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City Council to Ponder Arts and Culture Plan

Tuesday July 13, 2004

Five years in the making, the proposed Arts and Culture Plan arrives at the City Council tonight (Tuesday, July 13), with members of the Civic Arts Commission (CAC) presenting their work at the 5 p.m. council working session. 

But some artists aren’t entirely happy with the effort, and—supported by at least one councilmember and arts commissioner—they plan to let the council know.  

The plan, which includes guidelines for the dispersal of grants from the city’s General Fund and from the Public Art Fund—a 1.5 percent levy on capital improvement projects—comes at a crucial time for the Berkeley arts community, said CAC Chair David Snippen. 

“The California Arts Council grants have all but disappeared,” Snippen said. “They’ve been cut back by 95 percent.” Berkeley artists received a half-million dollars in grants in fiscal year 2002-2003, “and now it’s practically zero. We’re trying to augment public funds through private foundations and grants,” he said. 

In an analysis of the plan prepared for the council, city Acting Manager of Economic Development Thomas A. Myers said the proposed city budget for the new fiscal year includes $212,139 in arts grants from the general fund. Also included is $78,502 for the public art fund, in addition to the $500,012 already in the Public Art Fund. 

Creation of the arts plan was mandated by city General Plan Policy ED-11, and the city took the first step in formulating the plan in 1999 when they hired ArtsMarket, a Montana-based consulting firm, to survey the city arts community and its needs. 

Armed with the report, the CAC conducted more than 35 meetings to gather input, culminating in a final session in April. 

Others are less satisfied, including Bob Brockl of the Nexus Collective and Gallery, who would like to see more specific findings and recommendations—including the creation of a new city arts district in West Berkeley.  

“If you look at the city in terms of existing work spaces and studios for artists, you’ll find a lot of them in here,” Brockl said, “and a number of them are in danger” from rising rents and other developmental pressures. 

Brockl’s own collective is housed in a vintage brick structure in need of earthquake retrofitting and in danger of demolition to make room for a new animal shelter. 

Also endangered, Brockl said, is the Potters’ Studio. “It’s an uphill battle to protect the existing arts community, and we think the plan should be more specific.” 

Brockl said City Councilmember Kriss Worthington and Arts Commissioner Bonnie Hughes have been urging artists and other organizations to turn out for Tuesday’s work session. 

The 36-page commission plan to be presented to the council tonight encompasses policies formulated around six major objectives: 

• Enhance Berkeley as a community and place of culture and the arts in all areas and distinct neighborhoods. 

• Promote artistic and cultural engagement and public awareness of the arts, including quality youth programming and education in the arts. 

• Support arts in education in all city schools. 

• Enhance and support diversity of participants and public awareness in the arts and promote city-wide incorporation of arts and culture. 

• Assure consistent, adequate and ongoing funding for arts activities and programs. 

• Ensure access to programs and facilities for all ages, ethnicities and physical abilities. 

Among the specific proposals raised are the creation of a community art center; provision of affordable housing, workspace and performance venues; support for existing city arts districts and the addition of more such spaces; creation of an arts and cultural marketing program with the Berkeley Convention and Visitors Bureau; promotion of cultural tourism; creation of mentorship opportunities; and support for an arts in education program in all city schools. 

The plan also calls for providing greater youth attendance at performances and cultural activities in cooperation with public schools; increasing integration of culture and arts in city economic development policies; creation of a fund for the arts using both public and private sources; and increasing general fund arts and culture support to at least $25 per capita annually. 

Besides calling for transit access to performance and cultural venues, the plan calls for providing ample parking—a somewhat thorny issue, considering the recent reduction of parking opportunities in the downtown area. 

“We’re pretty satisfied with the plan,” Snippen said, “and we’ve had good reviews from arts and various committees. The plan is essentially a guide for future policy decisions. Those aspects that require land use changes and have financial impacts will have to be presented separately with suggestions and recommendations as to potential revenue sources.” 

Arts commissioners will submit an annual plan with specific policies, along with their implications and budget recommendations, Snippen said. 

“Land use policies to support live/work spaces and performance spaces will need to be examined by the Housing Advisory Commission, the Zoning Adjustment Board and the Planning Commission and other bodies. We can only recommend changes,” Snippen added.