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An open letter to City Councilman Carl DeMaio:

Thank you for participating in the March 26 mayoral candidate forum for the nonprofit sector. I am writing to follow up on some comments you made then.

You expressed that you are “concerned” about the allocations process of city of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture and challenged that it is not open and transparent but rather it disadvantages small organizations.

I would like to gain greater clarity on what you mean by this, and share my perspective as someone who runs a small nonprofit theater company, Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company.

We have successfully applied for and received funding support from the city of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture since 2005, when our budget was less than $100,000 (currently our budget is a little more than $250,000). In fact, last year, 27 “Level III” (small organizations with budgets less than $300,000) received allocations through the commission.

From my perspective, as a contractor with the city, the allocations process is not only open and transparent, it is democratic:

• For several weeks in advance of the application deadline, commission staff provide free workshops to help applicants understand the guidelines of the application, and they make themselves available to answer specific questions from each organization;

• The applications are carefully reviewed by panels composed of some members of the commission and a majority of diverse members of the community;

• Applicants and the general public may attend the panel session when their application is discussed;

• Applicants receive a summary of the comments made by the panel about their application;

• Applicants may appeal their rank and the commission will diligently listen to and vote on appeals in a session open to the public.

In addition, the current allocations process through the commission is responsible. The commission understands that the cultural and arts organizations funded through these transient occupancy tax dollars must be good stewards of the funds. And so applicants must answer questions about their organizations’ mission, goals, core programs, demonstrated commitment to diversity, professionalism and organizational quality, governance, human resources, financial management and fiscal health, cultural tourism marketing, education programming, challenges and advancements made since previous applications. In addition, all recipients of funding from the commission’s organizational support program must match their allocated funds three to one with dollars that come from other private grants, or ticket sales.

Finally, Councilman DeMaio, while you were critical of the process, you did not have the opportunity to articulate an alternative. You mentioned that you would fund the “a-ha” arts and culture projects. I’m curious what your criteria are for this, who would make the funding decisions, and how you would ensure as open, democratic, transparent and responsible a process as what currently exists at the city of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture.

I look forward to your reply.


Seema Sueko

Seema Sueko is the executive artistic director of Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company and volunteer co-chair of the San Diego Regional Arts and Culture Coalition.

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