Concerns derived from a 2014’s fractious and divisive budget season centered on a (San Francisco) City-wide battle for cultural equity to issues around the Bay Area’s real estate market and its repercussion on affordable housing and creative spaces. ABBA founders Lex Leifheit, previous Executive Director of SOMArts and Ebony McKinney, formerly of Emerging Arts Professionals took action to help stitch the community back together. Together with other stakeholders, they conducted interviews with dozens of arts leaders and representatives and city departments. A critical interest and readiness for collaboration and action around issues facing the arts community was given a platform. Holding their first ABBA convening in January 2015, where close to 100 participants came together to learn, participate and share information. This gathering of community established ABBA as the perfect collective to advocate for an arts-focused budget with City Hall as an action that could be acted on immediately.
MY ROLE: As part of the initial team, I was tasked with establishing branding guidelines as well as designing documents, presentations, and reports that would later be used when communicating with community representatives and city officials.
Derived from the first ABBA meetings of early 2015, a volunteer group of arts and community representatives worked in collaboration between January-May 2015 developing and recommending funding increases to San Francisco’s arts and culture budget. The allocations included a recommended increase of $8M and funding in the areas of access to public and private space, artists and workforce, cultural equity, vibrant neighborhoods & public art, and youth opportunity. All funding recommendations were shared and informed through a community-based process guided by ABBA.
MY ROLE: I was a member of the Cultural Equity cohort, in it, we looked at current and past budgets allocations and offered recommendations towards the development of a path towards a more equitable arts ecosystem. Additionally, I was tasked with creating a graphic report from all committees. To review this document download the PDF here.
RESULTS: On May 29th, 2015 the Mayor’s Office announced a $7 million shared prosperity package to support the arts over two years. An additional $2 million was directed to the arts by Board of Supervisors add-backs. Funds were allocated to the San Francisco Arts Commission and Grants for the Arts programs. The 2015/16 budget increase for arts and culture was the first sign of increased allocations to the City’s budget in decades – Largely in part because of the effort above couple with an unprecedented amount of teamwork, cross-collaboration, and community-wide support made this a reality.
In early 2016, the ABBA founders and a selection of arts leaders and former Budget Coalition members met to reflect on the success of the previous year and to envision what an organization like ABBA could be and facilitate with the arts community. From the meeting, a number of individuals decided to volunteer as ABBA Stewards and develop a committee structure focused on different areas of concern in the community. Committee lead topics concentrated around real estate/cultural space preservation for housing, organizations and art creation; building public will, grass-roots arts advocacy; arts budget (City budgeting); communications and branding; and, operations.
MY ROLE: As one of 10 stewards, I focused on building public will, and grass-roots arts advocacy.
State of the Arts Convening
In the late summer, early fall of 2017, The Arts for a Better Bay Area (ABBA) leadership team, agreed that the time was nigh for a comprehensive gathering and convening of the Bay Area arts community. In the past, events bringing together the broader community have come in the form of town hall meetings to inform voters about mayoral or supervisorial candidates and their level of support for the arts. But, there has been no critical mass of arts and culture workers, advocates, and supporters gathered in one forum – for the sake of collectively learning, engaging and celebrating in one place.
A productive, creative and tenacious event committee of nine arts and culture workers began working on the concept and structure of the event in November 2017. The planning culminated in a robust occasion on April 12, 2018, State of the Arts, including welcoming addresses, keynote presentations, educational sessions, an awards ceremony, networking hour and live performances.
MY ROLE: As part of the planning committee I was involved in both the concept development, staging, promoting and carrying out of the event. I was also asked to brand it and to develop all collateral for it. .