In last night’s mayoral forum on topics specifically geared to San Diego’s nonprofit community, all four candidates said they supported continuing at least the same level of city financial support for arts and culture grants. The money comes from the tax that visitors to San Diego pay on their hotel room bills.

I was surprised to hear one of the candidates, Councilman Carl DeMaio, say this:

“I actually intend to double the funding for arts and culture during my two terms as mayor,” he said.

I wondered how that jives with DeMaio’s fiscal reform plan. In November 2010, he suggested a 25 percent cut to the grants the city allocates to arts and culture groups, which total more than $6 million annually (see page 30 of the “Roadmap to Recovery” plan).

I caught DeMaio for a minute on his way out of Balboa Park to clarify:

You said you were going to double the funding, but your Roadmap says you are going to cut it by 25 percent.

We’ve seen an uptick in our economic revenues, because of some good news in the economy … I’m thrilled that we see higher revenues, and as a result that’s off the table. And my Pathway to Prosperity plan to expand our tourism revenue will actually allow us to put more money into arts and culture. And I think that doubling it by 2020? The industry says we can do it and our plan lays out how we can get there.

So we can just take that page out of your Roadmap plan; you’re not going to cut the city Commission for Arts and Culture — the staffing or the grants to the 100-some organizations?

We’re not going to cut the level of funding to the organizations. We will, as I said in the Roadmap, we are going to challenge the allocation process, which I believe needs to be more transparent. And needs to be looking at not static funding levels, but be looking at really breakthrough ideas of moving us forward as a city with great arts and great cultural programs. I want to make sure that we look at innovative breakthroughs. And I also want to make it more equitable and open to the smaller organizations which sometime get overlooked.


But last year, DeMaio derided one of those smaller organizations. In a conversation about funding the city organist salary, DeMaio scoured the arts budget to find places the money could come from to pay the organist:

At the May 18 meeting, DeMaio held up his cell phone that he says showed a picture of “sushi art” that the Commission of Arts and Culture is funding. DeMaio said if they have the money to support “sushi art,” they should find the money to pay Williams since they have a $6 million budget that mostly includes grants.

Sushi Contemporary Performance and Visual Arts, a groundbreaking arts organization that began in downtown San Diego in the 1980s, closed its doors last year, saying it didn’t have adequate funding to stay open. It was not, however, art made of sushi.

I’m Kelly Bennett, the arts editor for VOSD. You can reach me directly at or 619.325.0531.

And follow Behind the Scene on Facebook.

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

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