Oakland Awards Nearly $1 Million in Public Arts Grants

Aug 5, 2015

Developers Sue City Over 1 Percent Arts Requirement

The Alice Street Mural located at 14th and Alice streets, painted by the Community Rejuvenation Project and a usual recipient of the Oakland Cultural Funding Program grant, features former Post News Group Editor Chauncey Bailey (second figure from right). Photo courtesy of Oakland Wiki.

By Tulio Ospina

Last week, members of the Funding Advisory Committee (FAC) voted on their recommendations for the allocation of $955,000 in city funding to provide grants for individual artists and arts organizations in Oakland.

Nearly 50 Oakland artists and organizations attended the Grant Recommendation Meeting of the FAC, a volunteer advisory board that makes funding recommendations for the Oakland Cultural Funding Program.

The nearly $1 million allocated to providing arts grants are part of the fiscal year budget that was approved by City Council in June.

In response to a growing applicant pool and in an effort to fund more artists this year, the city’s award amounts were reduced by up to 31% per applicant.

FAC recommended awards to 81 artists and organizations, including Eastside Arts Alliance, the Oakland East Bay Symphony and the Community Rejuvenation Project. The recommendations will be forwarded to the Life Enrichment Committee and then to the City Council in October for final approval.

These grants support a wide range of Oakland-based artists and nonprofit organizations that provide arts and cultural services in Oakland such as painting the city’s neighborhoods with public murals, funding music and arts festivals and supporting arts education in public schools through residency programs.

According to Denise Pate-Pearson, Cultural Funding Program coordinator, the Oakland Cultural Funding Program received the most funding this year since the recession in 2012.

Conway Jones, who served as Chairman of the Oakland Arts Council, is proud to see Oakland continuing its devotion to being a city of the arts.

“What makes Oakland special is that everywhere you look there’s some form of artistic expression,” said Jones. “Art is the indication of an active mind, but local art is a sign of an interactive community.”

Meanwhile, a group of regional developers have sued the City of Oakland over a city requirement that they must allocate 1 percent of their development project costs to public arts projects.

When Oakland passed this requirement back in December it was joining the ranks of hundreds of cities across the nation that have similar public arts requirements—including San Francisco, Napa and Emeryville.

The group of developers claims the requirement violates their First Amendment right by requiring them to fund somebody else’s expression.

Under the city’s ordinance, however, developers have full control over their selection of artist or organization that they wish to donate to.

According to Bruce Beasley, Oakland’s renowned sculpture artist and supporter of the city’s public arts grant program, the lawsuit is highly offensive to Oakland and unlikely to have much clout.

“If this (ordinance) is found unconstitutional, then there’s a whole bunch of other programs that are going to come crashing down with it,” said Beasley. “The same would happen to requiring street lighting additions and with allotments for affordable housing.”

Those already critical of gentrifying developers altering Oakland’s landscape have become angered over the developers’ unwillingness to contribute positive elements to the communities they are entering.

Yet as the Oakland Cultural Funding Program’s existence shows, the city is showing interest in supporting artists and arts organizations that will benefit residents and visitors alike.

“I’m happy to see Oakland continue having an active and viable arts community,” said Beasley. “All my life I’ve heard Oakland has the highest number of artists per capita of any city in the world and I believe that more today.”