Measure P update: City manager sees a role for Fresno Arts Council in grants process. A Friday meeting may help establish what that role is.
By DOUG HOAGLAND
After a controversy sparked by the city parks director over Measure P, City Manager Georgeanne White will attempt in a Friday meeting to clarify the role of the Fresno Arts Council in implementing Measure P.
White enters the fray adamant that the Fresno Arts Council – and not city officials – possesses the expertise to render artistic judgment on grant applications seeking Measure P funds. More than $10 million in grants to artists and nonprofit arts organizations could be awarded by the Fresno City Council in the fiscal year beginning July 1.
White’s statements, which came in a Tuesday interview with a reporter for The Munro Review following the publication of a Monday story about the controversy, could put the Arts Council in an improved position to play the role envisioned by the drafters of Measure P. But obstacles also could remain, especially if White does not support a wider role for the Arts Council in the granting process.
Related stories: A DEEP DIVE ON THE MEASURE P FUNDING PROCESS: IS THE FRESNO CITY COUNCIL MICROMANAGING?
And: With at least $10 million in Measure P funding at stake, Fresno Arts Council worries it’s being frozen out of the grant process by City Hall
Nevertheless, White is absolutely clear on who and who does not have the upper hand in evaluating the artistic integrity of grant applicants and their projects. “I don’t know anything about art. The mayor doesn’t know anything about art. The [City] Council doesn’t know anything about art. [Parks Director] Aaron Aguirre doesn’t know anything about art. Of course we want people in the arts community to evaluate proposals from a creative perspective. We don’t have any experience in the creative realm.”
White will take that view into the scheduled Friday meeting with Lilia Gonzáles Chávez, executive director of the Arts Council, and parks department officials. “I feel very confident that if we get in the room together we can get on the same page so we have a very clear understanding of who’s doing what,” White says. “I’m 100% confident there’s a solution, and an uncomplicated solution.”
Told of White’s comments, Gonzáles Chávez says they appear to be a positive sign but also “inconsistent” with what parks director Aguirre communicated in a Feb. 4 email. That email to Gonzáles Chávez led Bruce Kalkowski, former president of the Arts Council, to say of Aguirre: “He’s hijacking the grants process, and he’s blindsided the Fresno Arts Council.”
In the email, Aguirre said the city would manage and administer Measure P funds for the arts. Critics responded that Aguirre and the city are ignoring the specific language of Measure P, which states the artistic grants “shall be implemented” by the Parks, Recreation and Arts Commission, a citizens oversight group established by Measure P, “in partnership with the Fresno Arts Council.”
A potential sticking point in resolving the controversy is whether city officials will accept the role the Arts Council envisions for itself in awarding the grants. Gonzáles Chávez says the Arts Council proposes to assemble multiple panels of artists, art administrators and community members to review grant applications with artistic, diversity and equity criteria. Some of those criteria will be spelled out in a Cultural Master Plan that out-of-town consultants are being paid $150,000 to prepare.The Arts Council also would do marketing and outreach so underserved groups know about the grants.
Measure P allows for 2% of available funds to be spent on administrative work, and the nonprofit Arts Council hopes to have a service agreement with the city so it can be paid for the work. But, Aguirre said in his Feb. 4 email that there would be no agreement.
White says she needs to clarify what the Arts Council wants to be paid for. “I absolutely get that their time is valuable. But I have to understand what they’re asking for. I have no concept of that.”
Asked if Aguirre should have clarified these issues before sending the Feb. 4 email, White says: “Probably, but listen. They [parks staff] have tremendous responsibility and a lot on their plate. Unfortunately, hindsight is 20-20. I’m not going to Monday-morning quarterback my director.”
Doug Hoagland is a freelance writer in Fresno. He spent 40 years working at Valley papers, including 30 years at The Fresno Bee. The first play he saw was a 1968 production of “Show Boat” at McLane High School.