Sacramento Mayor Johnson shifts focus of arts funding group

Published: Thursday, Jun. 21, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B

Mayor Kevin Johnson shared the latest evolution of his 3-year-old For Arts' Sake initiative Wednesday, vowing to keep the arts a priority of his administration.

That initiative will now focus more on making connections between artists and organizations as well as building a brand for the city as an arts hub instead of identifying public revenue streams for arts organizations.

In its current evolution, the arts initiative will be one of the mayor's projects overseen by Cassandra Jennings, one of Johnson's senior advisers and former assistant city manager.

"She (Jennings) is a high-level figure, she knows how the city runs, she knows city and county, and she gets the municipalities," Johnson said.

"We thought it was important to recommit," said Johnson. "Right now, I believe, more than at any other time, we have to find a way to make sure this community is thriving."

In its current incarnation, For Arts' Sake will table previously stated goals of increasing private sector giving to the arts by 10 percent to 20 percent and generating $500,000 by 2014 from workplace giving-to-the-arts programs.

"Before, there was an expectation that For Arts' Sake would raise money and do all those things. That was not ever what it was set out to do," Johnson said. "For me, the objective is to convene and coordinate and to amplify all the work that's going on in the arts community. ... That is where our niche is."

The initiative is focusing on bringing the arts community together with novel projects such as a recently started Flywheel Creative Economy Incubator. That effort will bring together 10 artists, nonprofits and social entrepreneurs the initiative feels are doing cutting edge work, in a partnership with Sacramento's Urban Hive.

The participants include the New Helvetia Theater, Sol Collective, Project For Trees and Eben 07, among others. Benefits of the incubator will include shared workspace, strategic planning, mentorships and marketing services.

The new focus on bringing the arts community together will eclipse the initiative's onetime goal of identifying dedicated funding streams.

"One of our major goals when we kicked this thing off three years ago was try to establish a predictable dedicated reliable source of public funds," said Garry Maisel , co-chair of the For Arts' Sake initiative. "Our timing could not have been worse."

Maisel said that identifying a funding source for the arts, especially a public tax, is at least five years away.

That timeline was based on results culled from focus groups conducted through Valley Vision. Those results established that the public is not ready to entertain any regional public tax initiatives, Maisel said.

"We've refocused until we're ready to take something to the public," he said. "Our long-term strategy is to develop advocacy and educational outreach so that the public is better informed about arts in our local community and its value to the economy."

The focus will now concentrate on spurring private and individual giving. "That has the highest degree of success to be increased in the short term," said Maisel.

To that end, one of the initiative's upcoming plans is the Day of Giving for the Arts, to take place Oct. 20, where the hope is that donations by individuals and private organizations to the arts will be matched by the corporate community.

"What we're looking to do is find 10 corporate and foundation funders that each could kick in $10,000 apiece as matching funds to give to arts organizations," said Michelle Alexander, executive director with the Arts and Business Council of Sacramento and project manager for the For Arts' Sake initiative.

Alexander said the goal is to secure $100,000 in matching funds. Similar efforts have been tried successfully in Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., and San Diego, she said.

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