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An art hub on wheels and a Frida Kahlo festival could soon win city funding

Rappers, poets perform at Sacramento City Hall

The open mic event was part of Mayor Darrell Steinberg's plan to invest in new arts programs.
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The open mic event was part of Mayor Darrell Steinberg's plan to invest in new arts programs.

Local photographer Tara Lenehan has long had a vision: an art hub on wheels. The re-purposed, repainted bus could set up camp anywhere in Sacramento, hosting a rotating cast of performers.

Lenehan’s idea could come to fruition if she wins one of Sacramento’s new “creative economy” grants. Under a $500,000 pilot program, the city this year will give funding to artists who propose local projects that leverage art, tech or food for public benefit.

“When I saw that this chunk of change was out there, that really got me off my feet and got me talking to people,” she said. “I like it. I love it. I’m stoked.”

Artists and entrepreneurs say the grants are an important step in providing public funds for creative work and making sure that support is widespread – not just channeled to larger groups or trendy areas like downtown.

“I think it really opens up a lot of doors for these small-time creatives who don’t necessarily have the ability to compete with a multimillion-dollar nonprofit or a collective that has been generating money for years,” Lenehan said.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg launched the Creative Economy Pilot Project this year with money from a growth and innovation fund set up by former Mayor Kevin Johnson. Ash Roughani, who oversees the art initiative in the Mayor’s Office for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, said the program grew from a desire to experiment as well as a “recognition that we’ve underfunded our arts.”

Roughani is confident the program will produce interesting work, but he said more data on the impact of individual projects – their effect on foot traffic or shopping in their areas, for example – will help the city decide whether to make the pilot program a more permanent investment.

The city expects to award at least 10 grants of up to $25,000 and 50 grants of up to $5,000.

So far, the city has hosted an online workshop and two in-person sessions on how to apply for the grants, and will hold another Monday at 6:30 p.m. in Oak Park’s Community Center.

Organizers estimated 50 people attended the last meeting. Earlier this week, about 25 people have submitted proposals and 100-plus had saved application drafts on the website. Applications are due by July 30.

George Raya, a member of the city’s “creative economy” task force and board chairman for the Latino Center for Art and Culture, said the application’s simplicity sets it apart from the more complex grant process through the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission – the traditional source of city money for Raya’s center and groups like it.

“It’s easier for neighborhood, rank-and-file organizations to apply,” Raya said of the pilot program. “That’s been one of the problems: neighborhood groups competing against organizations that have very deep fund development departments.”

The Creative Economy project is also designed to spread its resources around Sacramento, stipulating that at least one large grant and two small grants will go to projects based in each of the city’s eight Council districts. Raya argued that even the location of the next how-to workshop shows a renewed effort to include underserved communities. He says that goal hasn’t always materialized.

“I’m born and raised in this town,” he said. “You don’t see that often. You don’t see the city going to Oak Park to give a presentation on a special program and how to apply for funding.”

Justin Reyes, who works for Sacramento County’s Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, just submitted his proposal – a tech-focused rather than an art-focused one – to apply the same online publicity techniques he used for WIC to other public programs and local businesses.

Philip Tretheway, creative director at a design firm, has been piecing together grants for two years for a collection of sculptures and is hoping for one of the city awards. Dubbed “Characters on Kay,” his series of “Sacramento characters” would stretch along 13 blocks downtown, hanging from lampposts or buildings.

Nonprofits throughout town are also seeking support for ongoing work.

Abraham Perez, administrative director at the Instituto Mazatlan Bellas Artes de Sacramento, said he’s hoping a grant will bolster his group’s work providing art training to disadvantaged students. The Latino Center for Art and Culture is applying for money for its Day of the Dead festival, now in its seventh year, as well as for its Fiesta de Frida honoring artist Frida Kahlo.

“For the breadth of applications [the city’s] seeking, it’s definitely not going to be enough money,” said Marie Acosta, the center’s executive director. “But it is a pilot project they’re testing. I think the mayor has his finger on the pulse of the hipness that Sacramento is exhibiting.”

Perez, too, was happy about the grants but thinks they’re just the beginning of what the city could be doing to support creative groups, especially smaller-budget ones.

“I’m hoping it’s not just a token effort,” he said.

Hannah Knowles: 916-321-1141, @KnowlesHannah

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