A new city report claims the city’s investment of hotel-room taxes in arts groups more than pays for itself.

To a few dozen arts and civic representatives gathered around the koi pond in the Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park this morning, Mayor Jerry Sanders used a new estimate of arts and culture groups’ economic footprint to validate the city’s $6.4 million investment in them last year.

He said the city will not cut the allotment of the hotel-room taxes that go to the city’s support of arts organizations in next year’s budget, which will be released next week.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: No city can be a great city without a thriving arts and culture community,” he said. “And once again I’m happy to report that San Diego’s arts community is having an extraordinary success by any measure. Even in this tough economy, the strength of the local arts scene remains undeniable.”

The mayor presented a new report produced by the city’s Commission for Arts and Culture and a consortium of arts groups in the region to depict the ripple effect that the city’s investment made in the local economy.

The city gave $6.4 million from the money generated by hotel-room taxes to 70 arts organizations in the fiscal year that ended last June, the report states. Those organizations in total spent $173 million, including $98.8 million in salaries for more than 7,000 workers, according to the report.

The press conference came a week before the mayor must unveil his proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year and soon before the mayor’s staff will present his plan to cut spending on public art on new city buildings to the City Council.

I asked him how the strident support for arts funding today jibes with his previous contention that the goals of public art — a different program that requires public art pieces be installed in new city buildings — were laudable but not always possible in a budget crisis.

The mayor has proposed suspending funding for 15 public art projects in the pipeline, including the new central library, whose art is not supposed to be paid for by the city, anyway.

“You know, I think it’s a balancing act at all times, where we try to provide for public safety but we also try to provide for the public in other ways, and that’s one of the jobs that the city has,” he said.

He emphasized that the money for the public art program comes out of a different pot than the hotel-room taxes. And besides, he said, the city’s not really building much right now anyway — so the suspension for public art spending doesn’t really affect much.

“It’s really a gesture to let people know that we do care about public safety,” he said.

I’m the arts editor for VOSD. You can reach me directly at kelly.bennett@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0531 and follow me on Twitter: @kellyrbennett.

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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