San Francisco Arts Groups, Festivals Get $12M From the City

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View of the exterior of the theater with murals on windows
Bindlestiff Studio, dedicated to emerging Filipino American and Pilipino artists, was one of the recipients of this year's Grants for the Arts. A mural by SamiSee covers the facade of Bindlestiff. (Beth LaBerge / KQED)

Throughout the first year of the pandemic, arts organizations emphasized just how crucial they are to local culture and economy in pleas for government help. After all, a night out at a concert, gallery or play often leads to other spending on food, drinks and retail, and brings the kinds of foot traffic that turns neighborhoods into destinations. And deeper than that, art spaces, music venues, theaters and cultural centers can foster a sense of belonging and strengthen their communities.

To support San Francisco’s recovery from pandemic shutdowns, Mayor London Breed announced on Monday $12 million dollars in funding for arts groups. Doled out in amounts ranging from $9,000 to $450,000, the new round of Grants for the Arts supports large institutions such as the San Francisco Symphony and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, as well as a long list of smaller organizations. Among those are after-school program Youth Art Exchange, transgender dance company Fresh Meat Productions, Latinx arts and community space Galería de la Raza and Filipino American theater company Bindlestiff Studio. There are 250 recipients in total.

Vallie Brown, who took the helm of Grants for the Arts in February of this year, says grassroots organizations that support trans people and people of color were prioritized because of how they stepped up to serve vulnerable San Franciscans during the crisis. “We felt they had a priority because they’re so connected into communities,” she explains. “I think we realized that during COVID because a lot of these arts organizations and cultural centers became hubs for communities, whether that was testing, vaccinations, food banks. ... We realized they are really boots on the ground doing a lot of this work.”

Arts grants in San Francisco have been funded by the hotel tax since 2018, but because of a drop-off in tourism during the pandemic, Breed allocated money from the general fund to support Grants for the Arts, the mayor’s office announced in Monday’s press release.

Still, the program had about $2 million less to work with than in previous years. That meant that some larger organizations, including SF Opera and American Conservatory Theater, got less money this year so that smaller groups wouldn’t have to take losses.

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“Because of their large budget, we knew they had the resources to probably fundraise for the rest of that money,” says Brown, noting that this year Grants for the Arts used a new scoring system that accounted for diversity, neighborhood partnerships and hiring of local artists.

Out of the $12 million fund, about $1 million went to supporting parades and festivals, including San Francisco Pride, the Juneteenth Festival and the Russian Festival. Grants for the Arts kept funding amounts for each of those recipients the same as last year.

“Parades and festivals in the city are really community-driven, and they’re usually run by one or two people or a small committee,” says Brown. “They would not be able to survive a cut.”