Several factors led to the creation of ABBA, including a fractious 2014 budget season centering on the dogged issue of cultural equity and a subsequent Budget and Legislative Analyst’s Office report that charted the decline in funding allocations made to groups representing people of color and/or underserved populations over the past twenty-five years in Grants for the Arts docket. Additional sparks included: revelations that the amendment to the ordinance linking the Hotel Tax to arts funding had been severed, decreased engagement at Arts Town Hall on behalf of artists, arts organizations and the Board of Supervisors, and rampant non-profit displacement in the face of the most recent influx of technology workers.
During the fall of 2014 Lex Leifheit, then Executive Director of SOMArts and Ebony McKinney of Emerging Arts Professionals/SFBA, conducted approximately 30 interviews with arts organization leaders, city departments, the Director of Cultural Affairs, legislative liaisons, funders, artists, arts education partners and support service providers to gauge interest in a group like ABBA. They found a new readiness for collaboration and action around key issues and a desire to speak to City Hall with a more cohesive and thoughtful voice.
The first ABBA open meeting was held in January 2015, attracted 70 participants eager to hear Lex and Ebony’s vision for the organization and plans for the mobilization around arts policy in San Francisco. The Organizers’ intention was to amplify and connect existing networks and create platforms that recognize how people currently engage and share knowledge. To date, 444 individuals have registered for ABBA’s email list and 170 have registered for events.
After the first open meeting it was clear that the most tangible organizing goal would be to build an arts focused budget recommendation for the 2015-2016 Budget cycle. Over the three months more than 500 Bay Area artists and arts workers participated by sharing their needs and priorities with the Arts Budget Coalition. Grantmakers, arts leaders and community organizers from other sectors advised on how to create a framework for advocacy wherein many people could have a voice. During this time 49 people made an ongoing commitment to the Arts Budget Coalition, officially representing 25 organizations—large and small. Working in key issue committees (Access to public and private space, Artists & workforce, Cultural Equity, Vibrant Neighborhoods and public art, and Youth opportunity) over the course of five weeks, they shared their own urgent needs and priorities, researched existing city resources and national innovations, mobilized their colleagues and constituents and drafted budget and policy recommendations for the two city funding sources most directly connected to the arts: the San Francisco Arts Commission and Grants for the Arts.
These five drafts were presented for public comment at an open meeting on March 24, 2015 and then the Steering Committee (two members nominated from each Key Issue Committee) worked together to create one 2015-16 Budget and Policy recommendation for the city of San Francisco. The budget coalition’s key issue committees balanced many needs within an ambitious—but potentially achievable—enhancement funds request: an increase of approximately $8 million. To arrive at this number organizers considered input from many parties including individuals within GFTA and SFAC, GFTA-funded organizations, legislative aides, individual artists and arts organizations rooted in underserved communities. On May 29th, 2015 the Mayor’s Office announced a $7 million shared prosperity package to support the arts, press release. An additional $2 million was directed to the arts by Board of Supervisors add-backs—an unprecedented show of support.
Policy recommendations of the 2015–16 Arts Budget Coalition continue to guide the work of ABBA so far as they reflect the priorities of the network, full details found here.