Comstock's magazine 0519 - May 2019 - Page 58

n PUBLIC FUNDING T he room darkens. Suddenly there’s music — a piano, a ing cops or firefighters. Why should tax dollars go to things like woman’s voice. Nine dancers, clad in white, begin to interactive LED walls? move and twirl and glide across the stage. Behind them The counter is simple: Culture makes a city more desir- is a glowing wall that changes from blue to purple to able, and this spurs the economy. “Art gives a city character, pink, bathing the dancers in color. A woman presses her something that showcases who we are and what we’re about as hands against the wall and draws on it, changing the colors. a community,” says Mike Testa, CEO of Visit Sacramento and This performance art exhibit, called “Living Colors,” was a member of the Creative Edge Steering Committee. “From a not held at the opera, theater or Crocker Art Museum. The glow- tourism standpoint, it’s important to invest in business and ing wall and the dancers came to the headquarters of SMUD, infrastructure, but it’s also vital that we prioritize the projects Sacramento’s publicly owned electric-utility provider. “Sacra- and the people who make our city what it is — diverse, vibrant, mento is living colors,” said artist Vincent Damyanovich when evolving and unique.” Testa points to the Warehouse Artist introducing his exhibit in late February. “We are considered Lofts (reduced rents for creatives), the annual Wide Open Walls one of the most diverse cities of the United States. I see Sacra- mural festival and the “converging of artists on the R Street mento as being a growing leader, modeling forward-thinking corridor” as examples of art making the city more desirable. progress in the 21st century.” He created “Living Colors” to Jody Ulich, the director of the city’s Convention and Cul- embody that spirit and diversi- tural Services Department and ty. The dancers might have left now the head of Creative Edge, after the one-time performance, offers a cautionary tale about ig- but the interactive wall now re- noring art. In 2001, Boeing wanted sides in SMUD’s customer ser- to relocate its corporate headquar- vice lobby, freely accessible to ters from Seattle and scoured the anyone who’s there to contest an country for a new home. Boeing electric bill. seemed on the verge of picking “Living Colors” is one tiny Dallas — lots of land, cheap hous- piece of a citywide puzzle called ing, no income tax. “Dallas-Fort Creative Edge: Sacramento’s Art, Worth thought they had it in the Culture, and Creative Economy bag,” Ulich says. “And then Boe- Plan, a sprawling mix of goals, ing said, ‘You are a cultural waste- grants, budgets, audits, exter- land. We don’t want our employees nal benchmarking and commu- coming to a place where there are nity outreach approved by the no arts.’” Boeing chose Chicago city council in July 2018. Mayor instead, citing “quality of life” as — Mike Testa, CEO, Visit Sacramento Darrell Steinberg lists Creating one factor. and Creative Edge Steering Committee member an Art Capital as a key initiative It’s tough to prove that for every on the city’s website, alongside dollar spent on arts, one dollar plus better-known goals like Strengthening Our Economy and Ad- X flows into the economy, but a 2015 study from Americans for dressing Homelessness. “Great cultural cities are measured by the Arts found that, nationally, the arts support 4.6 million jobs arts and culture, sports, dining and affordable living options. and generate $166.3 billion in economic activity. Sacramento is primed to lead on all of these,” the mayor writes Then there are the intangibles. “The arts are part of the on the site. “In order to do so however, we must make a real soul of the community,” says Dennis Mangers, an unpaid commitment to the arts.” adviser to Steinberg on arts and culture who has been in- So is the city backing up its words? Or is Creative Edge just volved in the budgeting for Creative Edge. A former elemen- a token nod? The plan is complete. Early grants have been tary school principal, Mangers cites the example of 916 Ink, awarded, such as $25,000 for “Living Colors.” Yet, where the the children’s creative writing nonprofit based in Sacramento. ongoing funding will come from — the project costs $6 million “Kids are encouraged to write poetry, and their thoughts are to $9 million per year, and it’s a seven-year plan — is still very valued enough to be published into books with their own illus- much an open question. tration,” Mangers says. “Before they arrive in school, children of all stripes believe that they can sing and dance and act. And WHY INVEST IN THE ARTS? they want to. But when they’re not given exposure, or instruc- When it comes to tax dollars and budgeting, art is often dis- tion, they stop believing they can.” missed as “nice to have,” a tougher pill to swallow than fund- “Art gives a city character, something that showcases who we are and what we’re about as a community. ... It’s ... vital that we prioritize the projects and the people who make our city what it is — diverse, vibrant, evolving and unique.” 58 | May 2019