In my story this morning, we explored the arts and culture legacy of Pam Slater-Price, who’s stepping down this year after 20 years in office. She’s designated more than $10 million over the years in county grants to arts and culture organizations, a commitment that’s earned her special standing in the culture community but has also made her a target.

Another elected official known for championing arts is stepping down this year, marking a double-whammy for politically minded arts and culture leaders.

Mayor Jerry Sanders takes frequent opportunities to trumpet arts as an economic driver. An annual report from his office’s Commission for Arts and Culture becomes the go-to every year for arts groups seeking to validate their economic potency. He just announced he’s adding $300,000 to the cause, bringing the mayor’s total arts and culture program budget for next year to about $6.5 million.

Government funding for arts isn’t universally popular. But the arts orgs are quick to say the grants they get from the city and the county are small compared to the number of jobs they create and the ancillary money people spend when they go to shows and museums or travel to San Diego to do so.

Last week, a national arts advocacy group reported that 120 arts nonprofits in the city of San Diego generated about $579 million in 2010 and supported more than 17,000 jobs. (That included 68 the city supports with funding.) The number grows slightly countywide: $665 million in economic activity, which encompasses spending by the organizations and their audiences, and more than 20,000 jobs.

Here’s what I mean about Sanders as arts cheerleader. His statement about the report:

This report sends a clear message — that arts and culture is a vital industry in our city. Leaders who care about our community and economic development need to know that an investment in the arts is an investment in San Diego.

Now that Sanders is leaving office, how might the arts fare with the two mayoral candidates?

In a forum at The Old Globe in March, both candidates, Carl DeMaio and Bob Filner, said they’d keep at least the same level of city funding for arts and culture organizations. The money comes from the taxes charged to visitors in San Diego hotels.

As I wrote then, I was surprised to hear DeMaio say that he’d double the funding the arts get from the city, because he’d previously talked about cutting it. He said he wants to so grow the city’s economy so that the pie of hotel tax revenue doubles. The share to arts and culture would double, too.

DeMaio also said he wants to make the application process more open, and prioritize groups that have an “‘aha’ idea.”

“We must have a greater emphasis on return-on-investment and innovation,” he said.

When it was his turn, Filner listed examples of his support for arts from his time in local and national office. He said arts and culture have to become part of the fabric of a great city. “I’m very uncomfortable with the funding as it is now,” he said. “We’ve got to do a lot better.”

DeMaio and the other two candidates since knocked out of the race had emphasized the arts-as-business approach.

Filner set himself apart from that angle.

“Frankly, yes we know how important it is to our economic life but I’m tired of hearing that as a justification,” he said. “We need to justify the arts and culture in their own terms. It is part of what a civilized society does. It’s part of our quality of life. It needs to be defended in its own terms and you need a mayor who knows how to do that.”

I’m Kelly Bennett, reporter for Voice of San Diego. 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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