An logo for the County of San Diego on a banner outside the County Administration Center. / Photo by Sam Hodgson

The county’s process for funding the arts is unusual compared with its California counterparts.

Los Angeles and other large urban counties have supervisor-appointed arts commissions or councils that dole out funding to arts nonprofits. County arts councils also work to promote arts and culture in the region and mange public art programs. County arts councils can also access funding through the California Arts Council.

In San Diego, there is no county arts council. Instead, arts nonprofits get funding through two pots of county money. Both pots are discretionary, meaning each supervisor can hand out money to organizations both inside and outside their districts, with just a few basic restrictions. Arts nonprofits compete for the funding against the county itself and other nonprofits, many that provide critical services such as those that serve the homeless and foster youth.

Critics have called the funding programs slush funds for supervisors’ pet projects since the same groups often benefit every year.

Dozens of local arts groups depend on San Diego County for a portion of their funding. The Old Globe, Carlsbad Music Festival, ArtHatch, Bach Collegium and the California Center for the Arts, Escondido are among the arts organizations awarded thousands of dollars last year through the county’s Community Enhancement Program. Pacific Arts Movement, the La Jolla Symphony and Chorus, the San Diego Museum of Art and a few other organizations were awarded funding last year through the county’s Neighborhood Reinvestment Program.

I asked the candidates vying to replace longtime County Supervisor Ron Roberts what they thought about the county’s arts funding process. District 4 candidates Nathan Fletcher, Omar Passons and Ken Malbrough all said it should be revamped. Candidates Lori Saldaña and Bonnie Dumanis did not respond by deadline.

Fletcher said appointing a county arts council makes sense.

“The Los Angeles County Arts Commission has benefitted from state grants since 1985 from the California Art Council (CAC),” he wrote. “The County of San Diego’s approach to supporting arts organizations is inefficient and does not provide the comprehensive results that a specialized Arts Commission can provide.”

Fletcher said a more strategic approach to funding arts groups across the county could help boost the region, which is already “situated well to be a regional powerhouse in the arts.”

Passons said he thinks the county needs to rethink more than just how local arts organizations are being funded.

“We need to re-evaluate how we support the arts, not just how we allocate the modest amount of resources we do use for the arts,” he wrote. “So while I think we would be much better off moving to an Arts Council model – with significant safeguards to make sure the most well heeled/well connected don’t simply dominate the process – I think there is a more fundamental and systemic issue we must address. Arts are not merely a nice benefit of those who are able to afford them.”

Passons said the arts play a crucial role in early education, boost the local economy, help people better understand the region and have “demonstrated and significant benefits in the therapeutic context – which is critical given the embarrassingly limited attention we place as a state on mental health and youth trauma, for example.”

Malbrough, a retired deputy fire chief, said the county’s current approach to funding arts organizations leads to inequity.

“We should study the possibility of a more equitable option to funding arts and culture in the County of San Diego,” he wrote. “However, equity in regard to project locations, community and economic enhancements must be a major outcome of the program.”

The candidates did differ when it came to the county’s public art policy. Currently, the county can put a half percent of estimated costs for certain public buildings toward public art. That’s how the County Operations Center ended up being filled with an impressive public art collection. But the county is not mandated to include public art on all public projects the way the city of San Diego does, for instance.

Fletcher didn’t address the topic. Passons said he worries that “tacking on public art requirements could have dramatic impacts at a time when we are dealing with approximately 5,000 unsheltered homeless San Diegans.”

Malbrough said the county should codify its public art requirement and “embrace public art on both public and private development projects.”

You’re reading the Culture ReportVoice of San Diego’s weekly collection of the region’s cultural news.

Public Art Proposal Moves Forward Despite Accessibility Concerns, North Park Gallery Asks for Help and More Arts and Culture News

• In March, San Diego’s arts commissioners voted not to recommend moving forward with artist Rob Ley’s proposed design for a public artwork at the new Chollas Water Operations facility in Oak Park due to accessibility concerns. Christine Jones, the acting executive director of the city’s Commission for Arts and Culture after Dana Springs resigned, has decided to move forward with the artwork anyway. Jones said the city will review the art policy that leads to expensive public art being built on water facility projects that aren’t very open to the public, according to minutes from the commission’s meeting on Friday, April 27. Here’s more from those meeting notes:

“She explained that while the City is moving forward with the Chollas Water Operations Facility public art project, the City will not be initiating any new public art projects for City water and wastewater facilities and any other city facility with limited public accessibility while Council Policy 900-11 is under review.”

Commissioners questioned the accessibility of artist Rob Ley’s proposed artwork for the new Chollas Water Operations facility. / Rendering courtesy of the city of San Diego

• Also of note in the Commission for Arts and Culture April 27 meeting recap: The new Comic-Con arts center in Balboa Park is on track to get $489,802 in city funds from the arts commission. The city also subsidizes the rent for Comic-Con’s large Balboa Park facility. Arts commissioner Tyler Hewes questioned whether the nonprofit was eligible for funding. Arts commission staff told Hewes it is. Comic-Con makes a lot of money. I’ve been hearing some grumblings in the arts nonprofit world about Comic-Con competing for city funds. Let me know what you think.

• The Studio Door art gallery in North Park is asking for San Diegans help in its search for a new home. The building it’s in was sold and the gallery must find a new home by August. SDvoyager just profiled Patric Stillman, the man behind The Studio Door.

• “Bodies in Trouble,” an exhibition at the downtown location of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego that’s up through June 17, is a chance to see the talent of students in the UC San Diego visual arts department. (CityBeat)

• Also on view at MCASD: an installation by San Diego-born artist Yve Laris Cohen inspired by the museum’s current La Jolla’s expansion and the now shuttered Sherwood Auditorium. (Union-Tribune)

• An Oceanside adventure photographer is giving away his van in hopes of inspiring someone to go on an adventure. (Union-Tribune)

• A new art gallery is opening in La Jolla. Speaking of new art galleries in San Diego: Vivid Space opened in Little Italy in December, and is hosting an artist talk this week.

• The U-T’s theater critic calls The Globe’s current show “A Thousand Splendid Suns” a “stunning stage production.”

• Encinitas artist Kevin Anderson is nearly done with his big new mural in Mission Valley. (Times of San Diego)

• Diversionary Theatre has announced its 2018-19 season.

• Westwind Brass and the Veterans Museum in Balboa Park have teamed up for a new concert series.

• If you’ve yet to make the trek to Salvation Mountain near the Salton Sea, perhaps this account of a recent visit will convince you. (CityBeat)

• The annual Lipinsky Family San Diego Jewish Arts Festival kicks off this week. (Times of San Diego)

Ax throwing is now a thing you can do in San Diego. (10News)

The Kinsee Report: Here’s Where I’ll Be This Week

• I’ll be in Balboa Park this week to finally see the “ABOUT-FACE” exhibit showing at the San Diego Art Institute through June 3. The U-T has a Q-and-A with one of the artists in the show, photographer Alanna Airitam. Billed as an exploration of representation, sexuality, gender and more, seven artists are featured in the show.

Alanna Airitam art
Artist Alanna Airitam’s photograph “Saint Sugar Hill” is in the “ABOUT-FACE” exhibition at the San Diego Art Institute in Balboa Park. / Photo courtesy of the San Diego Art Institute
Artist Alanna Airitam’s photograph “Saint Sugar Hill” is in the “ABOUT-FACE” exhibition at the San Diego Art Institute in Balboa Park. / Photo courtesy of the San Diego Art Institute

Piñatas are art. Don’t believe me? Check out Border X Brewing’s annual Plethora of Piñatas Festival happening this weekend.

• On Thursday night at the Kroc Center, Arts for Learning presents a free event geared toward kids (of which I have two). The night includes a performance by Mariachi Estrellas de Chula Vista, an art-making workshop and a free book.

Food, Cannabis, Beer and Booze News

• Glitter beer. It’s something you can drink at Mike Hess Brewing in North Park. As a recent victim of a glitter bomb, this is a trend I simply can’t get behind. (Reader)

Image via Shutterstock

Louisiana isn’t the only place where big community crawfish boils happen. San Diego’s annual crawfish fête is Sunday.

• A massive 23,500-square-foot restaurant, bar and entertainment center is set to open in the East Village in June. (Eater)

• CBS8 rounded up five food and beer festivals happening this Memorial Day weekend.

• San Diego Magazine readers voted for their picks of the region’s best restaurants.

• The weekly pop-up BLVD Market food event has partnered with Street Food Cinema, which means you can watch movies while you eat.

• A CityBeat columnist documented his first experience with CBD cocktails.

• Join female cannabis entrepreneurs and their supporters at an event meant to inspire more local ladies to “break the grass ceiling.”

Kinsee Morlan is engagement editor at Voice of San Diego. Email her at with arts and culture news and tips. Want to recommend this culture newsletter to someone? Share this sign-up link. Subscribe to Voice of San Diego podcasts

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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