Open letter: Local arts leaders call on City Council to intervene in Cultural Arts Plan
Editor’s note: This letter is signed by the leaders of some of Fresno’s major arts organizations. It was released to the media on Monday, May 22.
After months of delay, the City of Fresno’s Department of Parks, After School, Recreation and Community Service (PARCS) has finally released a draft Cultural Arts Plan (CAP) for the City of Fresno. The draft is available online for public comment. As leaders of Fresno arts and culture organizations, some of whom were actively engaged in the campaign for Measure P, we are troubled by both the content of the draft CAP and the heavy-handed process run by the PARCS Department in creating the plan.
The Measure P ordinance, which was passed by a majority of voters in 2018, calls on the recently established Parks, Recreation, and Arts Commission to produce a Cultural Arts Plan for Fresno in partnership with the Fresno Arts Council. It mentions no role for the PARCS Department in this process.
Notwithstanding this fact, the PARCS Department has dominated the process of creating the CAP, working directly with a consultant contracted by the City for a fee of $150,000, while sidelining the Fresno Arts Council. While the PARCS Department did solicit broad community input to the CAP through surveys and community meetings, the resulting draft betrays a striking lack of knowledge and understanding of the local arts community and contains many highly questionable and confusing recommendations.
Related stories: OUTSIDE CONSULTANT RECOMMENDS THAT PARKS DEPARTMENT GET INTO THE ARTS BUSINESS. WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE THE FRESNO ARTS COUNCIL?
And: A DEEP DIVE ON THE MEASURE P FUNDING PROCESS: IS THE FRESNO CITY COUNCIL MICROMANAGING?
And: As 2 key arts supporters are bounced from the Measure P commission, Fresno arts leaders fight back
A key purpose of the CAP is to guide expenditures of Measure P funds, including the 12% of funds which are set aside solely for grants to non-profits to support and expand access to arts and culture programming. The recommendations section of the draft CAP fails to give clear guidance on the creation of this arts grant program to be run by the Fresno Arts Council. The draft also contains many recommendations which go beyond the language of Measure P without specifying the funding source for such projects.
Most troubling, the draft CAP recommends the creation of a division within the PARCS Department dedicated to expanding citywide arts and culture. The PARCS Department obviously sees itself as supplanting the Fresno Arts Council in connection with Measure P, directly in contravention of the ordinance’s language and the intent of those who drafted and voted for Measure P.
In March, the Parks, Recreation, and Arts Commission’s sub-committee on arts and culture was given a draft of the CAP. Members of the sub-committee pointed out the above mentioned flaws in the draft CAP to the PARCS department in substantial detailed comments and requested that a revised draft be produced for review by the sub-committee prior to releasing the CAP for public comment. Astonishingly, the PARCS Department refused this request, made months ago, and only now has released the original draft, unchanged, with the sub-committee’s comments merely added as an appendix.
In October 2022, the timeline provided by the PARCS department for the creation and adoption of the CAP indicated the plan would be ready for submission to the City Council by this month. On Monday, PARCS released a revised timeline showing the CAP going before the City Council in August. Given the substantial problems with the draft that has been released for public comment, including the confusing step of appending the arts and culture sub-committee comments, we have little faith that the PARCS department is capable of producing a Cultural Arts Plan that will command the support of the community, arts and cultural stakeholders, and ultimately the City Council.
To avoid further delays in the process, we call on the City Council to direct the PARCS department to immediately turn over all of the raw data collected in the creation of the CAP, including the public comments which are submitted between now and June 5, to the Fresno Arts Council and direct the consultants to work directly with the FAC in producing a revised draft CAP to be submitted to the Parks, Recreation and Arts Commission for review and ultimately to the City Council.
Local arts organizations are still reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic which has significantly affected attendance at a wide range of arts events. Measure P funds are urgently needed to stabilize the arts sector in Fresno and position local arts and cultural organizations to expand opportunities for access to arts for all citizens of Fresno. This is work we have all been engaged in for many years despite severely constrained local resources for arts and culture. We stand ready to achieve the vision contemplated by Measure P.
It is past time for the City Council to step in and get the arts and culture portion of Measure P back on track. There is no time to waste.
Arianna Paz Chávez
Artistic Director & Conductor
Fresno Community Chorus
Fresno City & County Historical Society
Good Company Players
Michele Ellis Pracy
Executive Director & Chief Curator
Fresno Art Museum
Kathryn Whitehouse and Dee Lacy
Youth Orchestras of Fresno
President & CEO
NeFesha Ruth Yisra’el
CEO & Founder
Black Folk Art