It’s been a decade since Chula Vista put the kibosh on plans to require public and private developments to put a small percentage of project costs toward public art.
Chula Vista Councilwoman Pamela Bensoussan said the Council at the time didn’t have the support of the business community or city staff, so it didn’t adopt the plan that included the proposed fees.
Then, in 2008, amid the economic downturn and budget cuts, the city completely cut staff and funding for its cultural arts program. Aside from an ongoing grant program funded by a percentage of ticket sales from the Sleep Train Amphitheatre, city support for arts and culture in Chula Vista languished for years.
Recently, though, the city has shown a renewed interest in the arts. In April, Chula Vista hired Lynnette Tessitore-Lopez to head up the cultural arts program. She’s been busy collecting community input and putting together the city’s newest cultural arts master plan.
Bensoussan said the latest arts plan, after its precursor failed 10 years ago, stands a good chance of getting approved at Council on July 26. The plan makes public art fees voluntary, and she said is more comprehensive than its predecessor.
“It’s much different than the previous plan and really awesome,” Bensoussan said. “It’s also been a decade and the economic impact of art wasn’t readily accepted back then like it is now.”
The current draft of the city’s cultural arts master plan, in part, suggests striking partnerships between the city and businesses and existing arts groups to create public arts projects, proposes changes to the appointment process and powers of the city’s Cultural Arts Commission, calls for leveraging the city’s proximity to the international border by partnering with groups like Tijuana’s tourism board and encourages the use of non-traditional spaces – vacant retail space and commercial storefronts – for staging arts and culture events.
To fund it all, the city would pursue grants from institutions like the National Endowment for the Arts. There’s also a recommendation to look into using a portion of Chula Vista’s hotel taxes, a pool of money that’s small but growing thanks to new development on the city’s east and west sides.
Tessitore-Lopez acknowledges that public art fees will be voluntarily, but says the city will likely include incentives to “highly encourage” developer participation. She’s also talking to project managers of three major developments under way in the city – the Port of San Diego’s Chula Vista Bayfront Project, the big Millenia development in eastern Chula Vista and the proposed university and Innovation District project – to ensure public artworks are included.
“There are definitely opportunities there,” she said. “But in the meantime we still want to do a lot, and there’s a lot we can do in the city’s non-traditional spaces.”
Tessitore-Lopez said if the plan’s adopted, the first task is mapping the city’s existing arts and culture assets so she’ll have a better handle on what’s there and what isn’t. Once that’s done, she said the city will have a more concrete plan for how to boosts the arts in the city.
Vallo Riberto, an arts instructor at Chula Vista’s Southwestern College who has helped run the school’s art gallery for years, said he’s glad the city is taking steps to increase arts and culture in Chula Vista, but he doesn’t have big expectations for the plan’s eventual impact.
“I don’t think Chula Vista will ever take off as an arts district like Barrio Logan has taken off,” he said. “And that’s simply because we just don’t have cheap rents. … It also has to be a groundswell. The arts movement has to be started from the grassroots of a community. I don’t think the city can create an arts movement.”
Tessitore-Lopez doesn’t pretend that the city’s new master plan will turn Chula Vista into the region’s next big arts district – she said the goal is to use arts as an economic driver while also improving the quality of life for residents. She agrees that in order for the plan to be successful, the city will need buy-in from the artistic community.
“I think it absolutely takes a grassroots movement,” she said. “But it also comes from the top down as well. I think the two need to meet together to make it work.”
Leticia Gomez Franco, an independent arts consultant and curator who lives in Chula Vista, said she’s surprised it’s taken so long for the city to create a cultural arts master plan, but it comes as the city is seeing a small cultural renaissance.
“It’s the perfect time,” she said. “There’s this new fresh wave of energy coming into Chula Vista, and that’s aside from the new breweries and hipster stuff that’s coming in. Just a couple of months ago, I got approached by one of the downtown businesses, a deli. … They’ve been there for 20 years, but now they want to turn their shop into a cultural space. … So that could be a spark that will help get the ball rolling for the master plan.”