in favor of Prop. S, the Arts and Families Initiative, on the November ballot.

Don’t miss your chance to vote

Arts and culture are at the heart of what makes San Francisco unique, but economic pressures have propelled a rash of evictions and displacement. When the San Francisco Arts Commission surveyed 600 local artists last year to assess their level of stability, results showed that 70 percent either had been or were about to be displaced from their homes, workplaces, or both.

For homeless families, constant instability can be a dangerous day-to-day struggle. One in 25 public school students is now homeless in San Francisco, says Coalition on Homelessness Director Jenny Friedenbach. She estimates there are twice as many homeless kids today as there were five years ago. Typically, “our kids are homeless for at least a year,” Friedenbach explains. “But the damage is permanent.”

One in 25 San Francisco public school students is homeless, according to the Coalition on Homelessness


A unique alliance of arts and homeless advocacy organizations came together to hatch a solution: Take some of the funding from the city’s long-established hotel tax, and use it to tackle family homelessness and boost funding for the arts.

The unprecedented coalition has brought together small and large arts organizations across the city, as well as a number of homeless advocacy groups. Among them are groups as disparate as the San Francisco Ballet, SOMArts Cultural Center, SRO Families United Collaborative, the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco, the Homeless Prenatal Program, the Exploratorium and Z Space. It also has a range of endorsements from across the political spectrum: Supervisors Jane Kim and Scott Wiener, rivals in the race for California Senate, both support it, as do Sups. Eric Mar, Norman Yee and David Campos. The San Francisco Tenants Union is on board, as is San Francisco’s largest city employees’ union, SEIU 1021. There’s no formal opponent listed on the ballot. 


“There’s been a real focus on equity, in many different forms,” says Adam Fong, a composer and cofounder of the Center for New Music, who has helped the effort along. If the Arts and Families Initiative fails to pass, the existence of cultural institutions that help make San Francisco what it is could be jeopardized and families seeking permanent housing would be at higher risk of experiencing homelessness. Extreme circumstances brought these advocates together, but support is still urgently needed. The threshold for approval is a two-thirds majority of San Francisco voters. 

Hotel tax revenue is growing

Directing hotel tax revenue toward these twin purposes is a smart move, because the funding generated by this tax is on an upward trend. In the next four years alone, it’s projected to increase by about $90 million, and this measure would only allocate about 38 percent of that expected revenue increase.

Tourism is one of several powerhouses relied upon to replenish city coffers. In 2015, according to San Francisco Travel, 24.6 million people visited San Francisco. That same year, 44 conventions were booked at the Moscone Convention Center, which, according to SF Travel, ensures more than 1.5 million overnight hotel stays stretching all the way into the year 2032. As of April, there were also proposals to build a dozen new hotels in San Francisco.

In 2015, 44 conventions were booked at the Moscone Convention Center


Visitors arrive from every corner of the globe, but almost every San Francisco hotel guest has something in common: Their bill comes with a little extra fee tacked onto the end, known as the hotel tax.

The tax was set up in 1961 with the intention of supporting arts and culture organizations in San Francisco through grants and other forms of assistance. The concept set off a trend. Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles followed suit soon after with similar taxes aimed at shoring up the arts, so that they could boast cultural draws that would attract even more visitors. In the decade after it was established, funds from the San Francisco hotel tax were also directed toward low-income housing programs.

092113_WelcomeDeborah_byTommyLau_008.jpgBut even though the tax was meant to give artists and low-income residents a leg up in a pricey city, San Francisco didn’t stay true to that intention over the years. Hotel tax funding for these special purposes started to erode in the early 2000s, when the city fell on lean times. In 2013, specific allocations were repealed altogether, and the hotel tax revenue was absorbed into the city’s general fund to pay for various city services.

The dedicated funding was never fully restored, even after the economic picture improved. All told, artists and arts organizations have lost more than $200 million in funding over the past 14 years, while low-income housing programs lost $90 million.

And in the arts world, as funding support waned, it got harder to make it work in San Francisco. Just ask Nomy Lamm.

 An endless housing hunt

“I’m a voice teacher -- my primary medium is singing,” Lamm explains, but this only scratches the surface. “I’ve been in a bunch of bands, and I play accordion. I do performance arts stuff -- dressed as a bird, dressed as a mermaid.” At various points Lamm has also been a novelist, an illustrator, a documentary filmmaker, and an activist. She’s participated in arts symposiums and used her work to plug in on issues affecting people with disabilities, the queer community, communities of color impacted by police violence, and other social-justice causes.

A film she made recently screened at Artists’ Television Access on Valencia Street in San Francisco’s Mission District. And at an October ODC show with the Sins Invalid performance project, which incubates and celebrates artists with disabilities, she plans to treat the audience to a mix of voice and live sound loops while donning a dress “the size of the stage.” There’s just one problem — Lamm no longer lives in the city where she makes art, even though it’s a place that’s fed her creativity since she moved here almost nine years ago. 


After being caught in an unworkable housing situation last year, she and her partner Lisa, also an artist, embarked on a housing hunt. But in the end, the search was in vain — they were even turned down as tenants when they applied to live in a unit two hours north of San Francisco. Making matters worse, across her community of artists and musicians, “Everyone we knew was getting evicted.”

Lamm and her partner relocated to Olympia, Washington, where she grew up, this past January. She’s made the trek back and forth to San Francisco time and again to continue to be a part of the arts scene, but the distance has reshaped her reality and altered her career for good. The Arts and Families Initiative might offer new hope for artists who are determined to stay put despite the challenges.

How the allocation will work

If it passes, the new hotel tax allocation will provide more operating support grants for the arts. It will triple funding for arts agencies that make grants to historically underserved communities and nonprofits that provide affordable facilities for artists and arts organizations. And it will make it easier for arts organizations to access emergency rent support if they need it.

It will also create the Ending Family Homelessness Fund -- a much-needed source of emergency funding that could be tapped to stabilize current housing for families at risk of displacement, or to provide help for homeless families looking for housing.


All told, 17 percent of the hotel tax would be dedicated toward new arts funding by 2020, while 3.6 percent would go toward homeless family services. It’s important to note that homelessness and family services receive more funding in other parts of the city budget, which aren’t covered by this tax allocation.

While the city controller has noted that the proposal would make it slightly more expensive to fund a variety of city government services, this prediction doesn’t tell the whole story. Budget projections are necessarily based on conservative estimates — but recent history indicates that revenues from the hotel tax are increasing, not remaining stagnant. So the estimated impact could be less than what’s currently anticipated.

Even though it’s widely supported, it will still be an uphill battle to win voter approval for Prop. S, since it requires a two-thirds majority approval. Help get the word out that artists and homeless families need Prop. S to pass. And don’t forget to vote. 

Rebecca Bowe is a San Francisco resident who has great appreciation for the arts and is concerned about youth and families who are struggling with homelessness.

Photo Credit, From Top to Bottom: ABBA Open Meeting 2015, by Ernesto Sopprani; Kronos Quartet Open Rehearsal with Wu Man, Center for New Music; YBCA Welcome Deborah 2013, by Tommy Lau; Nomy Lamm, "Bird Song" ©Richard Downing, Courtesy of Sins Invalid, 2011; Eki Shola at New Music Open Mic, Center for New Music, by Meerenai Shim

Want to know more about Prop S? Take a look at the resources ABBA has compiled


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Getting Started With Voter Engagement

Make A Plan

If your arts and culture organization is not already promoting voter registration and getting out the vote, now is an excellent time to start.

NonprofitVote.org offers a voter engagement checklist to help you consider your organization’s capacity and begin a coordinate, achievable effort with your team.

Register Online

Californians with a social security number and a valid California driver's license or California-issued identification card may complete registration online at the California Secretary of State's website.

Voter registration may also be completed at a Department of Motor Vehicles location.

Host a Polling Place 

The Department of Elections is responsible for providing suitable polling sites for each of the 576 voting precincts located in San Francisco. If you have a clean, well-lit, accessible lobby or other space that might be usable, you may contact Precinct Services at (415) 554-4551 or e-mail us at elections.precinct@sfgov.org

Be a Poll Worker

The City and County of San Francisco and Alameda County are both accepting applications from those interested in becoming poll workers.

Find your Polling Place

You can enter your address and find your polling place on the CA Secretary of State website. Information will be available 2-4 weeks prior to the election.


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Cultural Space Welcome (2016)

Hi Artists and Supporters,

As many of you know, there has been a flurry of activity around SF arts funding in the last year and many people want to know how to learn more. Navigating the nexus of politics, local funding and art-making can be a daunting task, so this is our effort to help fill you in on some of the details.

Basically, last year, some local artists and arts organizations decided to come together, ask for increased arts funding, leverage some political clout and ABBA was created. What's ABBA you ask? ABBA is Arts for a Better Bay Area and we are a coalition to help educate about arts-related matters and increase arts funding in the Bay Area.

Within ABBA are a few different components and some of us are involved with the Cultural Space Committee, a sub group that feels passionately about improving access to and retention of local art spaces and we want you to help.


We are really excited about hosting a special cultural spaces public meeting at SOMArts on October 17 and would love to hear from you about what our community needs. What do you think local art spaces should be doing? What do you need to know in order to feel more engaged, more informed and to help you articulate what you think needs to happen?  We’ll also breakdown the two local ballot measures that help support art and artists in San Francisco, and make sure you’re informed come election day on November 8.

So reach out to us and let us know what you think. ABBA has a great website and we will be populating it with lots of helpful documents, resources, FAQs and info to keep you updated on important meetings that relate to cultural spaces. We will also be working on organizing the public meeting this summer and we can use lots of help to make that happen.

Joen & Joe

ABBA Cultural Space Committee Co-chairs

 Cultural Space Committee aims to develop and implement preservation strategies for cultural spaces and artist housing.



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