About 150 local arts and culture nonprofits get thousands of dollars from the city’s hotel tax every year. The department that manages arts funding recently changed that program, tweaks they hope will bring more – and more diverse – cultural nonprofits into the fold.

The city’s Commission for Arts and Culture oversees two funding programs for cultural nonprofits: one funds operating costs, the other helps pay for specific community events.

In the past, each organization had to fill out a long application if they wanted a shot at the money.

“I can say this from having filled out the application from my days as a contractor with the city – everybody dreaded it,” said Larry Baza, chair of San Diego’s Commission for Arts and Culture. “It was so long and redundant.”

Those thick applications were reviewed by panels of community volunteers who were tasked with scoring everything from the financial health and organizational structure of a nonprofit to the value of its programming. The panelists, however, didn’t have any formal training, which led applicants to question whether they were being treated fairly.

Baza was appointed chair of the commission right around the same time Dana Springs was named executive director. One of the first orders of business for the two new leaders, they said, was streamlining the funding process.

They also wanted to increase the diversity and number of applicants that applied for arts funding. City Council members and other community members said many local cultural organizations either didn’t know about the opportunity, or were intimidated by it.

Springs and Baza floated the idea for an incubator or accelerator for nonprofits, where potential applicants could quickly learn how to get money from the city. Eventually, the commission partnered with the Economic Development Department, which had also been talking about starting a nonprofit incubator, and the two launched The Nonprofit Academy in partnership with the University of San Diego’s Institute for Nonprofit Education and Research.

This year’s Nonprofit Academy is happening Tuesday and Wednesday. So many people expressed interest, the city had to start a waiting list.

Baza and Springs also led the effort to simplify the application itself. Last year, they switched the system to a fairly standard city procurement process that starts with a simple request for qualifications, followed by a request for proposals.

Commission staff, city arts commissioners and experts from USD now review the RFQs, which include the financial and other more technical information. Nonprofits that meet the qualifications are invited to respond to the RFP, which is now more concise.

The panels composed of community volunteers review the RFPs and score each application. The higher the rank and bigger total budget an organization has, the more money it gets. This year, the panels will be reviewing the applications during meetings, which are open to the public, between March 14 and March 24.

The new application process and the outreach via the Nonprofit Academy brought in 15 organizations that had never applied for the city’s arts funding. But the overall number of applicants was flat. Springs and Baza said they hope to see both of those numbers go up in coming years.

“This year’s application was just six pages,” said Springs. “If you think about how that alone affects the applicants, the panelists and the staff – that’s a huge resource savings. … Just that format alone makes it more accessible.”

Nonprofits get anywhere from a few thousand to upwards of $400,000 apiece from the two arts funding streams. The commission won’t know how much money it can dole out this year until Mayor Kevin Faulconer finalizes the city budget. While the mayor did approve City Council-recommended increases to the commission’s funding last year, the commission still doesn’t get the full amount of hotel-tax funds it was promised in a plan passed in 2012

Baza said he’s optimistic that the arts commission will get a boost in funding.

“The good news is that seven of the nine Council members included arts and culture funding in their priority budget memos to the mayor this year,” Baza said. “And the the mayor could have vetoed those bump-ups last year that were recommended, but he didn’t.”

You’re reading the Culture Report, Voice of San Diego’s weekly collection of the region’s cultural news. Sign up here to get the weekly report delivered to your inbox. 

A Walk Down ‘Fruit Loop’ Memory Lane

Decades ago, a secluded corner of Balboa Park was an epicenter of gay culture in San Diego.

Photo by Rafa Rios
Photo by Rafa Rios

Marston Point, a parking lot at the southwest end of the park, and the road leading to it, eventually earned the nickname The Fruit Loop, and it became known as a place for gay people to meet. Some of them, gay men mostly, used the quiet corner of the park to have anonymous sex.

As part of her Parkeology public art series, artist Kate Clark recorded true stories related to The Fruit Loop and, on a recent Friday night, played each recording in about 15 different cars parked at Marston Point. People jumped in and out of the cars to hear each story.

I grabbed my microphone and joined them. The result is the most recent episode of Culturecast, Voice of San Diego’s podcast covering arts and culture. Give it a listen and let me know what you think.

• The next Parkeology event is happening March 18 and involves unearthing the history of a nudist colony that once thrived in the heart of Balboa Park.

Craft Coffee Field Trip, Edgy Opera and Other Arts and Culture News

• I’ve long been wanting to turn a few of the my arts stories into events. Welp, we finally did it, and on Thursday, March 16, VOSD members (and those who want to become members) are invited to Cafe Virtuoso in Barrio Logan to learn more about San Diego’s craft coffee boom.

The San Diego Opera’s 90-minute distillation of “The Tragedy of Carmen” promises to be edgy and racy. (U-T)

• A photo of a father of a gunman embracing the father of one of his son’s victims inspired this play showing at The Old Globe through March 26. (KPBS)

Oceanside already has a recurring art walk that shows of its cultural venues and offerings, but that didn’t stop the city from launching another one. (The Coast News Group)

• An ambitious exhibition at Southwest College Art Gallery showcases 11 artists who explore Chicana identity. (Remezcla)

• The Artist Odyssey, which produces documentaries about artists, dropped in on the latest exhibition showing at CM Curatorial and Basile IE galleries in Barrio Logan.

• The Fleet Science Center has an interesting event called Two Scientists Walk Into a Bar, which stations scientists at local restaurants, bars and breweries and invites the public to ask them questions. The next event, though, will include the chance to meet and talk to San Diego artists as well.

• Speaking of The Fleet, it’s got a new permanent exhibition focused on the region’s water supply.

• Artsy wrote about a few of the same projects I did in my recent roundup of border art.

• San Diego Story has details on the upcoming Opera NEO season.

• NBC7 has details on the upcoming San Diego Repertory Theatre season.

• Stefan Falke photographs artists who live and work along the U.S./Mexico border. He recently turned his lens toward Tijuana photographer Ingrid Hernandez.

• An exhibition about humans’ relationship with animals is opening at the Museum of Man in Balboa Park this week.

• The latest guest conductor at the San Diego Symphony wowed this U-T writer.

• A local podcast that interviews creative types is hosting a live event on Sunday.

• San Diego artist Andrea Chung won an award at this year’s Jamaica Biennial.

The U-T and KPBS are teaming up to produce a new book festival set for August.

The San Diego Tourism Authority rounded up six sweet street murals.

• Local donors gifted a portfolio of 15 photographs by Ansel Adams to the Museum of Photographic Arts’ permanent collection.

Food, Beer and Booze News

• The matcha tea trend has hit San Diego. (Eater)

• Coronado Brewing Company is expanding to Imperial Beach. (Reader)

• A local baker is competing in the Food Network’s “Cake Wars.” (NBC7)

San Diego Magazine’s Troy Johnson recently lamented the absence of pepper and salt at local restaurants. Here’s what a few chefs have to say about why patrons shouldn’t be trusted to self season.

Here’s a handy roundup of some of San Diego’s old-school restaurants.

Clarification: The total amount of money arts and culture nonprofits can get from the city has been clarified. 

Kinsee Morlan is the engagement editor at Voice of San Diego. Email her at kinsee@vosd.org. Want to recommend this culture newsletter to someone? Share this sign-up link.

Kinsee Morlan was formerly the Engagement Editor at Voice of San Diego and author of the Culture Report. She also managed VOSD’s podcasts and covered...

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