As revised Measure P Cultural Arts Plan heads toward final consideration, Fresno Arts Council reclaims its seat at the funding table
By Doug Hoagland
The Parks, Recreation and Arts Commission last week approved a crucial plan that reaffirms a major role for the Fresno Arts Council in expanding citywide arts and culture under Measure P.
In doing so, the Commission on July 17 rejected a controversial recommendation – made by an out-of-town consulting firm hired by City Hall – to create an arts division in the city’s parks department to oversee that expansion.
Some people in the arts community feared that the consultants’ recommendation was a money grab aimed at the millions of dollars that Measure P will generate for the arts over the initiative’s 30-year life. More than 1,700 community comments – most of them critical – were received after the consultants’ idea became public in May following the release of the first draft of the Cultural Arts Plan required by Measure P.
Those “overwhelming public comments” led the Parks, Recreation and Arts Commission to redline the consultants’ recommendation, according to notes in the final Cultural Arts Plan. Instead, the Commission inserted actual language from Measure P into the plan about the primacy of the Arts Council. That language states that the Arts Council, “in partnership” with the nine-member Parks, Recreation and Arts Commission, will “implement” Measure P grants to nonprofit arts organizations.
The Cultural Arts Plan – which looks at big-picture possibilities for cultural arts – now goes to the Fresno City Council on Aug. 10 for final consideration. City Council approval is necessary before Measure P arts money can begin to flow. An estimated $15 million will be available in grants in the 2023-24 fiscal year that began July 1.
“I’m pleased that the Commission decided to follow the direction of the initiative and not create another division [in the parks department] that would have drawn away from the funds available to support the arts community,” Lilia Gonzáles Chávez, executive director of the Arts Council, said in an interview.
City Hall officials did not respond when asked to comment prior to publication of this article. But in May, City Manager Georgeanne White – who oversees the parks department – said she had “concerns” about the consultants’ recommendation, though she did not elaborate.
Now the work of rolling out Measure P shifts to developing guidelines for awarding grants. The Cultural Arts Plan does not outline those guidelines, and neither does it say which organizations will receive the grants.
The Arts Council, working with the Parks, Recreation and Arts Commission, will develop guidelines to inform nonprofit arts organizations how grant money could be used. For example, a nonprofit applying for a grant to put on a public music performance needs to know if paying musicians, covering venue rental and financing staging expenses could be covered with Measure P money. “The grant guidelines have to be very specific to tell nonprofit arts organizations what they can apply for,” Chávez said.
At the Commission’s July 17 meeting, several speakers said it’s imperative that nonprofits reflecting Fresno’s racial and ethnic diversity be treated fairly in the grants process. Organizations representing communities of color were excluded from previous efforts to fund the arts and that must not happen with Measure P, Hugo Morales, executive director of Radio Bilingüe, told Commissioners. “We need to be very careful that the majority is not left out,” Morales said. Commissioner Jose Leon Barraza made the same point, saying the process going forward must “deliver” for “all the folks” in Fresno. Barraza has pointed out in the past that Hispanics account for 50% of Fresno’s population.
The Cultural Arts Plan approved by the Commission acknowledges that Measure P arts grants should go to diverse groups. The plan quotes from Measure P to say that grants “shall prioritize organizations and programs that support and expand diverse public or youth engagement and equity.” This language was not in the draft Cultural Arts prepared by the consultants. But it was inserted to preserve the intent of community members who drafted Measure P, Commissioner Laura Ward told fellow Commissioners.
Chávez of the Arts Council told The Munro Review that the grant process must be equitable. “Every step of the way we’ll have to make sure that our process is accessible and inclusive for all members of the community, especially those that have been marginalized or not included in the past,” she said.
It will be important to guide nonprofit organizations unfamiliar with grant applications through the process – a service the Arts Council already provides, Chávez said. “Making a grant application is not something that the average person learns about in school.”
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.