San Diego Arts Institutions Struggle As 50 Percent Funding Cut Extends Into 2022
May 25, 2021
San Diego arts organizations are reeling on learning that mayor Kevin Falcouner plans to extend the city’s reduced arts and culture budget for another year, The Art Newspaperreports. Falcouner had slashed the budget for the sector by 50 percent between the fiscal year ending 2020 and that ending 2021 in an attempt to offset lost tax revenue as Covid-19 loomed last spring. Though the crisis has eased somewhat, the mayor has projected a similar budget for 2021–22, prompting an uproar among local arts institutions who have until May 26 to urge their congresspeople to push forward a revised budget.
“At its most basic, we are disappointed and disheartened that the mayor’s proposed budget maintains the devastating cuts from last year,” said Peter Comiskey, executive director of the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership, home to many of San Diego’s cultural institutions.
“This continued funding cut will further reduce our ability to provide essential cultural and educational support services that help with mental health, environmental awareness, increased jobs, tourism dollars, and more,” wrote Karen Gilbert, board chair of the nonprofit San Diego Art Institute (SDAI) in an open letter seeking signatories to a petition demanding the city government increase funding to the arts sector. The institute saw its funding slashed from $46,000 for the 2019–20 fiscal year to $17,000 for 2020–21; to stay afloat, it merged with the Lux Art Institute. The resulting nonprofit entity, known as the Institute of Contemporary Art, San Diego, is to open this September and will offer free admission. Though the merger had been under consideration before the pandemic struck, the budget cuts sustained by SDAI played a significant role in its coming to fruition.
Comiskey noted that prior to the advent of Covid-19, San Diego’s culture sector was a $1.1 billion-dollar industry employing more than 36,000 full-time workers, and called the current proposed budget “inadequate” in regard to the return to health of the culture sector and in terms of the attendant restoration of lost jobs. “We would have expected pre-pandemic funding at minimum to return this budget year,” he said. “The mayor did not deliver that in either the first budget, nor the May revise. We trust that councilmembers will deliver that in their deliberations of the budget moving forward in the coming weeks.”