Divided Council Adopts Arts and Cultural Plan

Friday July 16, 2004

A divided City Council voted to adopt the Arts and Cultural Plan created by the Civic Arts Commission during three years of research and public hearings. 

While Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Margaret Breland wanted adoption contingent on an order to arts commissioners to amend the plan to address specific issues, their motion went down to defeat. 

Arts Commission chair David Snippen and Commissioners Jos Sances, Amanda Bornstein, and Sherry Smith outlined the plan during the working session held before the regular council meeting. 

Sances said artists interviewed had asked for greater city involvement in promoting the arts, and in preserving and adding to the city’s inventory of spaces for artists to live and work. Sances called the latter “a very controversial subject” over which the commission “has no real authority.” 

While preserving and creating artists’ space “will require concerted efforts from many agencies,” Sances said the creation of a city cultural center would go a long way to solving the problem. 

But Commissioner Bonnie Hughes rose during the brief public comment session to express her concerns about plan implementation. 

“Almost all of the city arts money has been spent on the Addison Street district...and it’s time for us to turn to the rest of the community,” she said. 

Hughes also wanted language in the plan that would give funding preference to smaller groups over the larger and already well-financed groups which have been receiving the lion’s share of city funds. 

Bob Brockl of the West Berkeley Nexus Gallery and Collective called the plan “a-historic. We already have an arts district in West Berkeley. People driven out of San Francisco by high rents have come to West Berkeley and Oakland, but many of them have problems. The district needs help and resources are very scarce. West Berkeley needs to be encouraged and fostered.” 

Mayor Tom Bates praised the plan. “Every time I see it, it gets prettier and better.” The mayor cautioned, however, that the council needed to get commission recommendations “way earlier so when we adopt our budget we have some figures” to work with. 

Councilmember Linda Maio praised the commission for doing a “fabulous job.” 

While calling the plan a dramatic improvement from earlier versions, Worthington said it failed to address “things we repeatedly heard from artists that are the most important issues they’re struggling with...and they don’t get one word in the plan.” 

First on Worthington’s list was the status of many of the city’s murals. “We need to be legalizing these fantastic murals,” he said, adding that artists also have to “go through hell” to win approval for new murals. 

Second on Worthington’s list was the status of street performers, “especially musicians who have received citations and even been arrested because of new interpretations of city codes.” 

The councilmember also chided the plan for its failure to address the need for building acquisition funds to provide more work space for the city’s large artistic community. 

Worthington echoed Hughes’ concern that “the overwhelming majority of funding goes to one section of Berkeley—not South Berkeley or West Berkeley but downtown.” The city, he said, “needs to have a clear commitment that the next millions we spend on art don’t just go to downtown. The attitude seems to be that the arts only mean something if they’re creating more customers for downtown. The arts should be considered as something more than just an economic engine.” 

Worthington also cited what he called the plan’s failure to address that fact that high rents were forcing hundreds of artists to leave the community. 

Finally, the councilmember expressed concern that two drafts of the plan had been marked for distribution only to commission members and were denied to members of the public who asked for copies. 

“I repeatedly asked who wrote [that],” he told councilmembers. But when he asked Snippen during the Tuesday session, he still received no answer.  

“It was a totally innocent mistake,” Snippen said, adding that the draft had been posted on the commission website. 

Hughes then said she had wanted the plan to incorporate a tiered grant structure. “I also kept asking if we could put together a task force to do an inventory” of citywide artist work and live/work spaces. 

Bates then asked, “What about adopting it as a preliminary plan? I’m personally interested in implementation.” 

Following the hearing, the plan surfaced again when it came up for adoption during the regular council session. 

After Snippen formally urged adoption of the plan as submitted, a move strongly supported by Councilmember Mim Hawley, Worthington submitted a substitute motion to adopt the plan on a preliminary basis and return it to the arts panel to address the six specific issues he had raised, reporting back to the council before January. 

While Councilmember Margaret Breland backed Worthington’s motion, Mayor Bates and Councilmembers Hawley and Betty Olds voted no, with Linda Maio and Gordon Wozniak abstaining. 

The plan was then adopted, with only Worthington and Breland in opposition.›